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Wall Street Perk: Parental Leave

11/30/2015 | 06:57pm US/Eastern
By Rachel Emma Silverman 

Lately Wall Street firms have been competing to offer the best benefits for new parents, adding weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave and providing perks such as nannies for business trips. The latest entrant in the race: Credit Suisse Group AG.

On Monday, the Zurich-headquartered bank announced one of the richest parental-leave packages in financial services, giving U.S. employees 20 paid weeks off after the arrival of a child, up from 12 weeks.

A host of firms from Amazon.com Inc. to Accenture are enhancing benefits for new parents, in part to attract and retain young women. Facebook Inc. announced last week that it will extend its parental-leave policy to four months of paid time off for all employees globally, a move that will mean more paid parental leave mostly for fathers and same-sex couples outside the U.S.

Wall Street firms, which have long offered big paychecks in lieu of work-life balance, now boast some of the longest paid parental leaves in any industry.

Blackstone Group LP in April expanded its paid maternity leave to 16 weeks, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. offers 16 weeks for primary caregivers and recently expanded its leave for secondary caregivers to four weeks. Deutsche Bank AG and Morgan Stanley both offer 16 weeks.

Meanwhile, private-equity firm KKR & Co. recently said it would pay for employees to bring infants and nannies along on business travel during a baby's first year. The firm also is piloting a parental leave "transition support" program to help guide women preparing for and returning from maternal leave, a spokeswoman said.

Yet it is unclear whether these policies make it easier to balance family life with the demands of a banking career.

Conditions for working parents on Wall Street have "definitely" improved in recent years, said Patricia Milligan, who heads a women's leadership initiative at consultancy Mercer. But senior leaders need to take parental leave seriously--for one, by taking leave themselves--so that employees feel those policies are more than "window dressing," she said.

Credit Suisse is now competing more with Silicon Valley for young workers, and is keeping close tabs on what other employers are offering, said Elizabeth Donnelly, Credit Suisse's head of benefits for the Americas.

"Our competition and the landscape has changed. We look at what Google and other tech firms are doing and we see that they are able to attract the kind of talent that Credit Suisse also wants," she said. "We realized we needed to make changes."

New employees at the bank place parental leave and flexible work arrangements among their top concerns, according to Ms. Donnelly. And the firm's own research on employee retention found a "notable spike in attrition following maternity leave," she said.

The company said it would be studying whether the new policies reduce the rate of new mothers who leave among its 8,500 U.S. staff, and whether it is able to attract more women hires.

Some companies have had success cutting the number of mothers leaving a firm by expanding maternity leaves. When Google Inc. increased its paid maternity leave to 18 weeks from 12 in 2007, the attrition rate of new mothers fell by 50%, the company said.

About 150 U.S. women annually have taken maternity leave at Credit Suisse over the past few years, taking about 18 weeks off on average, even though the firm only paid them for 12 weeks.

The policy applies to a parent providing primary care during their leave, regardless of sex. So far this year, 25% of employees taking primary parental leave have been men. The bank also will provide coaching for workers entering and ending leave, and will begin paying for nannies to accompany parents and infants on business trips.

Allison Lagstrom, an assistant vice president at Credit Suisse in Raleigh, N.C., is expecting twins late this year. Unsure how long to take off, she said she planned to meet with her boss Monday to discuss her options.

Monday's announcement, a surprise to her, came as a relief. "I was a bit unsure, but now it makes it easy to do the 20 weeks," she said. "There has been lots of positive chitchat on the elevators."

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