Fathers in the U.S. are taking parental leave now more than ever, but leave for women isn’t progressing. McKinsey and Company, in collaboration with LeanIn.Org, have just released their Women in the Workplace 2019 report, and the results give a detailed insight into what is happening for working parents – the good and the bad – in the corporate world.

The Women in the Workplace is the largest study of women in commercial America, and looks at issues such as the ‘glass ceiling and the broken rung’, culture and diversity, and work-life flexibility. This year’s study is based on five years of data from almost 600 companies, and more than 68,500 employees this year alone were surveyed on their workplace experiences.

Flexibility is key

We know that the needs of working families are changing – working parents are struggling to balance their carer needs with that of a career, and the study found that work-life flexibility was the number one issue raised by employees in 2019. Interestingly, this was followed by the need for more mentorship and sponsorship.

But the good news is that US companies are striving to keep up with this, with work-life flexibility on the rise. In 2019, more than 70% of employees said their companies offered some flexibility to work from home, compared to about 40% of employees in 2015. Almost all companies offer their employees time off for family or personal reasons, and the majority of companies give employees some flexibility in setting their own schedules or working from home.

Organisations that take the lead by developing and prioritising family-friendly workplace policies, like flexibility, are showing that they clearly support employees in the management of career and family needs, and ensure employees don’t have to feel like the two are at odds with each other.

The ability to take leave

Employees take leave for a variety of reasons – health issues, caring for a loved one, bereavement, parental leave or changes to family circumstances. These events are simply a part of life, and employers can certainly ease the stress of life-changing experiences when openly show and practice support and allow flexibility within the workplace.

The study found that over the last five years a majority of employees have “become new parents or dealt with a significant personal or family health issue”. About half of these employees took leave.

  • Of those that didn’t take leave when they needed it, 30% said that they couldn’t take the leave because of work responsibilities at the time
  • 10% said they couldn’t the leave was unpaid so it wasn’t financially feasible
  • 17% of men and 21% of women said they didn’t take it as they felt it would negatively impact their career
  • Of those that did take leave, 1 in 4 said that it did indeed impact their career or finances

It’s crucial that employers recognise their employees are people outside of the workplace, with varying responsibilities and demands. When companies have policies in place that allow their employees flexibility when needed, it increases loyalty and employee morale.

Parental leave for fathers on the rise

Although many companies in the U.S. have made significant progress in the last few years when it comes to parental leave, it seems it’s simply not enough, especially when it comes to mothers.

The study found that around 40% of companies do not offer extended parental leave, and little progress has been made on maternity leave.

The average length of paid maternity leave has remained the same at 10 weeks – not nearly enough, especially when compared to other OECD nations around the world.

There is good news when it comes to dads’ parental leave. McKinsey found that more U.S. companies are offering paid parental leave, and the parental leave for new fathers has increased on average from four weeks to seven weeks.

And amazingly, the number of companies offering extended paternity leave has increased by 59%.

The great news is that it’s not just companies implementing the change – men are actually taking up the leave, with the study finding that in 2019, men were roughly as likely as women to take leave when they become new parents. Although there is of course a lot of room for improvement in this area, especially when it comes to length of leave available, it is positive to see this progression taking place for our dads.


By Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work

To read the full Women in the Workplace 2019 Report, visit here.

To find out more about how Parents At Work can support your organisation with a family friendly workplace program, please contact