Generous parental leave policies don't work unless they are backed by leadership from the top and the right culture.
That's the advice from Michael Kim, head of human resources for Spotify in Australasia, which has a global policy of six months' fully paid parental leave available for both dads and mums from the day they start working at the company.
Kim has flown into New Zealand to speak at an event today launching a photographic exhibition featuring Kiwi dads which is part of a campaign to promote equal access to paid parental leave and normalise fatherhood in the workplace.
In New Zealand, paid parental leave is available for up to 22 weeks but only for a primary carer. The government payments can be transferred to the spouse but only if they become the primary carer.
But very few men are taking paid parental leave with just 300 men out of around 30,000 on parental leave in 2017.
Spotify introduced its parental leave policy in November 2015 and prior to that just followed the minimum legal requirements for each country it operated in.
Kim said the driver was to set up something that would suit its mainly millennial workforce and reflect its country of origin Sweden which has one of the most progressive parental leave policies in the world.
The Swedish government says that parents of both sexes are entitled to 480 days (16 months) of paid parental leave at about 80 per cent of their salary (with a cap), plus bonus days for twins, and they must share – Swedish dads must take at least some of those 16 months. The days don't expire until the child is 8 years old.
Kim said when it was looking to design its parental leave programme he was told to ignore what other corporates were doing and focus on what was best for staff.
Unlike other employers, it doesn't have a minimum employment period for staff to qualify.
"They get it from day one."
"We have literally had an employee start at Spotify and a week later they go on parental leave," he said.
All new parents get six months 100 per cent fully paid leave. They can take it at any time in the first three years of their child's life and can take it all at once or spread out over that time.
In the United States, the parental leave has to be taken when the baby is first born.
Kim said initially it worried men would feel pressured to come back to work and wouldn't take the leave but they have.
He said the key was leadership from the top.
"When they see the VP males taking it what we started to see was more and more fathers taking the full six months off."
He said fathers tended to break up the leave more, although taking it off in one chunk could also be less disruptive.
In Sweden, it is not uncommon for fathers to take time off to take care of children.
But in other countries, it has been tougher. Kim said in Japan it was very unusual for men to take time off to look after children.
But he said staff were reminded they work for Spotify and were encouraged to take the time off.
"We very much promote zero-tolerance against retaliation for those who go on leave."
Staff returning from parental leave also get a month of full flexibility where they can choose how much they want to work.
"We recognise how hard it is to go from being a 100 per cent full-time parent to 100 per cent full-time worker.
"You decide if you want to work two days per week or three or four."
And it is guaranteed that you will get this - it is not dependent on manager approval.
Kim said that eliminated the unfairness that could happen if different managers approved different leave.
He said it was about giving empowerment back to the employee.
"The anchor is our employees are happy and have a strong work/life balance."
Happy employees were more productive and stayed longer with the company, he said.
"There is a strong commercial return on investment."
Spotify said it had also seen an unexpected impact with its internal promotions increasing as people were seconded into leadership roles to cover for those away on leave and then promoted.
But he said the parental leave scheme would only work if the company had the right culture and leadership that advocated for it.
"If you have leaders who view [parental leave] as a cost rather than a benefit, you have already lost the battle. It's also about the attitude of leadership."
New Zealand employers have increased parental leave benefits in recent years but they are typically focused on the primary caregiver.
Recently insurer QBE launched 12 weeks fully paid parental leave for both men and women employees, the first New Zealand employer to do so.
Global Women New Zealand chief executive Siobhan McKenna said when dads were more equal in the home it also enabled mums to be more equal at work.
"Right now, in New Zealand, too many men are prevented from spending this precious time at home with their kids because of financial and cultural barriers. Our opportunity here is to allow men to be good fathers as well as good employees."
McKenna said the Kiwi Dads campaign called for companies to make to access to parental leave equally available to men and women.
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research has found there is a 12.5 per cent wage gap between men and women who are parents.
A Swedish study found a mother's future earnings rose 7 per cent on average for each month of parental leave her husband took.
McKenna said men sharing care allowed women to return to work faster and to accept promotions or new roles.
"To end the gender pay gap requires a few things to happen in concert: supportive practices for mothers, especially in the baby's first months; equal access to parental leave for both parents; and, measurement of remuneration to avoid unintended salary gaps."