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Gold Stevie Award Winner 2021, Click to Enter The 2022 StevieĀ® Awards for Great Employers

Name of Organization/Company: Start Early, Chicago, IL USA
Category: Achievement in Benefits Design and Administration

Entry Title: Paid Parental Leave Program


For nearly 40 years, Start Early, a nonprofit public-private partnership, has been a champion for quality early learning and care, focused on closing the opportunity gap for our youngest learners. We deliver best-in-class doula, home visiting, and Early Head Start and Head Start programs and advocate for thoughtful policies and adequate funding at all levels. Our more than 300 mission-driven employees are dedicated to advancing more equitable early learning opportunities for our youngest children.

We work directly with families, often starting before birth, to empower parenting skills and nurture the bonds between children and their caregivers essential for their success and well-being. In the first years of life, babies embark on an amazing journey of growth. Providing parents with paid time off to care for their young children in the early years helps families create strong, caring and consistent relationships.

The overwhelming benefits of paid leave compelled Start Early to advocate for these policies nationally and inspired our organization’s new paid leave policies, including up to 6 months of paid maternity, paternity or adoption leave. As new parents become their children’s first and best teacher, a comprehensive paid parental leave program gives them a strong start.

In 2019, the People & Culture team at Start Early set a strategic goal to transform our leave program through improved employee benefits, explicitly enhancing our paid parental leave for the year 2020. Infancy is the most crucial period of brain development. It's vital that babies and their parents are supported during this time to promote bonding and healthy attachment. We knew it was time to up our game. We needed to create a parental leave package that matched our mission and supported families in the moments that matter most -- the earliest years. To get started, we implemented the following changes in 2020:

• Increased parental leave by more than 50% from 12 weeks to 6 months for both moms and dads (gender neutral).

• Introduced 100% paid leave – eliminating the need for employees to use their own vacation, sick or personal hours to receive full pay.

• Expanded paid leave eligibility to include adoption, surrogacy, or foster parenting.

• Launched the integrated family benefits platform, Cleo, to help connect families with the support they need to be their best at home and at work. Specifically:
o Cleo for Families gives prospective and current working parents a personalized guide to support them through family planning and pregnancy to parenting their children.
o Cleo for Managers assigns a coach to help supervisors navigate and prepare for their employee’s leave.

• Activated Bright Horizons, a benefit that assists employees returning from leave with finding childcare or back-up care, if needed.

Our 2020 achievements are a bold and direct reflection of employee feedback. The People & Culture team held a series of focus groups with former and expecting parents to discuss our existing 12-week paid parental leave program – what worked well and where we needed to improve.

Employees expressed discontent about the length of the program, the use of their own vacation and sick time to receive full pay while on leave, and the lack of resources available to support them and their managers before, during and after the parental leave period. We took their feedback to heart and set out to transform our parental leave program and delivered results that could impact our organization and if done well, a generation of children and families.

As a non-profit organization, we are incredibly proud that our enhanced parental leave program provides more comprehensive support than the most well-known “best in class” programs.

Amazon: 6 paid weeks paternity leave; 20 paid weeks for new moms.
Capital One: 18 paid weeks for new moms.
Microsoft: 20 paid weeks for birth moms; 12 paid weeks for all other parents.
Start Early: 26 paid weeks for all new parents.

Start Early believes our new program showcases why we should win the award for Achievement in Benefits Design and Administration. During a child’s first years, a nurturing and supportive environment lays the foundation for their future success in school and life. Our paid parental leave program allows families to be together at this most critical time.

The attached blog/video, along with our parental leave guide, is a direct testament from our employees of the tremendous impact Start Early's paid parental leave has had for them, their new baby and their families. We think both of these supporting materials reinforce our strong commitment to our employees and to the mission of Start Early.

Webpage Link

Parental Leave Guide: https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/a1ab4161-9c30-4e28-88fc-d6ad384e3fe2/a628be69-15e4-404e-afdb-d4b04fd95c8c?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ4PRWO26HAX3IOCA&Expires=1720302355&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3D%22Parental%20Leave%20Guide.pdf%22&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&Signature=wR7%2FIVCyP6XJHAPkOJKhGrg2qdk%3D