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Netflix parental leave policy neglects workers who need it most

Sharon Florentine | Sept. 15, 2015
Netflix is making headlines with its expanded parental leave policy, but will employees actually use it? And what about the Netflix hourly, lower-paid workers excluded from the policy?

Waiting for a Silicon Valley culture shift

There has to be a significant cultural shift, both within and outside of Silicon Valley, before these policies become the status quo, so parents aren't penalized for being part of their children's lives. That shift is driven from the top down, yes, but also from the bottom up, with each employee brave enough to stand up and take the leave that's available to them making a difference. "Employees can create a cultural shift each and every time they use these benefits. Their single actions help give confidence and credence to other employees who desire the same system of support. However, senior management and department heads also need to consider leading by example if they want employees to fully engage with and leverage the family support systems that are offered to them," says Donna Levin, co-founder and vice president of Workplace Solutions.

Is Netflix ignoring workers who need leave the most?

While white-collar Netflix workers are struggling with cultural pressures, an estimated 400 to 500 workers in the company's DVD distribution centers don't have that luxury. It's this exclusion of hourly, lower-paid workers from Netflix's leave policy that's drawn the most fire. This is arguably the talent segment that could most benefit from a more generous leave policy. "Workers need to be able to perform their jobs and take care of their families. This policy excludes workers who'd benefit the most. They can't afford nannies for their children, or elder care for other relatives, and this disproportionately affects women. Two-thirds of the nearly 20 million low-wage workers in the U.S. are women. They need policies like this more than ever," says Karin Roland, organizing director at UltraViolet, a nonprofit working to end sexism and discrimination and advocate for women's issues in the workplace.

Most low-wage and minimum wage jobs don't offer parental leave or other white-collar benefits, but that doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. Even for white-collar workers, benefits offerings have improved drastically over the last few years, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that such a change could eventually happen, says Brosseau.

Netflix can send a message

Offering parental leave and other work-life balance benefits to all workers would send a powerful message of inclusion and equality in an industry struggling with just those issues. "It makes logical sense that this would be good for business to make sure your employees are taken care of -- especially in this case, this is a highly profitable division of a highly profitable, visible company; the fact that they left out their most vulnerable and needy workers doesn't look good," says Roland.


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