Stonyfield to implement 6-month paid parental leave

A policy aimed at ‘attracting and retaining the best people’

Londonderry-based organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm has announced it will offer six months of paid leave for mothers or the primary caregiver, in the case of same-sex couples, starting in July 2016.

The press release came in advance of the Monday announcement of the formation of the Clinton Global Initiative’s Working Parent Support Coalition. The coalition consists of U.S.-based divisions and subsidiaries of Barclays, Ernst & Young, KKR, Nestle and Stonyfield’s parent company Danone.

“To help fulfill our mission to bring health through food to as many people as possible and be an even better place to work, we are going to improve our parental leave practices and want to inspire others to do the same,” said Luciana Nunez, general manager of Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition, in a press release.

Danone’s U.S.-based companies include Stonyfield Farm, YoCrunch, Dannon, Danone Waters of America, Happy Family Organics, Nutricia North America and Nutricia Early Life Nutrition.

“It’s really about creating a company culture and business practices that support attracting and retaining the best people,” Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations for Dannon told NH Business Review. “One of the beautifies of life is bringing a child into the world, and that is a tremendous commitment and it’s not incompatible with a robust and fulfilling work life, but the demands change. We believe the practices of most U.S. companies can benefit from change in this area.”

The international coalition will help spread and discuss advice and research on family-friendly practices, which will also involve delving into research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Cornell University, Families and Work Institute and Working Mother Media, said Neuwirth.

“Different businesses and different organizations need to approach this for what they can do, what works for their organization,” said Neuwirth. “We don’t believe it’s a one-size-fits-all. It’s all about a journey of improvement. Taking a look at your organization today and how can it be better. How can it be family friendly when the blessing of life happens?”

“What’s important about the commitment our company is making is this is a policy that will be going into place for all employees,” said Liza Dube, director of PR and digital marketing for Stonyfield, referencing Netflix’s unlimited policy that does not cover all of its employees. “For us, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the C-suite or on the plant floor, this is a policy for everyone.”

Stonyfield has over 300 employees at its Londonderry facility and working remotely; 36 percent of them are women.

‘A good example’

A six-month leave is generous, says Terie Norelli, president and CEO of the NH Women’s Foundation. “Six weeks or eight weeks is more typical. In addition to having a policy on the books that says ‘We have this policy that will provide paid leave,’ in addition to that, what’s really important is a culture in that workplace that supports and encourages mothers and fathers to actually make use of the leave. Sometimes a company will have a policy on the books, but its kind of frowned on even though it’s on the books, it’s not encouraged. And you find fathers in particular don’t take it because they feel from the environment in the workplace, they feel it will have negative consequences.”

When asked whether the paid leave policy included new fathers not in a same-sex couple, Dube said the company would have to discuss that detail in preparation of the launch date. But Neuwirth said it would cover fathers.

Dube said the date was set out into next year so Stonyfield and Danone could “make sure we’re looking at it from a whole business standpoint, to make sure this is a commitment we can really honor for the business and the families of the business … Because we have access to the global corporate community, we understand that this is a policy that would be put into place.”

“It’s really exciting that Stonyfield, such a big employer in New Hampshire, is doing this and setting such a good example,” said Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy. “Businesses are implementing these paid leave policies because it’s good for the bottom line. There’s a lot of data about policies implemented in California and New Jersey, which have statewide family leave policies, and their employers have had either a positive effect or no effect on employee turnover and morale.”

In fact, employers providing paid family leave and flexibility could be a selling point in the near future for employees, thinks Neuwirth.

“If it’s not a factor in one’s choice of employer, hopefully at some point it will be, because it’s a great opportunity to have, to become a parent. And becoming a parent, work should not stand in the way of that, quite the opposite – it should support and embrace it.”

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