Diageo’s Game-Changing Policy for Working Parents

The global beverage company sees its inclusive parental leave policy as a necessary step toward gender parity

Photo credit: Getty images.

Awarded for: Diageo has been named a 2019 Drinks Innovator for its trailblazing new family leave policy, providing 26 weeks of paid leave—for mothers and fathers.

It’s no longer news that the United States lags behind every other developed country in the world when it comes to taking care of working parents and their families. With no guarantee of paid family leave in place at the federal level, taking time off work after childbirth in America is a privilege, not a right. In fact, only 14 percent of nongovernmental workers in the U.S. have access to any kind of paid family leave through their workplaces. And around half of working mothers are typically back at work within four months of giving birth. Fathers might spend a few unused paid-time-off days at home with their new child, and some may even work for organizations with paid paternity leave policies in place though few dads take full advantage of it—and those who do often face cultural barriers, stunted salary potential, and stigma in the workplace for doing so. The situation is even more grim for same-sex couples, who are forced to figure out how to build their families while beholden to policies usually designed for cisgender straight couples. And parents who choose to adopt or foster can be shut out from paid policies, too. 

In the face of these dismal statistics, beverage company Diageo, headquartered in London, saw an opportunity. In July the company rolled out a new global parental leave policy, featuring 26 weeks of paid maternity leave throughout its businesses across the globe, and paid paternity leave that ranges from 4 weeks in some countries to 26 weeks in places including North America. On learning the news, many employees responded with disbelief, according to Serena Scott-Ram, Diageo’s director of employee relations. “There were questions like, ‘Am I reading this correctly? Are you sure?’” 

Prior to the introduction of this policy, Diageo employees in the U.S. had to meet the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 in order to take family leave, which meant they had to have been working for the company for a minimum of 12 months. Now North American employees are eligible for 6 months of paid leave after working just 20 hours for the company, and the policy is inclusive of anyone of any gender who is building a family by any means, whether by surrogacy, adoption, or foster care. In the U.S., the new policy outpaces those of a number of corporations known for their progressive leave policies, including Facebook (16 weeks), Google (18 weeks), and American Express (20 weeks).

Scott-Ram says that in reviewing parental leave, she and her team saw an opportunity not just to be a more competitive workplace but to help drive a cultural shift in how organizations support their employees. There was also a chance to dust off some of the old gendered stereotypes by which “family leave” is typically defined. “Bringing a child into your family is a really big milestone,” says Scott-Ram, “and I think we’re trying to recognize that and, in that same vein, to break some of those stereotypes of it being one parent versus the other that’s going to spend more time at home. We really wanted to make it clear that, regardless of your gender, regardless of your sexuality, and regardless of how a child came into your family—we wanted to treat all of those situations equally, to recognize the diversity of our workforce.”  

Navigating life as a new parent who is expected to return to work in 12 weeks, or even fewer, constitutes a race against time, especially when that time is unpaid. Many parents cobble together their sick leave and vacation days to extend the time, while scrambling to line up affordable childcare so they can return to work. In fact, the average American household experiences a 10.4 percent decline in total household income from prepregnancy to the birth month, according to a study from the Urban Institute, a social policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.

SevenFifty Daily's 2019 Drinks Innovators

The people, projects, and ideas recognized in this year's awards are truly transformative, addressing everything from climate change to social equity in the industry. Get to know the trailblazers forging new paths in the beverage alcohol space.

“This is a significant game changer for a number of our employees,” says Scott-Ram of Diageo’s new policy, “and quite attractive for someone who’s looking to come to Diageo.” Progressive family leave policies like this one benefit not only the families in question but an organization itself, including other workers. A 2018 analysis by the Harvard Business Review suggests that companies with programming that actively supports working parents have better morale and employee retention—and that such programming can also help close gender pay gaps by creating more flexibility and opportunities for working mothers rather than penalizing them. 

“I think the 26 weeks paid leave really allows families to make true decisions for their child and their family versus having to rely on external pressure factors, like how much money will someone be making,” says Scott-Ram. “Here, it’s 26 weeks of paid parental leave, regardless of gender. That resonates a lot with me.” 


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Gray Chapman is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about spirits, beauty, and culture; she was formerly the managing editor of Tales of the Cocktail. Follow her on Twitter.

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