Comparing Maternity and Paternity Leave at Hollywood Studios

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Disney and Fox lead the pack as THR reviews the benefits of six top studios.

This story first appeared in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Tech firms may grab the headlines when it comes to pro­gressive parental leave — Facebook offers four paid months (new dad Mark Zuckerberg is taking two), Spotify six, Netflix technically infinity — but many Hollywood companies also are doing their part to attract and retain talented personnel with generous family benefits. "There is competition for a diverse population of highly skilled workers, and [a generous policy] is one of the most highly visible ways to lure talent," says Milk Your Benefits founder Lauren Wallenstein, who consults expectant parents in California on maximizing their parental leave benefits.

WME partner Esther Chang wasn't planning to take any time off while she was pregnant with her first child, but a medical emergency forced her to deliver eight weeks early. Ultimately she would spend three and a half months on maternity leave — fully paid thanks to the agency's unlimited paid-vacation policy, which allows agents and executives to set aside time for personal and family matters. This policy, along with a parent-friendly working environment that includes lactation stations and the frequent presence of employees' children in the office, makes the agency one of the best places in Hollywood for workers who are pregnant or thinking about it.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave for most employees in the U.S. but does not require companies to pay them. Fortunately for those in showbiz, California is one of the few states to mandate partially paid leave during that time.

Comcast/NBCUniversal waives the hospital visit co-pay for eligible employees in labor, but it's not just birth parents who benefit from its policies. The company, along with Warner Bros., also reimburses employees up to $10,000 for each legal adoption. And children up to the age of 5 can go to work with mom or dad thanks to the accredited day care on the lot (a perk all six major studios offer). "The reassurance of knowing my children were close by and well taken care of helped me immensely," says Universal TV senior vp drama Erin Underhill, whose two children, now 9 and 7, are past participants. "It also made me incredibly grateful to work for a company that understands the importance of supporting working parents."

That type of family-friendly culture was a big part of what attracted Kim Williams to Warner Bros. Entertainment, where she became CFO in January. She found out she was pregnant around the time she received the studio's offer last year, and when she informed her new bosses, "They couldn't have reacted better," she says. "The fact that people refer to 'the Warner Bros. family' was a chief factor in my thought process."

Like Warners, the best companies prove that getting pregnant doesn't mean putting an end to career advancement. A little more than a year after her son Duke was born, Chang was promoted to co-head of WME's talent department. "Having a child has given me better perspective and tenacity," she says. "And because you now need to support your family, you become even more determined in your career."

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Which Studios Are the Most Family-Friendly

Federal law guarantees 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid parental leave, while California mandates that eligible employees can receive six weeks at roughly half-pay. At a glance, here's how the studios stack up beyond the norm:

Disney

• 15 months medical leave (480 hours paid)

• 12 weeks bonding leave (three weeks paid)

Fox

• No additional policy

Paramount

• No additional policy

Sony

• No additional policy

Universal

• Six months bonding leave (ten weeks paid)

Warner Bros.

• 10 paid weeks for primary caregiver; two paid weeks for secondary caregiver

• Six paid weeks additional bonding leave

Dec. 14, 1:00 pm Updated description of Fox's parental leave policy. 

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