Uncapped Parental Leave? Hollywood Ups Benefits to Compete With Silicon Valley

Rami Niemi

From Netflix offering a lengthy leave to breast milk shipping, these companies offer a host of perks as they jockey to "retain great talent in a competitive market."

Balancing long production days and stressful meetings with starting a family is no small feat. Thankfully for new parents, entertainment companies are stepping up their benefits. "To attract and retain great talent in a competitive market, we have to really understand what people want," says Hulu senior vp talent and organization Shannon Sullivan.

PARENTAL LEAVE Most of the industry offers far more than what is mandated by state and federal laws, which ensure job security and require an employer to give a new mother 12 weeks off, with a few exceptions, but don't specify that it must be paid leave.

Among the streamers, Hulu revamped its policy in June to make it gender inclusive, now offering 20 weeks of parental leave. Netflix, famously, doesn't cap parental leave (or vacation), and most employees take four to eight months off. The package at Google's YouTube offers new mothers up to one month before birth and five months after, all paid, and gives six weeks paid leave to the non-birthing parent — plus a baby bonding bonus check. And, in addition to 16 weeks (birthing) or six weeks (non-birthing) paid leave, Apple offers a Gradual Return to Work program that allows new parents to work part-time hours for four weeks at full-time pay.

Many companies, on both the streaming and traditional sides of the business, offer packages that allow leave to be broken up into increments, like Lionsgate, where employees can use 12 paid weeks in up to three blocks over the first year after birth or adoption. That's on top of the full salary the studio pays to the birth parent until her doctor medically clears her to return, which for most employees has been six to eight weeks. “We’ve received extensive feedback about benefits,” says senior vp human resources Jenn Verma, noting that 60 percent of Lionsgate's employees are millennials. “We want to create a space where they feel comfortable growing with us.”

Not counting optional unpaid time off, maternity leave at other companies varies: 12 to 14 weeks (AMC Networks), 12 (Sony), 16 (NBCUniversal) and six (WarnerMedia). ViacomCBS couldn’t share specifics because of the recency of the merger, but says offering “robust time-off programs, resources and other benefits” is a top priority. In the agency world, WME offers 18 weeks paid leave to a birthing parent and 12 weeks to a non-birthing parent. UTA is right behind, with 16 weeks for primary caregivers and six weeks for secondary caregivers. (CAA and ICM declined to give details, although THR confirmed the former does offer paid leave.)

After parents return to work, WME and Sony offer flexible schedules and telecommuting to help moms and dads adjust, while companies like Hulu, UTA and Netflix don't track time off. Lionsgate offers career coaching to help new parents transition back into work life. "There are a lot of mixed emotions about being out of the office or coming back to the workforce," says Verma. "The coach helps employees understand how to balance everything.”

LACTATION Many employers pay for breast milk shipping for nursing mothers who leave town on business, but UTA takes it a step further and will let moms bring the child — and another adult — on the trip on the company's dime. At some offices, lactation rooms include hospital-grade pumps, and ICM will supply lactation cookies starting in 2020.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION Amid a movement to destigmatize mental health issues, stars like Chrissy Teigen, Hayden Panettiere and Adele have recently become more open about struggles with PPD. Dealing with intrusive thoughts, intense feelings of inadequacy and lacking the energy or desire to get out of bed isn’t a struggle limited to the rich and famous. Studies estimate that 10 to 15 percent of new mothers — and 4 to 10 percent of new fathers — will suffer from postpartum depression. Stress is widely considered one of the factors that increases the risk a parent will develop depression or anxiety after the birth of a child, and in the entertainment industry, where the competition for jobs is fierce and performance expectations are high, the tendency to prioritize work above self-care isn’t unusual.

"We're trying to remove the friction and the stigma," says Sullivan, who notes Hulu employees have access to counselors on demand through a service called Maven. Offering three free confidential counseling sessions through the Employee Assistance Program and a referral to further care is fairly standard across the board, although NBCU provides up to 10 free sessions and Sony has an Employee Assistance Counselor on the lot in Culver City. While each scenario is fact-specific, all companies that spoke with THR said they'll work with the employee to find an accommodation that works, including a leave of absence if necessary.

The industry also enlists a handful of apps and virtual concierges for new and potential parents that help with everything from mental health to fertility and lactation. There’s not only Maven (Hulu, UTA), but also Cleo (ICM), MyParenthood (NBCU) and Ovia Health (Lionsgate). 

CHILD CARE Many companies will help pay for emergency backup child care. WarnerMedia, Sony and NBCU have subsidized on-site child care in some locations. Netflix offers 10 days of service through Care.com, and UTA gives employees a free membership to FOND, which offers discounts on nanny placement fees and babysitting.

FERTILITY Not everyone who wants to be a parent has an easy time becoming one, and Hollywood companies are starting to recognize the importance of supporting their employees through those challenges. AMC has removed the standard "one year of trying" waiting period before IVF is covered by its insurance programs. NBCU, Sony, UTA, Netflix, Hulu and Lionsgate provide allowances for fertility treatments, egg-freezing, surrogacy or adoptions — the latter of which will begin paying for up to $20,000 of such coverage next year.

At the end of the day, Sullivan says, it's smart business to make sure a company's team reflects its audience — and that includes parents. “This is a population that has historically had to opt out of the workforce because they haven’t been able to figure out how to make life work,” she says. “If we aren't able to recruit those people, who can tell us, ‘Here’s what these people want to see’ and speak to what those subscribers need?”

A version of this story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.