Melinda and Phoebe

You may be thinking a year of parental leave was crazy in the first place, and 6 months is incredibly generous. That would make you…American.

Sadly, the struggle of leaving babies too soon is one thing most American adults have in common. Six-month old babies would beg to differ with Gates’ new policy too, if they had words. Most of them don’t yet, so they’ll try to use their bodies to tell the people they love that they do not agree, not one bit!…..but wait…where’d they go?! Mom? Dad? Whaaaaa? Waaaaaaa!

These babes have the rest of the world on their side. Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a small handful have no national paid parental leave: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations and the United States. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. It’s incredible, isn’t it? Many countries have leave for fathers as well and/or shared parental leave for parents to manage as they see fit for a year.

Since Currency of Empathy was published, people have asked me, “if you could change just one thing to increase our empathy as a society, what would it be?” Having paid parental leave on par with the developed world would be a start; having the amount of time kids and parents really need to get settled into their new life makes even more sense. How long is that? A year would be great. Yes, a year. The Gates Foundation got it right in the first place. How?

My money’s on Melinda.

How long did Melinda have with her babies? About a decade. “In 1994, she married Bill Gates. Shortly thereafter, she left Microsoft to focus on starting and raising her family. Her last position there was General Manager of Information Products. Melinda and Bill Gates have three children: daughters Jennifer Katharine Gates (born 1996) and Phoebe Adele Gates (born 2002), and son Rory John Gates (born 1999).” It didn’t hurt to have the means to opt out of work (most don’t) and then come back via a golden onramp (so rare) in 2006 to a place from which she could literally change the world (the dream). (Wikipedia).

Melinda Gates has been lauded for her humanity and wisdom. We know for sure that she didn’t get those traits from a Harvard MBA or climbing the corporate ladder at warp speed. Research shows parenting grows empathy in the brain, and Melinda no doubt benefitted from her time as a hands-on parent.

Can the Gates Foundation really “help all people live healthy and productive lives” while turning a blind eye to what we know about early childhood development at home, not to mention ignoring what employees and their children feel? No. Can they eliminate hunger in Africa while feeding our national #EmpathyDeficitDisorder by depriving leaders of the chance to remember their empathy as a parent? No. Their innovation will suffer.

Gates Foundation has done almost 2 decades of innovative work since it was formed in 2000. Now they say one-year parental leave creates too much disruption in their organization. Where’s the creativity? Don’t they solve harder problems than this over lunch on a napkin?! Where’s the leadership?! This is the Gates Foundation. People are watching. The powerful professional development of leaning into hands-on parenting offers a better ROI than that Harvard MBA. We can redesign how we work. Just ask millennials. Or ask Melinda.

It’s curious that the Gates Foundation has forgotten the wisdom of integrating home and work while Melinda continues to embody it. Bill and “leaders” of his generation were deprived this kind of education. But not Melinda. So why go backwards now?

Since 2014, the CEO of the Gates Foundation has been a woman: Susan Desmond-Hellman. A woman! Yay! Yay?

But guess what?

She has no kids.

I’m sure Ms. Desmond-Hellman has innumerable talents, but deciding parental leave polices is clearly not one of them.

Melinda, they need you.

Photo credit: Melinda and her daughter Phoebe in 2005

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An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder


An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder

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