Inclusivity has long been a priority at Capital One Canada and its employee leave programs are no exception.

As a result of this focus, the financial company is seeing more men taking parental leave — by September 2023, men accounted for 64 per cent of employees who used the benefit. The organization offers 26 weeks of parental leave benefits with a 100 per cent top-up for the first six weeks and 75 per cent for the following 20 weeks, says Permpreet Soomal, its chief people officer.

“With our parental leave program, we’ve been inclusive from the start so there isn’t a different benefits package for the birthing parent versus another kind of parent. We want to lead with compassion and create benefits that are inclusive from the get-go. Thanks to this inclusion we’re seeing more male participation. As our leave policies [become] more inclusive, we’re encouraging more participation from everyone.”

Read: 70% of U.S. SMEs standardizing parental leave for all employees: survey

When more men take parental leave, female participation in the labour force increases, she notes. “It’s important to help create an inclusive workplace culture. If you’ve got benefits that allow men to take on some of those [traditionally female] responsibilities, it can make all the difference.”

It also benefits families in general because both parents are able to be present for their children, adds Soomal. “It’s [fairly seamless] with our strategy being inclusive by design and thinking about how our policies serve all of our employees. So we’re seeing this uptick in utilization, which is having other benefits within our company.”

By the numbers

64% The percentage of employees on parental leave at Capital One Canada who were male, as of September 2023

51.8% The percentage of men in Canada who reported having access to parental benefits through their employer in 2022, compared to 55.7% of women

7.3% The percentage of working Canadian fathers on parental leave in 2022

Source: Capital One; Statistics Canada labour force survey

Examining the data Roughly seven per cent of fathers with an infant younger than age one are taking parental leave on an annualized basis, according to Statistics Canada, including paid parental leave funded through employment insurance. While the proportion of men claiming some EI parental benefits doubled from 30,000 in 2018 to 68,000 in 2022, the average leave duration has dropped significantly, says Jennifer Robson, associate professor and program director of political management at Carleton University. “You have more fathers taking some form of leave, but [they] tend to be pretty short.”

Men have equal statutory protection to job-protected parental leave, she adds, and are more likely than new mothers to meet the eligibility for EI parental benefits. Still, regardless of public policy, employers can do a lot to model inclusion in their workplace culture and normalize parental leave for fathers.

Read: AIMCo closing gender equity gap through equitable parental leave, flexible working policies

Robson advises employers to make sure employees aren’t implicitly penalized — not given the same opportunities for development and promotion — due to parenthood and to ensure male leadership models the behaviour they want to promote. “[Employers can also] examine internal policies for administrative or unintended barriers to taking paid or unpaid leave for caregiving.”

It’s also important for employers to create trust and support within and outside of the office. “In terms of career trajectory, we often think taking a step away from work creates disadvantages,” says Soomal. “Having both men and women take [parental] leave helps to dispel that [notion] and creates . . . an environment [in which] everyone has opportunities to advance their careers and focus on other things that are important. Flexible policies like our parental leave really facilitate this opportunity.”

Employee feedback on Capital One Canada’s leave policies has been very positive, especially in terms of the flexibility they offer, she adds, noting employees appreciate not having to weigh the financial decision to step away from work when they consider how they want to raise their families.

Take some time

Flexible leave policies can help with more than just newborn care, says Robson, noting many employees are also caregivers to ageing family members.

Read: SME workers say paid time off, flexible schedules most important benefits: survey

Recognizing this, Capital One Canada introduced a six-month protected leave — Take Some Time — that staff can take for any reason, including parental and caregiving responsibilities.

“We’re thinking about other benefits beyond mandated leaves because we know the workforce of the future is craving opportunities to explore other interests like volunteerism or just taking time for family [or for] travelling the world. Our Take Some Time leave . . . enables our employees to have that freedom.”

The program is slowly gaining traction, she says, noting employees appreciate the flexibility of taking leave for any reason. “We introduced it a little over a year ago and we’ve seen [some minor usage], but everyone recognizes it’s such a unique offering.”

Sadie Janes is an associate editor at Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.