Xero Ltd. is enhancing its parental leave benefits to make them inclusive to all employees on the path to parenthood.

Starting Feb. 1, 2022, the public technology company’s Canadian and U.S. employees are eligible for $12,600 or US$10,000, respectively, through a global fertility benefits provider that offers family forming services — from adoption to surrogacy, fertility treatments, pregnancy and more.

Ben Richmond, Xero’s U.S. country manager, and his husband embarked on a journey to grow their family in July 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Their quest for parenthood wasn’t without its ups and downs. Richmond’s sister had generously agreed to donate her eggs to the couple, but as borders around the world closed, the couple needed to find a way to get her out of New Zealand, Richmond’s homeland, and into the U.S. for the procedure.

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After the couple wrote to New Zealand’s ministry of health, Richmond’s sister finally received permission to travel to the U.S. Close to two years later — and after two surrogates backed out due to the ongoing pandemic — the couple is anxiously awaiting their new baby, who is due in July 2022.

Richmond recognizes that the path to parenthood is out of reach for many people who don’t have the financial means to consider surrogacy an option. Many companies are seeing the positive effects of inclusive parental benefits, he says, noting the more companies that offer these options will put pressure on the ones that don’t.

Previously, Xero’s U.S. parental leave policy allowed for 10 weeks of paid leave at 75 per cent top-up of salary. In September 2020, the organization amended its policy to reflect primary and secondary parental leave. Now, all global employees who are primary caregivers, regardless of how they become a parent, are entitled to 26 weeks of parental leave benefits at a top-up of up to 100 per cent, when combined with government subsidized leaves such as disability or maternity leave. Secondary carers are entitled to six weeks of paid partner leave at a top-up of up to 100 per cent of their salary.

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The change was welcomed by Richmond, who plans to take the primary parental leave, while his husband will take a shorter two-to-four week parental leave available through his own company. However, since Richmond doesn’t qualify for any other leave program, he’ll only receive a top-up of 70 per cent. Still, if more employers take the same steps to make their parental leave offerings more inclusive, it would be a game-changer for same sex and heterosexual couples alike, says Richmond, noting more women would have the opportunity to continue working after welcoming a baby, instead of sacrificing their careers to shoulder the bulk of the childcare responsibilities at home.

In an effort to make employees feel supported while on parental leave, Xero is also offering up to 10 “keeping in touch days” paid at usual salary. When employees return to work following the leave, they can choose how they want to work for the first two months, with the support of their people leaders and Xero, including reduced days or hours and work-from-home arrangements. The organization also has a parents’ employee resources group to support staff at any stage of parenthood.

Read: Manulife enhances family benefits for Canadian employees

In addition, when employees embark on their parenthood journey, the company celebrates them, says Richmond. “It’s not enough to just [offer] these benefits, organizations should communicate and build awareness behind their importance and they should celebrate those who are using these benefits, so others know it’s OK to use and engage in them as well.”