One of the undeniable consequences of delaying marriage and family to build a career is that it can make it much tougher to have childen later on. Though not everyone's experience, it certainly was mine. I put 14 years into my journalism career before I got married at age 35. When I started trying to get pregnant two years later, even modern medicine couldn't work a miracle.
So we decided to adopt. For me, compared to going the biological route, adoption was easy. We got very lucky and hooked up with the right lawyer in Florida who arranged a flawless adoption that took just three months and brought a beautiful newborn boy into our life.
After 12 years at BusinessWeek, I was looking forward to a hard-earned maternity leave to care for my son. By my calculations, I should have been entitled to about 10 weeks of pay plus vacation time. But there was one problem: As an adoptive mother, I didn't get any paid leave. Plus, unlike other large corporations, my employer McGraw-Hill did not offer adoption benefits.
The inequity of those policies was like a call to arms. In March, 1997, a BusinessWeek colleague and I sent a letter advocating for adoption assistance to our CEO Terry McGraw and his human resources chief. They responded that the company was considering some form of adoption help and they invited us to participate in the discussions.
It took two years, but McGraw-Hill finally began offering a $5,000 expense reimbursement, plus one week of paid leave, to any employee who adopted a child. The new policy--which stands to this day--took effect shortly before my second son was born in 2000, in time for me and my family to benefit from it.
Today, 41% of the top 1,000 U.S. employers offer financial benefits for adoption, up from 12% in 1990 and 30% in 2000 (right after McGraw-Hill changed its policy), according to a 2005 survey by human resources consultant Hewitt Associates. Reimbursements range from $500 to $20,000 with an average of $5,000. Paid leave runs from one to six weeks, with the average at 3.5 weeks. Unpaid leave, in addition to that available through the Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA), goes from one week to one year, with an average of 12 weeks.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption lists the following reasons why organizations should offer adoption assistance:
- To support all employees building families
- To increase employee loyalty and retention
- For a competitive edge in recruiting new employees
- It is a low cost work-life addition generally used by less than 1% of eligible employees
- It is supported by 95% of Americans (Harris Interactive Survey)
- To give employees time to bond with a child
- To make adoption more affordable
- To help move children from foster care to loving, permanent adoptive homes
- It’s the right thing to do
If you're thinking of adopting or want to know more about corporate adoption benefits, check out the Dave Thomas Foundation and these other resources: