Illustration for The Washington Post

Last week, news surfaced that the private equity giant KKR has added its name to the fast-growing list of companies that are extending paid parental leave for employees, among them Johnson & Johnson, Netflix, Microsoft and Adobe.

In May, KKR began offering 16 weeks of paid leave. But the more unusual part of KKR's new policy is that it will now also pay for new parents to bring their child and a nanny along on business trips until the baby turns one. The move is an effort — if an atypical one — to help improve diversity at a firm where only about 13 percent of senior professionals are women and in a profession hardly known for its work-life balance.

"The industry hasn’t done a great job historically of attracting in lots of different types of people," said Suzanne Donohoe, a partner at KRR and member of its management committee. "We’re very committed to trying to change that."

The caregiver benefit is intended to help with both recruitment and retention. "We can spend years trying to attract people into our firm and growing them over time," Donohoe said. "But if you’re not thoughtful and supportive during important transitions in their lives, some of that talent could leave the organization."

A few companies in addition to KKR — typically those in white-collar industries that compete fiercely for highly paid talent — appear to be recognizing that while longer paid leaves can help new parents adjust to life with a baby, they're only part of the solution. An even bigger challenge for retaining those employees comes afterwards, when they begin trying to manage the competing demands on their time and emotions that go with working while parenting young children.

Vodafone now allows new mothers to work on a reduced schedule at full salary for up to six months after their child is born. IBM and other companies pay for breastmilk to be shipped home while new moms are traveling. The consulting firm Strategy& offers new mothers a more family-friendly role for six months after their leave ends.

"Paid leave is so important, but it's like a sprint, and then there’s this marathon that lasts afterward," which includes things like managing breastfeeding and covering gaps in child care, says Jennifer Owens, the editorial director of Working Mother magazine. Owens has seen a rise in the number of companies that allow a slow phase back into work, that pay for extra child care at home while employees are gone during business trips, or that subsidize child care for infants too young to go into day care. 

KKR's new policy is uncommon, but not unique. The advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy pays up to $1500 in airfare costs for a child and companion — whether a spouse, nanny or grandparent — during the first 18 months of a child's life when a breastfeeding mother has to take a business trip that exceeds four days.

Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company, pays for a caregiver's travel expenses when an employee must go on work trips and has a child under the age of one. The company's onsite child-care center also includes pickup from local elementary schools for children up to age nine.

Owens says 56 of the 100 companies on its annual ranking allow children to travel with parents on business trips, but that its survey doesn't ask whether those companies pick up the bill when kids or nannies tag along. A spokesman for one of those companies, Boston Consulting Group, said in an email that it does not pay for caregivers to accompany employees, but does allow them to get company rates for hotel rooms and to use Bright Horizons child-care centers in other cities.

General Electric, another company that told Working Mother it allows children to travel with its working parents, also does not typically pay for a child's caregiver. Yet a company spokeswoman said it may occur on a case-by-case basis, and that the company is looking into several ways to help working mothers who travel, including possibly paying for child care when parents are on the road.

The challenge of offering such perks, of course, is that however generous they may be, the intentions may be questioned: Is the company trying to rush people back into business travel before they're ready? Or trying to cut down on special requests by parents juggling work-life concerns?

Owens says that some moms may find the perk makes it harder to explain to an employer why they don't want to travel as much, but overall she thinks "the best companies who do it are trying to keep those trips and travel to the minimum." 

And in high-pressures industries like private equity, where business travel is simply a reality, such benefits also offer choices that prevent women from having to make as many career sacrifices.

"Giving people the flexibility to integrate their family with their business travel can be something they value," Donohoe said. "There can be cynical interpretations of probably most things, but that’s not the spirit in which the policy was created."

Read also:

IBM will make it easy for new moms to ship home breast milk for free while traveling

A smart way to help mothers return to work after maternity leave

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