The firm also introduced a program, similar to one recently introduced by IBM, that lets employees ship pumped breast milk home at no cost when traveling on business, as well as expanded the number of hours of back-up dependent care provided to employees.
Accenture's benefits are the latest in the arms race by many large U.S. companies to offer perks for working parents as they compete for employees in a much tighter labor market and retain and promote women into their senior ranks. The private equity firm KKR is now paying for employees to travel with their nannies. Vodafone is letting new mothers come back to work on a part-time basis at full pay.
And many companies have been greatly expanding the number of weeks of paid parental leave they offer employees -- including fathers -- with Netflix offering an entire year after the birth of a new child. Back in March, Accenture itself doubled its paid parental leave to 16 weeks for birth mothers.
"The classic expression about the 'war for talent' is incredibly escalated right now," said Ellyn Shook, the company's chief human resources officer. "Our clients are demanding deeper specialization, so insuring we can attract and inspire the very best talent is critical to our success. The way we insure we can do that is by really listening to our people."
Shook said the ideas for Accenture's new benefits came both from an employee who heard about IBM's program and asked if Accenture would offer it ("That was an easy one," Shook said) and discussions in the firm's "Moms on the Move" group that helped spark the new travel policy. That program will automatically be extended to any employee in North America who is returning from parental leave and is the child's primary caregiver -- moms or dads -- rather than being an opt-in program that could give employees pause that they're stepping onto a mommy track.
"Once you start making things a choice, people start to wonder, 'If I opt into this thing, am I going to be viewed differently than people who don’t,'" Shook said. "What we did is we took that away. This is standard. You come back, and your assignment will be in your home location for a year."
While Accenture's new policy is unusual, at least one other consulting firm has made a similar move. At Strategy&, new mothers are automatically given access to a more family-friendly role at the firm for six months after their return from leave -- either in a staff role or one with less travel. During the temporary period, consultants' billable hours, an important metric in the industry, are guaranteed, an effort to ease concerns about how the program could affect their bonuses.
Accenture's Shook said the new program is intended to keep its consultants from having to make career sacrifices while still being sensitive to their needs as new parents. "What we wanted to do was make a commitment to new mothers and other primary caregivers so they didn’t have to choose," she said. "This is a commitment we are making to them so they can have career-enhancing experiences without getting on an airplane on Monday morning."