Blackbird has unveiled an expanded parental leave policy and it wants startups to copy it

blackbird

The Blackbird team, including Justin Angsuwat (third from the right in the second-back row). Source: supplied.

Leading Australian venture capital fund Blackbird Ventures has significantly expanded its parental leave policy and is making the policy open source to encourage startups to follow its lead. 

The move sees one of Australia’s largest and most established VC funds join an increasing number of Australian companies in the technology and startup sector that are introducing more generous and inclusive leave policies for parents. 

The new policy, which took effect as of January this year, offers all Blackbird staff 20 weeks of paid parental leave, up from the 16 weeks previously offered to primary caregivers and six weeks available to secondary caregivers. 

Paid leave will be available to all part-time and full-time staff who have, or will have, responsibility to care for a new child through birth, adoption, or surrogacy, with birth-giving parents also entitled to an additional four weeks of paid leave. 

Staff will be able to take the leave at any time during the first two years of their child’s birth, adoption or fostering, and the leave can be taken in a single block or in several blocks. Employees who are adopting a child, planning to start a family via surrogacy, or going through IVF treatments will have access to two days of additional paid leave to attend necessary appointments. 

Blackbird will also provide a minimum four weeks paid compassionate leave for staff members who experience a miscarriage and full paid parental leave entitlements to those who experience a stillbirth or neo-natal death. 

Superannuation will be paid on all paid and unpaid parental leave offered to staff, up to 12 months per child, and carried interest vesting will also continue for up to 12 months. Upon returning to work after parental leave, Blackbird staff can also elect to choose four days a week on their full-time salary for up to three months. 

“False dichotomy”

The removal of the distinction between primary and secondary caregivers reflects a deeply held philosophical position of Blackbird’s chief people officer Justin Angsuwat, who told SmartCompany this was the starting point for working on the new policy. 

“We won’t get gender equality in the workplace without gender equality at home, and I feel like this helps to really drive that. We want to support parents playing an equal role and responsibility with their kids, and we need to give them equal opportunity to do that,” said Angsuwat.

As the policy itself explains, the Blackbird team “strongly believe that parents should have equal opportunity to bond with their new family member, and don’t believe in forcing a parent to designate themselves as a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ caregiver”. 

“We believe these designations create a false dichotomy that doesn’t reflect the modern family, and doesn’t reflect our values of diversity and equality; especially when we know that these designations typically disadvantage the careers of women more than men in the workplace.”

Angsuwat says he spent several weeks researching how other companies have developed more inclusive parental leave policies, and the government support that was on offer too, but it took “only a day or two” to get buy-in from the Blackbird team on the new policy. 

The VC has also been inspired by a number of its portfolio companies, including Harrison.ai, which has introduced adoption and surrogacy leave, and Kin Fertility, which has led a campaign to boost the number of Australian startups offering miscarriage leave. 

“I think the biggest gap for us, and especially for a lot of our startups, is how do you turn that into a policy? What is the right policy and how do you structure it?” said Angsuwat.

The start of a conversation

Blackbird hopes to answer those questions in part by making its paid parental leave policy open source, and Angsuwat says this is “just the start” of Blackbird sharing more of its policies and guides to help startups. 

This could include guides to hybrid and remote working; employee compensation and how to use ESOP; and how to improve and measure culture. 

On parental leave, the goal is to make it easy for startups that are aligned with Blackbird’s philosophical position to simply “lift and shift” the policy and adapt it to their own company. 

“Our goal in all of this is helping more startups think about this from day one,” said Angsuwat. 

“A lot of the the startups we work with don’t have the resources internally, especially the early-stage companies, and so we want to help them help their teams.”

That said, Angsuwat is clear this is not a “top down” direction or expectation on Blackbird’s behalf. 

“We don’t expect everyone needs to think about it like we do, but we want to start the conversation and share resources with them so they can more quickly implement this, because I think it’s good for their teams and it’s good for the economy.”

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