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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in 2015 began offering parents one year of fully paid parental leave, recently announced it was cutting paid parental leave to six months. A year was too long for several reasons, said Steven Rice, chief human resources officer at the Gates Foundation, in an interview. It was hard for employees to hand off their work for a year, and when they returned, the organization had usually changed to the point that re-entry was very time-consuming. In addition, moving people around to cover for people on leave left gaps throughout the foundation. Rice said that the decision to offer six months was based on research suggesting it was optimal and that it would be easier for the foundation to handle its workload. The foundation also said it would add a $20,000 stipend for new parents to spend on child care costs and family needs when they return to work. The Gates Foundation’s experience highlights the challenges of devising effective family policies. International research shows that about six months of leave seems to be the magic number for families to achieve the benefits but to avoid the pitfalls of parental leave; much longer has been shown to stunt women’s careers. And paid leave is not enough: Financial assistance for child care, such as subsidized child care and preschool, has a bigger effect on women’s ability to keep working. According to researchers, leave needs to be gender-neutral, and men should be encouraged to take it. Parents also need support beyond the months immediately following the birth – things like subsidized child care, flexible schedules and sick days that can be used for family members.

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