Starting next year, eligible Coca-Cola employees in the U.S. can take advantage of an enhanced parental leave policy that extends paid benefits to all moms and dads.

And their Millennial colleagues are largely to thank.

The policy, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, offers six weeks of paid leave to all new parents at the company*, including moms and dads, and adoptive and foster parents. These benefits supplement the six to eight weeks of paid leave Coke currently provides to birth mothers through short-term disability.

“Fostering an inclusive workplace means valuing all parents – no matter their gender or sexual orientation,” said Ceree Eberly, Chief People Officer, The Coca-Cola Company. “We think the most successful way to structure benefits to help working families is to make them gender-neutral and encourage both moms and dads to play an active role in their family lives.”

Eberly continued, “Paid parental leave provides time off for parents to truly bond with their new child. We feel it’s important for all new parents to take time off, so that when they return to work, they’re refreshed, less stressed and at their best – focused, engaged and productive.”

The policy was championed by Coca-Cola Millennial Voices, a group of young employees tapped to serve as a kickstarter for change to help the company attract and retain both Millennial employees and consumers. Internal surveys and external research highlighted the value their peers place on parental leave and revealed that the average age of first-time, college-educated parents is 30 – also the median age of Coke’s current and prospective Millennial employees. Millennials will account for more than half of the global Coca-Cola system workforce by 2020.

“Increasingly, Millennials are becoming moms and dads,” said Katherine Cherry, 27, one of the five Millennial Voice members who worked with Coke’s HR team to develop a paid parental leave proposal and secure approval from senior leadership. “Paid parental leave isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do for our business. To remain competitive, Coca-Cola must preserve and enhance its talent pipeline. We know paid parental leave will go a long way in supporting our current associates, and it will be a great selling point for recruitment.”

Coke believes its gender-neutral policy will help close the gender gap both at home and in the workplace. Women-only policies, many argue, can unfairly create bias against moms for “opting out” of the workplace. While lengthy maternity leave policies have helped some companies retain female talent, the lack of female senior executives has remained. By removing gender from the equation and offering all new parents the same amount of paid leave, Coca-Cola hopes to combat bias and help pave the way for more women in leadership positions.

The rise in dual-income families in recent years has led to more parents sharing child-rearing responsibilities. “There’s an extremely egalitarian perspective on caregiving and family life among Millennials – including more working moms and stay-at-home dads,” said 32-year-old Valerie Alva-Ruiz, a mother of a 16-month-old daughter. “So now more than ever, it’s important for companies – especially those like Coca-Cola with a longstanding commitment to women’s empowerment and inclusion – to not only offer paid leave for mothers but also for fathers who deserve that bonding time to be equally involved.”


The policy complements Coke’s existing health and flexible workplace benefits, which support work-life balance. “This as an investment in our associates,” Eberly said. “It will help all parents, regardless of family structure, bring their best selves to work and show that we support them during this wonderful but challenging time in their lives.”

The Millennial Voices members note that Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers will benefit from the new policy, too. “You hear a lot about ‘he for she’ or ‘she for she’ initiatives, but this truly an ‘us for us’ movement,” said Melina Baetti, 31. “Millennials are often labeled as the ‘Me’ generation, but this is an example of the ‘We’ generation seeing something that could be better for everyone and taking action.”

Paid parental leave has dominated the news over the last year as major tech companies and several large enterprises announced progressive policies. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 21 percent of large U.S. corporations offered paid maternity leave in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2014. The United Nations (UN) recently recommended that the U.S. move swiftly to adopt stronger parental leave policies in order to build a more inclusive economy.

While federal and local law in many countries mandate paid parental leave, the U.S. lags behind the rest of the developed world. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child. The law applies to private employers with 50 or more employees.

Three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – offer partially paid family and medical leave. These programs are funded through employee-paid state payroll taxes and are administered through each state’s disability program. Local governments are increasingly adopting paid parental leave policies, including the City of Atlanta. On a federal level, the U.S. Department of Defense recently announced longer paid parental leave for both moms and dads. 

*Non-bargaining employees in the U.S.