McKinsey’s new parental leave program supports inclusive career advancement

Not long after Sarah Kleinman, a partner at McKinsey, came back from her maternity leave, she got the chance to help pilot and develop a new re-boarding program at the firm for partners returning from parental leave. That re-boarding pilot became the seed of a newly expanded global parental leave policy for all colleagues launched this spring. It extends firmwide parental leave in most regions and includes a re-integration program to help ensure returning colleagues can maintain their career growth, rather than having to play catchup.

new parental leave program
Sarah Kleinman and family.
new parental leave program

Research shows women in the workplace overall tend to feel more negative consequences when they take leave, with 20 percent of women surveyed saying their leave had an adverse impact on their career, compared to 10 percent of men. McKinsey encourages all firm members, especially leaders at the partner and senior partner level, to make the most of leave benefits. In the last senior partner-elect class, 48 percent took parental leave while at the firm and 49 percent of the women elected in the latest partner cycle had also taken parental leave.

The pilot program Sarah participated in takes this support a step further. “When you return from extended leave, especially as a partner, it can feel like you have to start from scratch rebuilding your client base. For some people, that can be an anxious and lonely experience,” she says. “We wanted to figure out: How can we give people more support so they know the firm has their back and really believes in them?”

Working closely with Gretchen Berlin, head of our diversity, equity and inclusion programs for North America, and Nadine Ray, director of partner programs, Sarah first took a look at how she wanted to best spend her time at the firm and what her career goals were now that she was back from leave. She knew she wanted to invest in building client relationships in particular, and together with Gretchen and Nadine, developed a proposal for what that might look like. “I presented that proposal and got a group of senior partners engaged,” she says. “A program like this rallies everyone around your aspirations in order to support you in your transition back.”

The re-boarding program is now being extended to firm members around the world. This includes extended time to bond with and care for a new infant for parents who have given birth and all other parents. It also includes added re-boarding benefits like a re-integration plan and one-on-one support, coaching, and support for a phased return to client work.

new parental leave program
Whitney Zimmerman and his daughter.
new parental leave program

The new support has been heartily welcomed by parents across the firm, who have cherished that time with their newborns. Associate partner Whitney Zimmerman, who is based in the United Kingdom, heard the news after returning from leave. Having recently taken three months after his daughter’s birth by adding on his paid time off, he is an advocate for new fathers taking full advantage of the extended benefit. “I feel privileged that I could take three months to support my wife and daughter,” he says. “I know the full leave isn’t always taken by every dad, and I think it’s important for new parents to feel empowered to take that time.”

Jacqueline Carey, a recruiter in North America, was surprised to get a call partway through her maternity leave, letting her know that when she would be returning to work, it would be to a promotion as senior recruiter. For Jacqueline, the opportunity came at a time when new parents often feel they’ve been sidelined from their careers. “I always knew I wouldn’t be dinged for taking maternity leave, but I didn’t think I would actually be promoted,” says Jacqueline. “There are a lot of biases against working parents and that just wasn’t the case here.”

A program like this rallies everyone in line with your aspirations in order to support you in your transition back.

Sarah Kleinman, McKinsey partner

A senior recruiter with GLAM, McKinsey’s LGBTQ+ network, Jacqueline said she and her wife felt supported at every step along the way of deciding to have a baby, which for same-sex couples is often a more complicated process involving multiple medical procedures, all of which were fully covered for her by the firm’s health benefits. “In many workplaces, the benefits for same sex couples are not acknowledged,” she says. “For me, the culture around parenthood felt very supportive here. My being a mother is acknowledged and valued by my team.”

The same goes for all new parents at McKinsey. “Becoming a working parent isn't an easy transition, which is why I’m proud that we're able to make the 'working' part as easy as possible,” says our chief diversity and inclusion officer Maria del Mar Martinez. “We hope these changes allow parents to focus on family—then successfully return to doing the work they love.”

Never miss a story

Stay updated about McKinsey news as it happens