YWCA Chicago adds 6 weeks of paid leave
February 08 2018

Lisa Bertagnoli
Crain’s Chicago Business

The YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago on Jan. 1 began offering six weeks of paid leave to employees who meet Family and Medical Leave Act eligibility. The nonprofit employs 156, 90 percent of whom are women. The organization’s old policy offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave and held the employee’s job during her or his absence.

Only 10 percent of American companies offer full-salary paid family leave, according to 2016 research from the Society for Human Resource Management, an association for HR professionals. “Our mission is to eliminate racism and empower women,” said Dorri McWhorter, CEO at the YWCA. “We have to start with the women within our own walls.” She said that an employee due to give birth in May will most likely be the first to use the new policy.

Paid leave will help the YWCA recruit new employees and reduce turnover, currently at what McWhorter calls a “high” 40 percent due in part to the nature of its work. McWhorter said it is the area’s largest provider of assistance to female victims of sexual assault. Other measures to reduce turnover include raising the annual salaries of its social workers, all of whom have master’s degrees, to about $50,000 from $40,000; offering flexible schedules; and balancing caseloads to prevent a day-in, day-out schedule of traumatic cases.

About 10 employees, less than 10 percent of the YWCA’s workforce, have taken FMLA leaves a year. “We determined the cost (would have been and) would be manageable,” McWhorter said. Employees who take leave and their managers will create a plan to cover their workload during their absence.

YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago isn’t the only women-centric nonprofit to offer paid leave: The Chicago Foundation for Women has offered six weeks of paid parental leave to full-time staffers since 2003. All of the foundation’s 14 employees are women. “CFW’s policies reflect our values of supporting women in leading fulfilling lives as members of a community—not just as employees, but as mothers, family members, caregivers and engaged citizens,” said Linda Wagner, vice president of finance and administration. “This means having policies that support healthy work-life balance, including flexible scheduling, paid time off and sick-leave sharing.”

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act marked its 25th anniversary on Feb. 5.

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