Private equity firm KKR & Co. LP (KKR) recently announced an enhancement to its family leave policy. The new policy allows new mothers at the executive level to bring along their babies and nannies for a free ride when the women travel for business. This new caregiver benefit follows a trend of fast-growing, highly competitive companies strengthening family leave policies in recent years to encourage new talent to join the company and to keep valued employees already on board. As it often happens with novel innovations, the KKR policy change is being met with criticism.
The company was founded in 1976 as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. but the name has shortened as the company evolved. In offices around the world, KKR’s 1,200 employees work in industries that include energy, natural resources, finance, health care, chemicals, consumer products, and technology. In addition to private equity investments, the company also invests in leveraged buyouts and growth capital.
The private equity industry in general is staffed overwhelmingly by competitively driven men who take pride in grueling schedules and long work hours. At KKR, approximately 87% of senior-level employees are men. Suzanne Donohoe, a KKR partner on the company’s management committee acknowledges “the industry hasn’t done a great job historically of attracting in lots of different types of people” but “we’re very committed to trying to change that.”
Donohoe says investing years in attracting the right people and facilitating their professional growth over many years is one reason for the new caregiver benefit. She says talent leaves the company when it is “not thoughtful and supportive during important transitions” in employees’ lives, such as the birth or adoption of a baby.
In May, KKR extended its family policy to 16 weeks of paid leave following birth or adoption of a child. The newer caregiver benefit allows babies and their caregivers to fly free until the child is a year old.
Jennifer Owens likens paid family leave to running. She says paid leave is important “but it’s like a sprint, and then there’s this marathon that lasts afterward.” Owens is editorial director of Working Mother magazine, a publication that keeps up with all the latest changes and trends in the workplace and how they affect working mothers.
Critics question the caregiver policy at KKR and similar policies elsewhere as a possible hustle to return to the job and the plane sooner than the working mom is really ready. Is it a way to eliminate or minimize special baby-related requests from new moms? Or to do away with the excuse that a new baby makes travel difficult or impossible?
Another concern is that paid baby and caregiver travel might not be fair to mothers of older children or childless women who must travel; are new moms getting “paid” more for their time away from home? Others question the fairness of extended family leave perks at the executive level while women in the lower ranks are exempt from these benefits, which might be of greater value to employees making less money and enjoying fewer privileges on a daily basis.