Heather Kelly always knew she was going to adopt when she was ready to have children of her own. Her family was built through adoption — both her dad and her aunt were adopted. She adopted her daughter in 2009 and her son in 2011 as infants.
She needed time off to care and bond for her infants, so she approached her boss Steve Simon, who founded the PR firm, then called SSPR, in 1978. Simon also adopted his kids, and was very supportive — he made an exception to the firm’s traditional maternity leave policy, giving Kelly the same amount off as any mother.
“Asking for special treatment was scary,” she said. “If I was turned down, my husband and I would have had to make some hard decisions.”
Kelly, who started at the firm in the ‘90s as an intern, worked her way up the ladder. She’s now the firm’s sole owner and has moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs, Colorado and changed its name to Next PR.
When she became the CEO in 2015, she wanted to support her employees who became parents, so she created adoption and foster benefits at the agency.
The company, which brings in more than $5 million in annual revenue, offers up to $6,000 ($5,000 plus an extra $1,000 in instances such as if a child is on the spectrum or overseas) to aid in adoption fees, for up to two adoptions — a total of $12,000. Plus, employees who adopt or foster get the same six weeks of paid leave as employees giving birth.
“So any parent, regardless of how they fit into that parent structure, gets that opportunity to be at home and to bond and to have that family time and to be paid,” she said. Next PR also offers its employees an additional six weeks of a reduced schedule.
Recently, paid parental leave has been a rising conversation after President Joe Biden lessened his proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for new moms down to four weeks, and now to none at all. The U.S. currently is one of the only countries in the world without mandatory paid maternity leave. A handful of states mandate paid leave, but only 21% of Americans actually get it.
Organizations recommend months as an appropriate timeline — UNICEF says six months is the right amount of time. Women in the U.S. took an average of 10 weeks of paid maternity leave in 2014, according to a University of Washington report.
To date, none of Next PR’s more than 50 employees have used the adoption benefit, Kelly said. But several employees have told Kelly part of the reason they chose to work at Next PR is because of the benefit — they’ve had family members impacted by adoption.
Its benefits have landed it on the Dave Thomas Foundation’s list of workplaces offering the best adoption benefits for five years in a row. This year, Next PR ranked number 58 out of 100 companies, alongside large corporations such as American Express and Bloomberg. It’s the second best policy for a business with under 100 employees, after Dublin, Ohio-based nonprofit Quality Supply Chain Co-op.
Deciding the exact benefit to offer was a bit of a shot in the dark — Kelly went off of what would have helped her when she was adopting and pulled inspiration from the Dave Thomas Foundation’s website.
As companies work to expand their diversity and inclusion within their employees, offering adoption benefits should be a part of that process, according to Kelly. “Certainly, it’s about representation and who’s on your staff, but it’s also [about] every policy that you have. How is it impacting employees? How is it being inclusive?” she said.
She’s worked to build an atmosphere centered on employee connections. For instance, Next PR also offers 24 hours of paid volunteer time a year, which has inspired workers to volunteer together. It’s also encouraged some employees to pick up volunteering all together.
The company also selects one business or organization a year to provide free public relations services. It’s team decides together and the organization or business selected is always mission-driven, Kelly said. This year, it’s been offering services pro-bono for Mother Superior, a venture capital firm that’s focused on funding underrepresented founders.
Adoption benefits are becoming the norm at progressive companies. More than half of U.S. major employers offered adoption benefits (56%) in 2015, according to a Dave Thomas Foundation survey of 1,000 major employers. That number has increased drastically since 1990, when only 12% of these employers did.
Paid leave increases retention. When consulting firm Accenture extended its paid maternity leave from 8 weeks to 16 weeks, the company saw a 40% reduction in the number of moms leaving their jobs after the birth or adoption of a child, according to Fast Company. When Google extended its paid leave in 2007, from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, the rate that new mothers quit dropped by 50%, according to Quartz.
The Great Resignation tells us that employers need to see their employees as a “whole person, and not just what their output can be in my organization between the hours of nine and five,” Kelly said. “We have to really start looking at people in a much more holistic way. So having benefits that make them have a well rounded life is critical.”