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PERKED UP

With its new parental leave policy, HPE puts Silicon Valley on notice

By Lila MacLellan

Antonio Neri was already a popular CEO at HPE, the server and IT services firm where he took over from Meg Whitman last year. Apparently, he’s seen as an of-the-people leader, so to speak, having worked his way to the top of the company since starting at a call center in 1995.

But he must be that much more appreciated now: Neri just cut the ribbon on HPE’s new headquarters in San Jose, California, and announced a package of employee-benefit upgrades and additions, including six months of fully paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, up from two weeks under the previous policy.

With the extension, HPE becomes a Silicon Valley leader in generous parental leave policies. Neri tells Quartz at Work that HPE’s is the most generous policy among the companies it sees as peers. Indeed, three to five months of fully paid leave is the norm at tech firms like IBM and Cisco, as well as at places like Facebook and Google. (Adobe went to six months of paid leave in 2015, but that was just for birth mothers; other new parents at Adobe get 16 weeks.)

There were other perks announced today by HPE, including a retirement transition program giving employees the option of working part-time for a year before leaving for good, a career-reboot program for people returning to the workforce, and “Wellness Fridays,” when employees will be encouraged one Friday each month to leave work three hours early. There’s also the new headquarters—an unassuming glass box on the outside that is outfitted with what Neri describes as state-of-the-art connected technology and airy spaces on the inside for working and meeting. (Its lobby also features some of Neri’s personal artwork: An abstract metal sculpture that Neri, a trained artist, designed himself.)

Still, it’s the parental leave that may be the most striking example of how Neri hopes to make an improved culture part of his strategy as a leader and his legacy, as he strives to convince the tech sector that HPE is under-appreciated.

The perk for parents and families, he says, is “foundational” to a cultural change. The company landed at six months by talking to employees and looking around the world to see what was becoming the norm in other places, Neri says. The US mandates 12 weeks of unpaid family leave but doesn’t actually guarantee any paid leave at all (though some states have started introducing their own requirements). On the other end of the spectrum, paid parental leaves of a year or more are common in Nordic countries, which Neri felt was extreme.

“In the end, it’s all about providing financial security, right?” says Neri. “Listen, when you have a child, you obviously want the best for the child, but at the same time, if you have a mortgage and a bunch of bills to take care of, people sometimes sacrifice the ability to take care of the child in an emotional way, because of the financial challenges they may face,” he adds. Extending parental leave was a way to provide “peace of mind.”

Neri wishes this benefit would have existed for him when he became a parent, particularly because he and his wife did not have other family around to help when they relocated to the US and started their own. “My wife and I moved from Europe and we had no one here, so we had to figure it out ourselves,” he said. Neri, who is Italian and was born in Argentina, and his wife, who is Dutch, got married and moved to the US a week after their honeymoon, then had their first child within a year. Having two weeks to figure everything out after starting a new life in a foreign country was not optimal, he says. His wife would have appreciated six months, he says, and he personally would have wanted at least one month off.

Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rolled back its parental leave, from one year to six months, after finding that year-long leaves caused too much disruption within the foundation, and coming across research supporting the idea that six months was ideal for parent and child.

Whether six months is really the optimal time frame is up for debate; for now, however, HPE has set a new benchmark. Now we watch to see whether the perk is attractive enough to recruit good people and keep them from leaving, and whether others follow Neri’s lead.