Conscious Company Media Cofounder & CEO Meghan French Dunbar says taking full parental leave exemplifies conscious leadership. Here's why.

At the time of writing this, I am 36 weeks pregnant and just a few weeks away (hopefully) from bringing our first child into the world. Over the past few months, as I’ve gone to speaking gigs, hosted our own events, and attended conferences, I keep getting the same question in addition to all the usual suspects (boy or girl, due date, name, etc.): “Are you really going to take your full three-month parental leave as CEO?” The person asking often seems shocked or in a state of disbelief that I will be unplugging from work for three whole months to be with my newborn son — despite new research indicating that women actually need closer to an entire year to recover from having a child.

At first, I answered this question with, “I am going to try!” still leaving room for the idea that I would probably still be checking in or that it might not be the full three months. I felt ashamed or embarrassed in some way, as though my taking time off to be with my newborn was irresponsible as the CEO. But as time has gone on, I have learned to answer this question with a simple, “Yes.” I have begun to see answering this question affirmatively and with a certain level of conviction as part of my duty to model true conscious leadership.

“I have begun to see answering this question affirmatively and with a certain level of conviction as part of my duty to model true conscious leadership.”

As leaders of our organizations, we are constantly being looked to, whether we know it or not, to model the behaviors that we expect from our own team. Actions always speak louder than words. Even if we say that we are on board with our espoused company or personal values, if our actions do not align with those values, we erode trust between ourselves and our teammates. As a leader, I consistently espouse the ideals of conscious leadership, of taking care of ourselves as humans, and of putting our families first. Who would I be then if, at the first test of these values, I bowed to external corporate pressure and decided that somehow work was a larger priority to me than my newborn child? We have many people on our team who are likely going to have children in the foreseeable future. What would I be modeling to them if I tell them that they should definitely take their full parental leave, but then don’t do so myself?

I have a good friend who works for a prestigious organization that is renowned for its parental leave policy — six months paid leave for mothers and fathers. However, when I asked him about taking the parental leave when their next child is born, he told me, “There’s no way I could do it. Although we have that as a benefit, the culture here is such that it would be frowned upon to take the entire thing. My boss definitely wouldn’t be okay with it.” I’m sure at some point his boss didn’t take his or her full parental leave because his or her boss didn’t take their full parental leave, whose boss didn’t take their parental leave, and so on all the way to the top of the organization.

“If you are a conscious leader at your organization, you have a moral obligation to both create employee benefits and model the best practices that promote the health and wellbeing of your entire team.”

Contrast this to a close friend who works in Australia, where the overall societal culture dictates that parents should take significant time off when their child is born. My friend, who has a massive role in the government running impact investing for an entire province, took a year off with her first child, no questions asked. This is a result of both the cultural norms in Australia as well as the laws. In the US, our laws are lacking (cough, cough) and our societal norms are inconsistent, with best case scenarios dictating that the mother of the child should take some time off to be with the new child. This leaves it up to each individual organization to set their own norms around all paid leave. If the leader or leaders of an organization constantly check in on vacations, send emails on the weekends, or don’t take advantage of the benefits of the company themselves — such as parental leave — this will become the cultural norms of the organization no matter what you have in writing. If you are a conscious leader at your organization, you have a moral obligation to both create employee benefits and model the best practices that promote the health and wellbeing of your entire team. And when it comes to parental leave, as conscious organizations, the bare minimum that we should be providing for our teammates and ourselves is 12 weeks’ paid leave for either parent.

So, yes, I am taking a full three months off to be with my newborn son even though I am the CEO, and I am shouting it from the rooftops for everyone to hear.

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