Sweetgreen and the Business of Family

Jason Bacaj | 4 min read

woman and baby in flowers

This spring Sweetgreen announced that employees now have five months of paid parental leave. The move pushes Sweetgreen closer to the forefront of equity in the American workplace, particularly in the food and hospitality industry. The U.S. is one of just a few industrialized countries without mandated paid leave for new parents, Sweetgreen’s founders noted in the announcement.

“Someone once gave us a piece of advice we live by: people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” the three Sweetgreen co-founders said in a statement. “This move is rare for our industry and we hope this creates a conversation for other companies to join.”

Parental leave: business and ethical cases

Thin margins and, of course, societal norms conspire in part to make parental leave policies difficult for restaurants. Not long ago, Eater’s editor-in-chief, Amanda Kludt, wrote a 3,500-word feature on how motherhood can be a trap for female chefs.

In the piece, Amanda talked to Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of the Seattle-based Molly Moon Homemade Ice Cream. Neitzel offers all employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Neitzel believes the financials will work out because her workforce is primarily young people and she expects only a few employees each year to take the parental leave.

Just as importantly, the policy signals to Neitzel’s employees that her ice cream joint is worth committing to — ”I want people to think it’s their career. For that to work, they need to feel like we’re going to be a family-friendly company,” she told Amanda.

Sweetgreen’s policy extends to all new parents: mothers, fathers, adoptive parents, and others with new additions to their families are eligible for the five months paid parental leave. And the policy covers restaurant and corporate employees, both those who are full- and part-time.

The particulars are important because many companies have separate parental leave policies for primary- and secondary-caregivers. Really, the Harvard Business Review wrote, the only two categories companies should offer new parents are: disability leave for women physically unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, and parental leave that’s equally available to all.

Equal leave is important not only because it offers support to working parents. It also creates a more inclusive environment, helping to reduce turnover and narrow the gender wage gap.

Turnover among women at Ernst & Young dropped about 15% after the behemoth accounting firm equalized its parental leave program. In addition, a study undertaken by the Swedish government found that for every month of paternity leave a father takes, the mother’s salary could increase by nearly 7%.

Patagonia goes a step further and also offers on-site childcare for employees at its headquarters and a distribution center. It’s expensive, but CEO Rose Marcario has outlined the financials. Essentially, the company recoups half the cost through tax credits, another third through employee retention, and another 10% through engagement. All told, Rose says that Patagonia recoups 91% of the cost of its child care program.

So, there you have it — a few anecdotes and pieces of evidence to bring up when Sweetgreen’s announcement creates a conversation around parental leave at your organization.

Wisetail LMS content creator, Jason Bacaj.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.