IKEA's new parental leave policy definitely raises the bar for American retailers.

If you're an expecting new parent, there's probably a million and one questions racing through your mind at any given moment.

What's the correct way to hold a newborn? How many onesies is too many? Is it bad that I've never changed a diaper?

Oh, and how in the world am I going to balance work with being a parent?


Photo via iStock.

That last thought clearly doesn't belong. Yet, it's still one on the minds of most American workers about to welcome little ones into their families.

Far too many U.S. workers lack paid parental leave, and those in blue collar and low-wage positions — like fast food and retail — are most affected.

You've probably heard this line before, but it definitely bears repeating: The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world to not have a national paid maternity leave policy. Unfortunately, many businesses won't take the initiative to provide that sort of benefit if they're not required to; a mere 13% of American workers had access to paid family leave in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Having time off after expanding your family benefits parents and babies alike. Studies suggest that paid parental leave lowers infant mortality while improving the mental health of mothers, among other critical factors. Dads, too, are more likely to become involved in family activities, forming beneficial bonds with their kids.

While the U.S. has a lot of work to do on the issue, the tide (slowly, but surely) seems to be turning. And news out of Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA this week is the latest proof.

IKEA announced on Dec. 6, 2016, that starting next year, most of its employees will have access to new, generous paid parental leave benefits.

If you've worked at IKEA for at least one year, you'll be able to take six weeks of fully paid parental leave and another six weeks of 50% pay. The benefit is company-wide too: It doesn't matter if you're salary or hourly, working at corporate or at an individual store, an expecting mother or an expecting father, LGBTQ or straight, adopting or fostering a new little one — you'll have access to the policy.

What's more, if you've worked at IKEA for more than three years, your paid time off increases to four months (eight weeks of full-pay, eight weeks of half-pay).

Photo by Thord Nilsson/AFP/Getty Images.

The move came about because IKEA actually listened to its employees. And their message was clear: Employees wanted better work-life balance.

According to a statement from the company, research into its employees' priorities found that work-life balance and moments spent with loved ones topped the list.

"We believe time with family and friends is so important for a healthy work-life balance and a happy and productive workforce,” said Lars Petersson, president of IKEA USA. “Our co-workers are our most important resource, which is why we continue to invest in helping them reach their dream.”

And as it turns out, investing in your workers pays off. It might seem counterintuitive to let an employee leave the company for such an extended period of time, but providing paid parental leave has been known to be good for business, helping companies recruit top talent and significantly lowering costly worker turnover, among other upsides.

Photo by Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/Getty Images.

IKEA isn't stopping here either. The company also wanted to be more accommodating to employees who don't want to become parents and has introduced a new sabbatical program for them as well. As The Huffington Post reports, the program gives workers with at least seven years' experience three months of unpaid leave with the guarantee their job will be waiting when they return. The more years under a worker's belt past seven, the more time off they can take advantage of.

New and expecting parents have a lot on their plate, and whether they'll be able to make ends meet between work and parenting should never be part of the equation.

"The home is our arena,” Petersson told The Huffington Post. “We think that it’s really important that people working for us get a chance to experience their home, especially when you’re welcoming a new family member."

This way, new parents can mostly worry about messy diapers and finding the time to sleep — not where their next paycheck is coming from.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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