Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is about more than hiring practices and equal pay. The benefits you offer employees exhibit your core values. For jobseekers, they serve as a litmus test for whether your company is the right fit for them.
Offering family benefits like employer-sponsored adoption assistance can be especially impactful. “When companies show how they value diverse families, even in their perks, that commitment gets established in employees’ hearts and minds,” said Sharon Terera, an HR consultant with ForexToStocks. “Ties like these are hard to break.”
Adoption isn’t just an overlooked aspect of DEI — it’s often the missing link in companies’ approach to family benefits altogether. Here’s how to get started with employer-provided adoption benefits.
Why DE&I Programs Should Include Adoption Benefits
Building a family is a fundamentally human experience, regardless of the path to parenthood. Over 135,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year, going to parents from all backgrounds and walks of life. A significant (and growing) share of those couples are same-sex and LGBTQIA+. According to a Family Equality study, over 60% of LGBTQIA+ people planning families expect to use adoption and assisted reproductive technology to become parents.
For companies looking to redouble their commitment to DEI, adoption benefits provide a meaningful path forward. Adoption empowers non-traditional families to become parents, bringing greater equity to companies’ existing suite of family benefits. “Employer-provided adoption benefits resonate especially with LGBTQIA+ working parents and same-sex couples,” said Gergo Vari, CEO at Lensa, an international recruiting firm.
Most DEI initiatives only impact employees at work. But adoption assistance, and family benefits broadly, extend the reach of those efforts. Vari believes the next iteration of DEI transcends the nine-to-five, impacting employees’ personal and family lives. Adoption assistance does that, particularly for LGBTQIA+ and same-sex couples.
“Offering these benefits is really putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to providing support for these workers,” Vari said. While some leaders describe their companies in familial terms, they don’t always do enough to back it up. “Supporting employees' personal lives and family-building enhances loyalty by doing something concrete, helping you to live up to the idea of 'family' rather than just paying lip service.”
Ways to Support Employees Considering Adoption
On principle, it’s hard to argue against offering employer-provided adoption benefits. It’s also hard to deny that adoption has always been a legally complicated, emotionally taxing process to go through. There are no less than three paths to adoption, each subject to its own requirements. It can also take years for couples to get matched with a child, even with the help of adoption agencies and attorneys. That complexity is intimidating enough for hopeful parents, let alone companies looking for meaningful ways to help.
“Knowing where to start is really challenging, and there’s a lot of research and education that’s needed, as well as guidance and support, to be able to carve out the right path,” said Amy Twombly, a Maven adoption coach. “Adoption is very complex and there are a lot of misconceptions about the process.”
1. Add adoption assistance to your benefits package
Making adoption assistance part of your benefits package is the most direct way to help couples. While your HR team might not be well-versed in the nuances of how adoption works, you can point employees in the direction of someone who is. Employer-provided adoption benefits pair hopeful parents with experts who can educate them and advocate on their behalf, leading to more successful (and timely) outcomes. They include a suite of services, including:
- Referral services
- Financial assistance
“As a Maven Adoption Coach, I help guide and support individuals at any part of their process and really meet them where they are in their own journey,” Twombly said. One component of that support includes steering LGBTQIA+ and same-sex couples toward high-quality adoption agencies. “Everyone should know that there are plenty of agencies out there who are LGBTQ+ friendly, and who work with many expectant mothers who are open to all individuals and families—including LGBTQ+ parents, same-sex couples, and single parents,” she said.
2. Offer financial support
It’s not uncommon for companies to offer biological parents financial assistance in the form of paid leave, “baby bonding bucks,” and other employee rewards. Unfortunately, couples looking to adopt haven’t always received the same kind of support. Adoption costs can range anywhere between $5,000 for foster care adoption to $50,000 for international adoption. Agency, legal, court, and travel fees can quickly add up, especially in cases where the process takes over a year. “Adoption really should be viewed in the same way maternity and paternity benefits are perceived,” said Mark Surprenant, General Manager at BPKC. “It may even be more disruptive financially and emotionally.”
Sponsoring adoption for an employee through an upfront stipend or reimbursement is one way to help. Because utilization rates for employer-provided adoption benefits are generally low, even generous policies aren’t cost-prohibitive. “Companies should consider offering adoption assistance to employees since it ends up being a low-cost initiative with high impact value,” Surprenant said. In comparison, pregnancies account for as much as a fifth of employers’ total health insurance costs.
Like most employer-employee payments, adoption assistance comes with tax considerations. Though not subject to regular income tax, the payments are still subject to Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. Fortunately, couples are eligible for a tax credit or exclusion up to $14,300 per child on all covered adoption expenses. The amount of this tax credit is subject to review annually.
There are two important exceptions to note. The first is based on household income: Couples with annual earnings over $254,520 are not eligible for the tax credit. Further, the credit isn’t available for adoptions of stepchildren.
Bottom line? Encourage employees to consult with a tax expert when going through the adoption process. Your adoption assistance vendor may also provide employees with additional information on potential tax implications.
3. Expand your definition of parental leave
The same people-centric companies that prioritize DEI are just as likely to offer paid parental leave. Unfortunately, many policies are either limited to biological parents or overlook adoption as a path to parenthood. “For a long time, most company policies did not offer the same kind of leave plans to birth parents and adoptive parents,” Terera said. “Extending your parental leave benefits to adoption is an important step toward greater inclusion.”
Terera recommends allocating an equal amount of paid leave for adoption. Adoptive parents still need time to bond with their children, and, in some cases, they may need that time before custody is finally approved. Then there’s also the very real mental health challenges associated with adoption. Even for infants, the transition from their birth mother may leave lasting emotional trauma, making it absolutely necessary for adoptive parents to spend uninterrupted time with them.
In addition to being the right thing to do, offering paid adoption leave may already be required depending on your jurisdiction. California, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, and other states require most employers to offer leave for adoptive parents, often matching what is allocated for biological parents.
How does Maven help?
The paths to parenthood are as diverse as the workforce. Some couples become parents via in vitro fertilization, others through surrogacy or adoption. Adding adoption assistance to your benefits package serves as a tangible way to support employees on that journey. With Maven, employees pursuing adoption can meet with a variety of different specialty providers, including adoption coaches and mental health specialists, who can guide them through what is often a complex journey. Maven makes it possible for your business to support different paths to parenthood, attracting and empowering female and LGBTQ+ employees. Want to learn what Maven can bring to your workplace? Let’s chat.
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