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Baby steps for paternity leave

What do Sweden and Goldman Sachs have in common? They're both putting fathers first this month—introducing updated parental leave policies to benefit new dads.
A man pushes a stroller in London, U.K., Nov. 27, 2011. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Wire/AP)
A man pushes a stroller in London, U.K., Nov. 27, 2011.  

Sweden just trumpeted a generous enhancement to its national parental leave law: new dads will receive more paid baby-bonding time, and they’re required to take it.

While the U.S. continues to lag behind most developed nations in guaranteeing paid family leave to its workforce (hint: it doesn’t), Sweden is bolstering its widely praised paid parental leave program to further benefit fathers. Currently, Swedish law requires that dads take at least two of the 16 available months offered to new parents, while the remaining months are divvied up however parents choose.

In a fiercer push for gender equality, however, the Swedish government announced that in 2016 dads will be required to take at least three months of job-protected leave – time that mothers cannot use. The ultimate aim? To encourage fathers to take on a larger childcare role in a country where the workforce is largely male-dominated: in 2013, about 75% of men worked full-time, compared to only 40% of women.

RELATED: How state policies help or hinder women's equality

The adjustment appears exceedingly generous in comparison to paid leave options in the U.S., where responsibility is left to states and employers to enact or improve upon parent-friendly policies.

This week, Wall Street's investment banking giant Goldman Sachs led the pack in paternity leave progress after introducing a welcome tweak to its policy:

“We are pleased to announce a global enhancement to our existing two-week parenting leave policy for non-primary caregivers,” Goldman Sachs announced in an internal memo obtained by Business Insider. “...Non-primary caregivers will be offered four weeks of paid leave following the birth or legal adoption of a child, either by their spouses or domestic partners.”

The bump from two to four weeks of paid leave for fathers and other "non-primary caregivers" is part of the firm's effort to accommodate two-income households, same-sex parents and the increasingly egalitarian structure of American families. “Goldman Sachs has an ongoing commitment to the changing dynamics of today’s families and the diversity of our workforce,” Leslie Shribman, a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs told msnbc. “We understand that it is important for both parents to have time at home and share responsibilities after the birth or adoption of a child.”

Despite baby steps at Goldman Sachs, the Department of Labor reports that only 12% of private sector employees have access to paid family leave—a grim number that, many argue, calls for a federal fix. While the U.S. struggles to address gender equality in the workplace, some states have already stepped up to the plate: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all require paid family leave and other states are pushing for similar mandates.

“The United States stands alone as the only industrialized nation where paid family leave is not the law of the land,” states the Department of Labor's website. "Other industrialized nations, with both progressive and conservative governments, are all leading on leave, while we are falling behind.”