Bill Gates' foundation says 52-week paid leave isn't doable after all, but will give new parents $20,000

Bill and Melinda Gates
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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has decided its generous 52-week paid parental leave policy is not working. Instead, the organization will offer half as much paid leave and a $20,000 stipend to new parents.

In the United States, where there is no national paid family leave policy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's year-long policy, enacted in 2015, has been written about, dissected and ogled over ("It's every working mom and dad's dream," Elle wrote at the time).

But you know what they say about things that are too good to be true...they probably are.

On Jan. 25, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the 52-week policy will be halved. The new program will go into effect for full-time employees on April 17, spokesperson Jason Hunke tells CNBC Make It.

"We saw and heard many good things, like wonderful stories of quality family time with a new child and career development opportunities for those who took on a challenging backfill opportunity," chief human resources office Steven Rice wrote on LinkedIn. "But we also learned the program had created some unintended consequences. We received feedback and saw in practice that a year away was more disruptive than we anticipated."

While a new parent is out, someone else is hired to fill that person's roll — called a "backfill position" — and sometimes the high number of backfills make it unduly cumbersome to get work done.

"For example, backfill positions had a ripple effect across the organization, in some cases extending two or three layers deep ... once we backfilled the role of an employee going on leave, we often needed to find a backfill for the backfill," Rice writes. "On one team, 50% of the staff was either on leave or staffed by those in backfill positions, making the regular work of the foundation far more difficult than expected."

Male and female employees who have a child through birth, surrogacy or adoption will now get six months of paid leave and $20,000 when they return to work to help with child care costs and other family needs.

"It is taxable income, but there are no conditions," Hunke tells CNBC Make It.

Despite the cutback, Melinda Gates has been an advocate for family-friendly policies in corporate America.

We're making progress with women in the workplace, but it's 'spotty', says Melinda Gates
We're making progress with women in the workplace, but it's 'spotty', says Melinda Gates

"We need to have a good, paid family medical leave policy," Melinda Gates told CNBC's "Squawk Box" in September. "We're one of only eight countries in the world — in the world — that doesn't have a paid family leave policy. That's crazy."

In particular, giving both parents time off of work facilitates more even distribution of labor at home, says Melinda Gates.

"In the United States, women do five years of unpaid labor their husbands don't do. We do 90 minutes more a day: make the school lunch, help with the homework, fix the breakfast, drive them to school," Melinda Gates said in September to CNBC. "We need to say to men, 'It's OK to go out and to take leave.' Because one of the things when men take leave, they're more involved in raising the children. It's better for him and it's better for the kids."

Notably, President Donald Trump addressed paid family leave in his State of the Union address Tuesday. "I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child," Trump said.

However, Trump previously called for six weeks' leave for new mothers and fathers, which did not come to fruition, and experts point out there are no details on the President's current plan or any guarantee it will happen. 

See also:

How Anne and Susan Wojcicki's parents raised the founder of 23andMe and the CEO of YouTube

How to raise the next Steve Wozniak, according to Steve Wozniak

Billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has signed off for the month of December—to go on paternity leave

Here's what it was like growing up in the family that raised two of the most successful women in Silicon Valley
Here's what it was like growing up in the family that raised two of the most successful women in Silicon Valley