Maternity leave isn’t something I’d given much thought to. I know there is a debate raging, I know that my Swedish co-workers correct me and say “parental leave benefit” and I know my current benefit is competitive (16 weeks, full pay, regardless of gender of the parent or birth/adoption/guardianship of child). I didn’t know how parental leave impacts retention of women in the workforce across all incomes and sectors, but I knew that Google increased their benefit in a pitch to retain female employees and it worked.
And then, seemingly overnight, this became a major consideration. I became a 30 year old woman in a stable relationship with Plans. Moreover, I became a 30 year old woman in a stable relationship with Plans and the good fortune to be desirable to people who occasionally show up and try to offer me new jobs. And in looking at these, I discovered that my maternity benefit is very, very competitive. Others I’ve seen have ranged from 8 weeks at full pay but no ability to take more than 8 weeks to 16 weeks at no pay.
And my first question is “do you people not want to retain female talent?!” It costs about $10,000 to hire someone in my field when you think about time lost to interviews, money spent perking people up (recruiting), and various other activation costs. I guess depending on the hire that’s only 1-2 months of paid leave, but I think I just found the leaky pipe everyone has been talking about.
My plan had been to work until it was baby time (in a year or two, relax folks), take my leave, then come back. If I were in a job with one of these less generous leave policies my plan would be either 1) work until I though “ooh, baby next year” then look for a job with better benefits or 2) work until baby time, exhaust the benefit such as it is, then quit my job and find a new one 6ish months later.
There is a huge, glaring, major assumption in my plan: I am in a high demand, well paid field and I have options. I assume that if I quit my job I will find a new one 6 months later. I have enough padding to quit my job for 6 months.
Now imagine the average woman who at this point may or may not be partnered (40.6% of American babies were born out of wedlock in 2013 per the CDC) and whose income is probably in the $40k-$50k range (if she’s lucky). What the hell does she do? No, really, daycare is prohibitively expensive, her leave benefit might only allow 6-8 weeks, what does she do?
Parental leave is about so much more than individual families – it becomes a major concern in enabling women to have joint career and family goals. It enables men to take time off to spend with their families beyond a couple of days of PTO, and normalizes work-life balance regardless of gender. Further it helps level the playing field between rich and poor moms and boosts retention of female employees across the income spectrum.