In case you missed it (or you are not a parent and this issue hasn’t been on your radar) the US is the only industrialized nation in the world not to have any form of paid parental leave when it comes to having babies. It is downright embarrassing, frankly, especially since we are the first to tout America as “the greatest country on earth”… except when it comes to supporting families in the workforce.
It is an issue that certain politicians, notably Hillary Clinton, are campaigning to change should they become president.
Until that happens, we can applaud and take note of (as should the US government) individual companies who are taking matters into their own hands so that their businesses thrive, they have loyal employees, and everyone is happy. Seems like a win-win situation, right? The issue of not having any form of paid maternity or paternity leave doesn’t just affect an individual family, it affects the whole ecosystem of the workforce, the economy, the pay gap and the future.
You see, if there is no form of maternity leave, women are essentially being told (as they are statistically the primary caregivers of newborns) they must choose between their career and having children. And because there is no paid leave, there is no incentive for women to come back, which therefore can potentially affect an employers decision to hire a woman of “child-bearing” age. This in turn affects the way women are paid compared to men for doing the same job, because hey if you’re an employer who is hiring a woman who will at some point be forced to leave when she has a baby, what incentive do YOU have to pay her more?
But when you look deeper at the numbers, companies which do privately offer paid maternity leave and job security actually report no change or an increase in profitability, throwing out the whole argument that it is cheaper to fire a new mother and hire someone to replace her.
There are a number of high profile companies in the US that offer great family benefits, including Google, which gives new dads seven paid weeks and 12 weeks to fathers who are primary caregivers, and birth mothers receive 18 weeks of fully paid leave. Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who has five children and was the first Google employee to take maternity leave, wrote an op-ed earlier this year laying out the benefits of paid parental leave.
“Support for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course. Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it,” she said.
Over in Sweden, notorious for being one of the most progressive countries in the world, has a great government-mandated parental leave policy. They allow parents to stay at home for 480 days in total (with 390 days paid at 80% of a worker’s salary up to a statutory ceiling, the rest is paid at a set rate). Added to that is the mandate that men MUST take 60 of those days to themselves or they forfeit the entire leave. That outlines brilliant support not just for mothers but entire families! There are very few companies and countries that ensure fathers are part of this issue.
In the UK business mogul Richard Branson made headlines in June after announcing one of the best paid paternity leave policies in the world. New fathers who work at Virgin Management, a small division of the Virgin empire, are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of paid paternity leave at full salary! There are some stipulations, such as the father has to have been working at the company for 4 years (those who have worked there 2 years can have the same leave but only receive 25% of their pay). The fathers are also only eligible for these great benefits if they take it in conjunction with the mother on maternity leave. In other words, if a man is married to a stay-at-home mother, he can’t get the benefits.
It was a ground breaking policy for British companies because government paternity leave only allows for two weeks, versus a mother’s 52 weeks. Some criticized Virgin’s restrictions on the paternity leave policy, but from where we’re standing, it’s not as if many other contenders are out-doing them! They are leaving the way on this issue by far.
And perhaps that is the point: make a start, lead the way. In the US we could be waiting years until a successful paid family leave program is implemented. However apart from some major tech and finance companies which offer their employees some great leave benefits, there are a handful of recent notable names taking a stand for this issue and showing that they care about the welfare of the families who work for them.
In May, the US Navy announced it will be doubling its maternity leave in order to attract more women to its ranks. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a speech, said starting in 2016 women will be entitled to 12 weeks, instead of the current 6 on offer. He spoke of the great need to offer support to women and families, and emphasized the importance of diversity in their ranks.
“[W]e need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” he said, adding that women graduate in larger numbers from American colleges yet the figures in the workforce at a certain point show a significant gender drop-off.
Women currently make up 18% of the Navy, and 17% of officers.
A few months later in August, streaming company Netflix announced its shocking new policy on family leave. In a blog post on their site, Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer stated the company will allow unlimited leave for both moms and dads within the first year of a child being born, to allow them the “the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances.”
“Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family,” she added.
Imagine that, a company allowing a parent or a family to decide what’s best for them and knowing their employer or the government will work with them.
And then in a heartbeat after their announcement, tech giant Microsoft announced it too had a major facelift for its parental leave policy. They are extending their leave to 12 weeks at full pay for both moms and dads starting in November this year, the company said in a blog post.
“As we ask our employees to bring their “A” game to work every day to achieve our mission, we believe it’s our responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work. A key component of this is supporting our employees with benefits that matter most to them,” wrote Kathleen Hogan, EVP of Human Resources.
“When I look at how rapidly the traditional workplace is changing, not just at Microsoft, but throughout business in general, I see a tremendous opportunity for companies to put a stake in the ground around what they believe in and what kind of culture they want to build together with employees.”
There seems to be a common thread amongst all these companies and organizations that are changing parental leave policies, and that is each of them wanting to create a culture where employees thrive, feel supported and will want to continue working their hardest for them. That’s what this should be about, both parties able to find a way where everyone benefits, and the business is not affected.
We have no doubt this will not the last of the major announcements being made about leave policies, and we certainly hope it will push presidential candidates, as well as the existing government to recognize that when families are supported, not stereotyped and sidelined, everyone benefits.
Want further proof on how absurd it is that the US doesn’t have paid family leave? We’ll let ‘Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver explain: