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Maternity Leave in America

Did you know, that in Sweden, Mothers AND Fathers are guaranteed paid family leave when a child is born or adopted?  Do you know how much?

SIXTEEN MONTHS!  That is 64 weeks.  That is 448 days!  That is time that the mother and the father can share to be with their baby (or child since they are entitled to use this time any way they wish for 8 years!).

Do you know what we are guaranteed here in America?

ZERO months, ZERO weeks, and ZERO days of paid leave.

As Americans, we tend to consider ourselves innovators, leaders, and generally superior beings.  We taught progressive thinking, freedom of speech, education, and the American Dream.  As a woman, and now a mother, my version of the American Dream has a few holes.

One hundred and seventy eight countries around the world guarantee paid leave for women to care for their newborn children.  Nearly 200 countries, surely our progressive nation is one of them right?  No.  We are not.  Women are guaranteed a job when they return from maternity leave, a time of 12 weeks.  But compensation is not required by law.  In fact, if you are a women in the workforce and you happen to work for a company with less than 50 employees (which accounts for about half of the companies in America), the company does not even have to retain your position if you take leave to have a child.

The “America Dream” is the idea that anyone, anyone, can achieve prosperity and success through hard work.  Should that include a caveat that you have to chose hard work at home or at a career?  Should it be a forced decision?  As women, don’t we have enough “glass ceilings” to shatter?

maternity leave

How did it happen that law makers argue year over year about a woman’s right to choose, but not a woman’s right to chose both a career and a family?

Women make up just 14.6% of the executive leadership position for private industries, although they makeup 52% of the professional workforce.   Women in STEM fields see an even larger gender gap.  Is there a connection?  How many of us are feeling pressure to choose career over family?  How many of us leave the working world to care for our families  because there isn’t a good support system?  What are we losing as a country when women, successful contributors to our industry, part from their careers to care for their children?

I’m a little late for myself, since I didn’t do this research before or even during my own pregnancy. Maybe it was better, not knowing, because leave in the US is horrifically disparaging in comparison with developed countries around the world.

My specific company has no paid leave, but they have a leave package and short term disability options.  All of which is kept buried under a sea of HR documentation, none of which is readily available to employees or their supervisors.  I’ve been through the process now, and I am still not really sure how it all works.  At my particular building there is a parents’ network (as of 2015) and there is a mother’s room that is available should women return to work and wish to continue breastfeeding.  There is one room…ONE…in a building that employees about 8,000 people.  That room?  Has two chairs.  Two stations for TWO women to pump milk at once.  This is considered a nice benefit and a step towards supporting families and mothers and breastfeeding.  This is considered a luxury.

But it’s not all bad here in the good old US of A.  There are some important private sector companies who recognize the value of having women returning to the workforce after starting a family.  There are some shining beacons leading us in the right direction.

Google pays maternity leave for 4 months.  Now that’s not over a year like in Sweden, but it’s enough time for a mother and baby to get aquatinted and settle on some things like feeding and childcare.   Google recorded 50% fewer women leaving the company after they had children when they increased the paid time off.  So what could we gain if everyone had access to some kind of paid maternity leave?

Tech companies are actually at the forefront of this change in culture, offering more paid time off for families. Since those are our most “innovative” and “leading” companies, maybe we should all take note.

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