Thank You Gloria Steinem.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article that’s got me gnashing my teeth. Work & Family columnist Sue Shellenbarger reported the disturbing news that on average, over the past decade U.S. businesses have dramatically shortened childbirth leave for new parents:

 

 

"Only 16% of employers offer full pay for childbirth leave, down from 27% in 1998, based on a nationally representative sample of 1,100 employers by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. The average maximum length of job-guaranteed leaves for new mothers shrank too, to 15.2 weeks from 16.1 weeks a decade ago; leave for dads fell to 12.6 weeks from 13.1.



Employers aren't deliberately targeting new mothers with pay cuts; rather, maternity leave has been caught in the crossfire over rising disability costs in general. Most maternity-leave pay in the U.S. comes in the form of disability pay, allotted for the six to eight weeks typically needed to heal after childbirth. New mothers are being hit by a cost-cutting move among employers toward paying only a fraction of full pay to workers on short-term disability, rather than 100% as was common in the past, as an incentive for employees to return to work as soon as they're able."


On behalf of pregnant working moms and expectant fathers throughout the United States , my reaction is emotional: I’m furious. Our country’s family leave policies are outdated and unfair – the U.S. government is one of only four that doesn't mandate paid leave for new parents, along with Swaziland, Papau New Guinea, and Liberia . The ten-year maternity leave downsizing trend shows how vulnerable working moms in particular are without government protection.

 

In my 20 year career, I’ve protested the behavior of several reputable employers, including one who tried to deny a female sales rep a sizable bonus simply because the scheduled payout date fell a few days after her c-section. Subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination against pregnant women and working moms is rampant in the workplace, especially during times of economic slowdown when all employees are more fearful of losing their jobs and healthcare benefits.

 

In the meantime, I’m experiencing a starkly different personal reaction—gratitude.

 

Gratitude because I’m done having babies, so I’m done with maternity leaves and finished being vulnerable to capricious bosses and human resource managers.

 

 

Even more gratitude that I worked hard as a girl and young woman to get the best education and work experience possible.

 

westchestermom
06.16.08

I still think we can each make a difference if we speak up about the unfairness of the situation. I am done having babies, but I am still working to change the policy at my European bank regarding family leave. The change would increase the amount of paid time off from 6 to twelve weeks. I just kept mentioning it in every HR meeting, obtained copies of policies from all financial firm competitors (most pay 12-16 weeks,) and it looks like the policy will change. I am also fortunate to have worked for firms that make it a priority for women to have at least 12 weeks paid time off, access to lactation rooms, flex or part time schedules etc. It does seem like the large firms such as J & J, JPM, Citibank, Goldman etc., will try to have the most generous policies. I just wish more companies in the US would examine the benefits of allowing the primary caregiver to have at least 6 - 12 weeks of paid leave.