The Short of it
YouTube's CEO Susan Wojcicki will soon be headed out on maternity leave for her fifth time since starting at Google in 1999, when she was the company's first pregnant employee. Before starting this sabbatical, she had time to reflect on the important role that maternity leave has played in her career and how lucky she has been to work for a company so willing to support it. She feels so strongly about the issue that she wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal this week.
According to a survey released earlier this year by the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO), the United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn't offer government-mandated paid maternity leave. Every other developed country offers paid leave benefits through social security programs, so businesses don't have to shoulder the entire cost.
Women in the United States can receive paid leave through two ways: 1) work for a generous employer that provides it as a benefit; or 2) live in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York or Rhode Island, which are states that have publicly funded, paid maternity leave laws.
According to the Labor Department, the combination of corporate and state benefits covers only 12 percent of private workers. A mere 5 percent of low-wage earners get any paid maternity leave at all.
"The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is a step in the right direction, but it is unpaid and doesn't cover half the working women in the U.S.," Wojcicki writes.
The ILO and other labor and health organizations have proven through studies how harmful a lack of paid leave can be for mothers and their babies. Mothers tend to drop out of the workforce, choosing their child over income during a woman's most productive years. A quarter of new moms in the U.S. go back to work within 10 days of giving birth, which can have adverse effects on mom and baby with breastfeeding, bonding and postpartum depression.
Wojcicki believes that paid maternity leave is good for business and good for families, and I agree. After California instituted paid medical leave, a survey in 2011 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that employers noted improved productivity, higher morale and reduced turnover. Paid maternity leave shouldn't be a luxury for female workers. I think it should be mandated to make business and life better for everyone involved.
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