Paid maternity leave pros and cons

I've been occupied with other things and not posted for a while. I subscribe to Sigma Xi's sponsored SmartBrief on Leadership and look at the headlines and occasionally the linked articles.  Today's sampling linked to the provocative headline "Are family-friendly policies holding back female employees?" and of course I had to click on it.  It seems like a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't proposition, and I recalled one difference that research (?presented in the 2011 ESA symposium on Identifying the Current Status of Women in Entomology) had found in academia, that when men were offered family leave, it often resulted in papers written/published, while there were no similar professional gains for women.

Another statistic that seemed surprising in this article was in the comparison of the % female senior executives (equivalent to full professorships in academia?) by various countries, with China clocking in at 51% (to 20% in the US). The histories/cultures (both past and present) in the two countries are radically different, and it is likely more than one factor contributes to this difference.

What do you think?  It seems we're still experimenting to find a balance...

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  • Isn't the US one of the worst when it comes to workers taking their vacation time and actually taking a break from everything?  I'm sure that mentality has a lot to do with psychological pressures to return to work and/or take less maternity leave.  Though I'm not familiar with the study which demonstrated males who took paternity leave were more productive (employment/publication-wise) than their female counterparts, I can think of a number of reasons why this may have been the case.  How many women who take maternity leave are single mothers and/or the primary earning source of the household?  How many already have children?  How active is the spouse/significant other in the household in regard to parenting duties?

    The main issue I have with the "family-friendly policies holding back female employees" idea is that it's based on what the perceived ideas of being a productive and satisfied employee/scientist truly entails.  As someone who has no interest in being a mother of anything than cats and possibly caterpillars, having a human child would definitely hold me back from my personal goals.  For many others, I could see this idea as being an insult.  What one person considers being held back, another considers a goal; family.  And we shouldn't slap people down for that.

  • This topic is a hot button for me. I am currently a lab director in a government agency. When my daughter was born 2 years ago, I had "rights" to take up to 12 weeks of leave, but there were many obstacles that made me take only 5 to 6 weeks off. First of all, maternity leave in the US is very different than in any other country. It may be a big factor behind the differences between China and the US. Here I had to accumulate enough vacation and sick leave hours to use for those 12 weeks. If I didn't have enough, it would be unpaid leave. In many other countries maternity leave is paid. Second, if you hold a position that can be considered a "key employee", restoration to employment may be denied following FMLA leave. Usually management positions are key positions, and as such, don't have the same rights as others. I was faced with that possibility and tried to return to work as soon as possible so that there was no risk of that but felt very cheated in the process. Aren't these laws supposed to protect us? 

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      Paula, you situation is exactly what I was talking about... most of the time we have the "right" to take up to 12 weeks (some unpaid - that stinks) but so many people are feeling pressure to return early to please their co-workers or boss or something. This is where I think it would be great for there to be more role models especially those in leadership roles that take full maternity leave. Again, I am a bit torn because I don't want to tell any woman what they must do but it really upsets me when co-workers (especially bosses) praises someone for coming back to work early ("did you hear about Maria, she came back to work just two weeks after having a baby, she is a really hard worker and great employee", that isn't a direct quote but that is the gist of what I have heard an employer say). As my good friend Rayda has said before, in your entire working life (30-35 years of employment in some cases), 12 weeks of paid maternity leave is such a small price to pay for a happy employee with a happy and healthy kid (heck, 6 months is a small price to pay!). I took 8 weeks but only got 6 weeks paid from my employer, the other two weeks I had to use vacation time. I would have loved to take more but I felt bad about being gone longer and felt that I had already inconvenienced folks enough, whether it was right or wrong, I felt I needed to get back and pick up the slack. that being said, if my employer offered 12 weeks paid leave, I would have taken it in a heartbeat and I would recommend to all women to take as much time as they can (even to look at the budget and see if they have to take unpaid leave if they can manage it monetarily. In the long run, I think it is worth it - I wish I would have consider it more than I did).

  • Gail - I love this topic! I am going to start by saying, I go back and forth on weather maternity/paternity leave should be mandated or not but overall, at the very least I think more parenting benefits/accommodations should be available to all. The sentence I think best in the article is the last one: “What you need to do is not just encourage (family-friendly flexibility), but make it visible, publicize it, show the role models, because a lot of times people are doing it but behind the scenes, under the radar screen, and so therefore people don’t realize that it’s possible and that they can do a high-powered job and also have the flexibility that they need.” It is one thing to have a policy that allows someone to take up to 6, 8, or 12 weeks of leave (hopefully paid) but it is quite another to get folks in leadership roles to actually take the leave and be a real role model. That being said, I don't want to insist that it has to be always maternity leave, I really think there is a lot of room for an increased role of fathers. I don't necessarily have a problem with a woman choosing to take less maternity leave if the father can take paternity leave. I think it is so important for babies to get intense bonding time with their parents when they are young but men can play that nurturing role as well. This is an aside but one think that I also feel strongly about is for employers to give their managers/people leaders more training on exactly what the challenges are for parents (especially new parents) so they can be more understanding of what they are facing when they return to work. This sounds basic but I would love to see managers examining what I luggage looks like for a 3 day trip to headquarters (without baby, just all the stuff I had to travel with the pump and all the logistics I had to deal with to try and get milk back home, etc). I couldn't believe how uncomfortable scientist were talking about normal human functions (like breast feeding)! Are these men or mice! Ok, I am on a soap box now, I will get off. In closing, I don't want anyone to think I have all the answers but there is definitely room for discussion and improvement!

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