In a perfect world--new American parents would be able to take paid parental leave to recover from childbirth, bond with their babies, and find their footing as a new family.
Their government would support them--seeing those early months of parent-baby bonding as an investment in our collective future--theirs as a family, and ours as a country.
Their employers would back them in their decisions, understanding that supporting new moms during this transition is a crucial part of long-term employee satisfaction and retention of female talent.
But, we don't live in a perfect world.
Today in the United States, only 12% of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer and unfortunately, 1 in 4 employed mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth. This stands in stark contrast to the rest of the world; the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without paid maternity leave.
No mother should have to face new motherhood with such an appalling lack of support.
Future mothers and fathers, currently pregnant women and soon-to-be dads, new moms and dads, seasoned parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends and coworkers: we all need to speak up. Our collective voices can affect change for the next generation of working parents.
Understand the necessity
The U.S. is due for upgraded policies and practices that match today's modern, diversified workforce. The Family Medical Leave Act is 23 years old. There's a slew of global research that demonstrates just how important paid parental leave is. Offering and supporting paid parental leave policies (note: not just maternity leave) has a domino effect positively impacting (1) labor force participation rates for women, (2) the gender pay gap, (3) the long-term health of families, (4) the economy and (5, drum roll) company's success.
If you feel your company's policy is below par, build a business case for improving the policy by sharing this research with your manager and/or your company's H.R. department. If you're interviewing for a new job, ask what policies and practices do they have in place to retain talent, to ensure for equal pay and to help employees meet the demands of work and family. Start conversations with your colleagues and your professional network. And, let your voice be heard by signing petitions and reaching out to your congressional representatives. Awareness is the first step towards change.
Know the stats
Here's a sampling of 20 research findings that reveal the long-term positive impact of paid parental leave for women, families, babies, the economy and companies.
1. In a survey of 253 employers affected by California's paid family leave initiative, over 90% reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover and morale. (Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research 2011)
2. In that same study, 99% of employers reported that paid family leave produced an increase in employee morale and 87% of employers reported that paid family leave had not caused costs to increase. (Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research 2011)
3. When Google increased paid maternity leave, the rate at which new mothers quit dropped 50%. (Source: YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki 2007)
4. Patagonia reported that paid family leave and family-affirming policies helped the company triple its profits. (Source: Business Insider 2016)
5. Aetna's retention rate rose from 77% to 88% when it initiated a six-month maternity leave with flexible return to work possibilities -- for a savings of $1 million per year. (Source: Aetna)
6. Immediately after Fortune 500 companies announced new work-life balance policies, their stock prices rose an average of 0.36%, indicating that investors view these policies as profitable investments. (Source: Arthur 2003)
7. Work-life balance policies are linked to business competitiveness, even after controlling for differences across companies. (Source: Bloom, Liang, Roberts, & Ying 2013)
8. Two-thirds of women who take 12+ weeks of leave are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. (Source: Fairygodboss 2016)
9. 80% of Americans favor requiring all employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members. (Source: The New York Times/CBS News Poll 2015)
10. Today, 70% of mothers work. More than 40% of mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families, earning 50+% of their family's income. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015)
11. If women's workforce participation had not increased since 1970, median family income would be $13,000 less today and our overall economy would be $2 trillion dollars smaller. (Source: Council of Economic Advisers 2014)
12. Closing the male-female employment gap would raise GDP by 9%. (Source: Council of Economic Advisers 2014)
13. Companies with 30+% female leaders had net profit margins up to 6 percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks. (Source: Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY 2016)
14. The most reputable companies have more women in the C-suite. (Source: Weber Shandwick, the Fortune 500 and the World's Most Admired Companies 2016)
15. Countries with generous paternity leave have more women on those countries' corporate boards. (Source: Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY 2016)
16. Parental leave policies are associated with 3-4% higher employment to population ratios as well as decreased unemployment. (Source: The Quarterly Journal of Economics 1998)
17. Women who use paid leave are 93% more likely to be working 9-12 months after a child's birth vs. those who don't take any leave. (Source: Center for Women and Work at Rutgers 2012)
18. Women who take paid leave are 39% less likely to receive public assistance in the year after the birth of a child. (Source: Center for Women and Work at Rutgers 2012)
19. Women are more likely to breastfeed when they take maternity leave, and longer leave increases both the likelihood and duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of health problems like diarrheal disease, respiratory illnesses, asthma, acute ear infection, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome. (Sources: Center for Economic and Policy Research 2011; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011)
20. A more generous maternity leave during the birth of a first child is associated with reduced depression symptoms in late life. (Source: Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe 2015)
The more we all talk about the benefits of parental leave, the more the masses will embrace this cultural change. Together we can build a positive legacy as the generation that shifted American working culture to be more family-friendly and balanced for all.
Michelle Meyer is the Founder & CEO of Emissaries, a newly-formed recruiting agency specializing in filling parental leaves through a nationwide network of vetted, seasoned freelancers.
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