Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ignited a social media and traditional media firestorm when she announced that she's having twins and will be taking limited time off after the birth of her babies. (After the birth of her son in 2012, Mayer took two weeks of paid family leave.)
It seems just one question was on everyone's lips: Is Marissa Mayer setting a bad example by not taking more than a couple weeks of time off?
We all should reject this premise. The truth of the matter is that Marissa Mayer has the resources and workplace flexibility to make the choice that's best for her, whether that's taking two weeks, the 16 weeks that Yahoo offers, or more off of work.
The question we should be asking is this: Why don't ALL workers have the option of taking paid parental leave after a new baby arrives? Right now only 13 percent of workers have paid parental leave. Among low-wage workers, that proportion is even smaller: Only 5 percent of low wage workers have access to paid family leave after a new baby arrives through their employers.
This has rippling repercussions. For example, Nakeshia, a working mom, is 2.5 months pregnant and has already started worrying about her lack of paid maternity leave. Not only will she not be paid for the time off, but due to her loss of income she will have to withdraw her four-year-old from childcare, making it harder for her to work. This is a double jeopardy situation: Childcare now costs more than college in our nation. Parents need safe, enriching places to be so they can work, and children need safe, enriching places to be so they can thrive. The lack of access to paid family leave, coupled with sky-high costs of childcare, starts many families off on a downward economic spiral from which it's hard to recover.
Nakeshia isn't alone. Millions of women across the United States are facing similar scenarios.
In fact, the United States of America is the only industrialized nation in the world without this critical policy in place. More than 177 other countries guarantee some form of paid family leave for new moms.
Here's the question that must be asked: Why are we questioning Marissa Mayer's personal decision about how to balance her work and family lives when too few people have this option at all? The last time a male CEO was asked questions about how he would balance having a new baby and with work was never.
The lives of female CEOs like Marissa Mayer are regularly examined under a microscope when they have children. Their decisions are questioned and criticized. We notice because only four percent of all S & P 500 CEOs are women, despite the fact that 57 percent of college graduates are women and women comprise 50 percent of the labor force.
It's clear that the glass ceiling is still intact in our nation--and a "maternal wall" is standing in the way of most women ever getting into a room with a glass ceiling in the first place. In fact, studies show that being a mom is now a greater predictor of wage, hiring, and workplace discrimination than being a woman. Most women (82 percent) have children at some point in their lives, and everyone has had a mom, so this discrimination negatively affects our national economy and each of us, in big ways.
Congress could help moms break down that wall and break through that ceiling by passing a national paid family leave policy for everyone, moms and dads alike. Studies show that paid family leave helps lower the wage gaps, increases employee productivity and retention, decreases families' long-term reliance on government programs, and can boost our economy. It's not just the right thing to do; it's the economically smart thing to do.
That's likely one of the reasons Marisa Mayer overhauled Yahoo's maternity leave policy -- and in 2013 she doubled the paid family leave policy from 8 weeks to 16 weeks. She did this not just because it's the right thing to do for her employees; it's an economically sound business move, too.
Marissa Mayer is not alone. Other companies and some states have done the same thing, but where someone works shouldn't dictate whether he or she gets paid family leave. This patchwork approach hurts businesses, families, and our economy. Advancing a national paid family leave policy is critically important--particularly at a time when a quarter of young families are living in poverty and moms are 40 percent of primary family breadwinners.
It's time to change the frame, to truly break the glass ceiling, to end workplace discrimination against moms, and to make sure that everyone--all moms and dads--have access to paid family leave when a new baby arrives. It's time to bring America in line with the modern workplace.