Making Maternity Leave a Choice
It's time to establish maternity leave as a basic right so it can be a choice
If you haven't heard, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is pregnant with twin girls, due in December. Mayer announced that she plans to take limited maternity leave and work throughout her leave. As a highly recognized CEO in America, Mayer's announcement has the media buzzing.
Mayer is making a choice to work. That's great, but can we compare her work-life routine to that of the majority of women in the workforce? As a high-powered CEO, I'm going to assume she makes a salary that will allow her to hire a nanny, housekeeper and night nurse if she chooses. Again, her choices, and wonderful for her that she is in a place to do that. I do not judge.
Her choosing to work during her leave doesn't, however, help the plight of women in America who really want and need paid maternity leave, but can't take it because of financial constraints. It's hard to believe that there are no laws in place that make it mandatory for employers to offer moms paid maternity leave. Yes, the Family Medical Leave Act protects your job for 12 weeks if you work at a company that employees more than 50 people and have worked there for at least 12 months, but that doesn't mean you get paid during that time off if you even get the time off!
I liked what I heard on NPR on my drive home Wednesday after Mayer's announcement. Hanna Rosin from Slate's DoubleX Gabfest podcast said she wishes that Mayer would just say she is taking maternity leave —"put out the symbol that she's taking a maternity leave for the world to see and then do whatever she wants" — even if she chooses to work during her leave. I couldn't agree more.
Mayer has the opportunity to be a representative for women in America — as a mom and as a woman wearing CEO shoes. Is she says that she is going to take leave, it boosts the validity of maternity leave for all women that should be allowed the option, and recognizes that parenting — especially parenting a newborn and taking care of yourself — is respected, cherished and honored in America. And as much as I'm all for equality for men and women in the workforce, there's one place life really differs for men and women ... physically having a baby! Men can't birth a baby. So as women, I do not think we should try to keep up with the men by being tough and getting right back to work. I personally believe all men should be given paternity leave, too — to go home, bond with the baby and take care of their baby's momma for a minute! Also as a society who employees some uber smart women, we should not push women to feel they must get back to work, lest they lose footing in their career circle. Business is business and may run like a well-oiled machine, but humans aren't machines.
I am pregnant. I am fortunate that I work for a company who recognizes FMLA. I am fortunate that I am in a position that I have short-term disability that will pay part of my salary while I'm on leave. That's more than a lot of women get. Yes, I can choose to come back earlier than than the 12 weeks I'm allowed to take as leave; and by choosing not to, I limit my families' budget for 12 weeks. And again I'm one of the lucky ones. It's a choice, but could we please make it a viable choice for all women in the workforce, not just those seated in power positions.