In his annual State of the Union Address last week, President Obama outlined his proposal for Congress to allow six weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave for all workers. On Jan. 15, Obama already signed a presidential memorandum guaranteeing federal workers six weeks of paid leave if they have a new child.
If Congress passes Obama's Healthy Families Act, the U.S. will join the rest of the world in offering paid maternity leave to employees. Currently, the U.S. is the only developed country on the planet that doesn't offer paid leave--unfathomable in 2015. Papaua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho are the remaining three.
Obama's six week proposal, however, is narrow in comparison to laws in Great Britain and Canada, which allow new mothers 52 weeks and 50 weeks of paid leave, respectively, but it's a step in the right direction. And in countries like Austria, Sweden, and Uzbekistan, maternity leave runs a year or more and is 100 percent paid.
International Labour Organization standards outline that women should be guaranteed at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, however a 2013 U.S Census showed that American women are working longer into their pregnancies and that half of new moms do not use paid maternity leave.
In an email to the American public, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the White House, said Obama's proposal "...will ultimately improve the financial bottom lines of the companies that choose to step up and make a change on their own."
In the quest for equal employment for men and women, we tend to focus on hiring women for the same positions traditionally afforded to men as well as equal pay, but we often fail to address the familial barriers that prevent women from competing at the same level as men in business.
When Google extended its maternity leave from three months to five and made it fully paid, new-mom attrition fell by half. And the Laughing Planet CafÃ©, a restaurant chain in Oregon and Nevada, last week implemented a new three-month paid maternity leave policy for its workers, a feat rarely heard of in the service industry. "It wasn't a business decision to do this, it was a human decision," said the chain's CEO Franz Speilvogel in this article.
Google and the Laughing Planet CafÃ©'s policy decisions are in line with what Americans are indicating they want from their employers. A poll released last week by the Make it Work campaign, revealed that large majorities of voters (70 percent) said that workplace laws and policies are out of sync with the changing realities of modern families, and with the evolving roles of men and women at work and at home. Seventy-three percent of voters of all persuasions said the government has a responsibility to ensure employers treat employees fairly by providing them with such policies.
In a 2013 Catalyst census, only 14.6 percent of Fortune 500 executive officer positions were held by women. As an expectant mother, I recognize the need to elevate maternity leave policies. If we provide flexible workplace solutions,healthy lifestyle options, and the incentive to work after childbirth, then we may not only see an increase in the retention of our talented female employees, we may also finally put them on an even playing field with their male counterparts, carving a path to rise to C-level positions.