The Maternity-Leave Conflict
How women can get the time they need—without alienating their boss.
BettyConfidential’s CEO, Deborah Perry Piscione, talked to The New York Times this week about a very hot topic—maternity leave for working women—and how a flexible approach has helped her tackle the issue.
Among all the countries in the world, the U.S. and Australia are the only ones that do not provide any paid maternity leave whatsoever. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which mandates 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, covers only companies with more than 50 employees. But more than half of all U.S. companies have fewer than 50 employees, which means that women who work for them aren’t eligible for any maternity leave at all.
And since, according to the National Women’s Law Center, an estimated 71 percent of women with children 18 or under are in the workforce, that means the lack of maternity leave has affected millions of female workers.
Some leave the work force altogether; others struggle daily to find and afford childcare. In turn, small-business owners lose valuable workers when women are forced to stay home and have to spend time and money to hire and train their replacements. Jennifer Herschko, of Los Angeles, who was working in television production, had no benefits and had to leave the job from the time she was eight months pregnant until her son was about a year old. Even now, says Jennifer, who writes the blog http://www.perfectlydisheveled.com/, “I still feel I’d run the risk of being replaced if I took time off to spend with my young child.”
Yet owners of small businesses have traditionally balked at giving women employees maternity leave, because even if the leave is unpaid, they’re still losing a worker’s contribution. But there are several ways business owners and employees can work together to make sure that the employee gets adequate time with her baby, and the owner gets enough work from his employees.