As I approach the years when — if it’s going to happen — I will become a mother, I’m thinking a lot about what that means, logistically speaking. Growing up in America we’re taught to think that we live in the world’s greatest nation, or at least one at the top of the chain — powerful, successful, prosperous. But in terms of places where it’s best to be a mother (at least according to an annual Save the Children report) the US is dropping fast in rankings, from top 10 in 2000 to above 30 in 2014.
This report largely focuses on the health, educational, economic and political status of mothers. While the goal of the report is to remind us that there are many countries where being a mother is terribly grim, it isn’t looking so great for America either.
For a country that’s so gung-ho about making abortion illegal, and pundits noting that hell is freezing over (or something like that) now that women earning the majority of income for their families, you would think that at least our conservative nation would support the family values of making it possible to afford being a mother. Not so. In fact, the U.S. is the ONLY western country that doesn’t require paid maternity leave.
“[Outside of the U.S., Oman and Papua New Guinea] the other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks. The United States also provides for fewer weeks of maternity leave than what other Western countries mandate, the report said.”
When I was an employee in my 20s, I didn’t think much about policies around maternity and paternity leave. But now that I’m looking at having a kid in the next five years and I’m the primary breadwinner of my family, this is a serious concern. It doesn’t help matters working for a company with an “unlimited vacation plan” as I always expected just to save up and use PTO for the first few weeks after giving birth to my child, and promptly returning to work, but I’m not sure what exactly would be expected or possible without a number of allowable days off.
The good news is that I’m not planning on having a kid tomorrow, and I’ve been fortunate enough to amass savings where I can take unpaid time off if needed. Theoretically a company cannot fire you for taking disability leave with a new child, but really who is going to make up for you when you’re gone? If I worked at a large company it would make sense to find a temporary replacement or have others on a team cover for you while you’re away, but in a small company, I’m not sure this is possible.
That said, large companies in Silicon Valley like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc, have very generous maternity and paternity leave policies. For instance, Facebook gives a whopping four months of paid leave for new parents, with Google offering a week longer.
The FLMA requires employers who have over 50 employees to provide 12 unpaid weeks off to new mothers. This does nothing to protect mothers at tech startups who have less than 50 employees – then one just has to hope their company is able to offer some time off without giving their job away to someone else. Even though most companies would try their best to offer women a reasonable amount of time off to be with their new child, some small businesses cannot afford to lose an employee for a few weeks, even if it’s on unpaid leave. It doesn’t help matters that most of the employees in these young startups are typically male, so no policies are put in place until the first woman gets pregnant (and even then it tends to be treated as a one off until the company is much bigger.)
It just seems in this country we have this backwards way of thinking about our values… except it’s all just built on the idea that men will still be the single employee in the family and women will stay at home with their children. Of course with capitalism this is not possible for many parents who require two incomes to get by. In the Bay Area, unless you’ve hit the stock option jackpot, this is the norm.
So as a woman I do sometimes think I need to leave tech in order to have kids, or at least I need to obtain a position in a larger company with official maternity policies. I don’t have to worry about it right now, but at some point rather soon I’ll have to figure it out.
Or maybe I should just move to the #1 place in the world to be a mother — Finland.