Provide a Meaningful Paid Maternity Leave and Onramping Support
A colleague recently asked me what the right amount of maternity leave should be. Its a hard question to answer. Right for whom? For companies because they dont take into account the fact that productivity, engagement, and retention are all affected by short maternity leaves the standard six weeks is too long. I have heard many women say twenty-four weeks should be the minimum. Meanwhile, studies out of Europe show that forty weeks is optimal for the health of the baby.
Two studies (one299 published in 2005, the second300 five years earlier) examined the longitudinal results of paid leave in sixteen European countries, starting in 1969. The result? A 20 percent drop in infant deaths directly attributable to a ten-week extension in paid leave. The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between two and twelve months, but deaths between one and five years also went down as paid leave went up. According to Christopher Ruhm, the author of the first European study, paid leave of about forty weeks saved the most lives.301 If the optimal length of parental leave for the health of the baby is forty weeks, how is it we are willing to tolerate six weeks as the standard?
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In many ways it is not surprising that the standard pregnancy is forty weeks long and that forty weeks is the optimal time to help a baby adjust to this new world. But in the business climate of the United States, forty weeks is an eternity. So, whats a company to do?
Id like to suggest twenty weeks as the standard paid maternity leave and then offer women an additional twenty weeks of onramping support. For some this could mean working part-time; for others, this could mean working one day a week at home. Each woman and her company could figure out the strategy that worked best for them
By institutionalizing a forty-week postpartum pause that was collectively understood as standard, babies, women, and their companies would all benefit. Children would have optimal health outcomes, women would have optimal career outcomes, and companies would have employees who were more loyal, more engaged, and more productive.
And its a great retention tool. Remember Mediums software engineer Jean Hsu, mentioned in chapter 7? Because her company worked with her to ensure she would thrive as a new mother and a professional, she was able to stay committed to both her career and her company. As Jean said, Why would I want to be anywhere else?
If the optimal length of parental leave for the health of the baby is forty weeks, how is it we are willing to tolerate six weeks as the standard?