Just in time for Mother’s Day, Marissa Mayer, the newly minted Yahoo CEO, sparked envy among working parents everywhere when she expanded the company’s paid maternity leave to a jaw-dropping 16 weeks for moms and 8 weeks for dads last week.
In the only developed nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave—America, that is—Yahoo’s new policy may signal that the time has come for us to rethink our attitudes towards new parents in the officeplace.
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Yahoo’s policy, which comes on the heels of Mayer’s controversial decision to ban working from home, brings the company’s leave policies in line with other tech giants. New moms working at Google get five months of paid maternity leave. At Facebook, moms and dads get four months off. Compare that to the 12 weeks of unpaid leave that most Americans get and the numbers are truly startling.
But Silicon Valley has been playing the role of workplace innovator for years, providing workers with office game rooms, free meals and concierge-like services. Yahoo’s new leave policy fits the same mold by also including $500 in so-called “baby bucks.” These progressive leave policies might provide other American companies a new model to follow.
Tech Giants Embracing Moms
“These companies are on the cutting edge,” said Jocelyn Elise Crowley, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University and author of the upcoming book “Mothers Unite! Organizing for Workplace Flexibility and the Transformation of Family Life.” As other companies become more concerned about retaining talent they may turn around and change their polices too. But it may take a while.”
As America’s workforce ages and baby boomers retire, companies may begin to worry about retaining younger workers once they start families. In fact, Yahoo, which is wrestling with employee morale and productivity, may have looked to Google when it decided to juice up its leave policy. Google revamped its maternity leave policy after finding that new moms were twice as likely to quit as other employees. After the company lengthened leave to five months, the number of moms quitting dropped by 50%.
Google revamped its mat leave policy after finding that new moms were twice as likely to quit as other employees. Once it lengthened leave, the number of moms quitting dropped by 50%.
“Once Google enacted this policy, they turned those numbers around. Women were taking the time off and then they were returning,” said Crowley.
Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World …
In contrast, the rest of the developed world has been paying for maternity leave for quite a while. Mexico guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave. New parents in Bulgaria get a whopping 56 weeks off. America’s Family and Medical Leave Act, meanwhile, falls in line with countries like Papua New Guinea and Swaziland, which also don’t pay for maternity leave.
Mayer’s latest move, however, may be more one of damage control than forward thinking. Last winter, she evoked the ire of working parents when she unilaterally ordered all employees working from home to return to the office. Her decision came across as particularly insensitive since she had built a nursery for her own infant next to her office (after returning from her “power maternity leave.”)
Despite Yahoo’s latest maternity leave epiphany, it may be a long time before companies outside of Silicon Valley reboot their thinking. Since 2005, employers have become stingier about how much they pay parents during maternity leave, not more generous. Only 9% of employers provided new moms with a full maternity-related disability salary in 2012, down from 17% in 2005. The number of companies that offer even a partial salary dropped by 2% during the same period to 63%, according to a report by the Families and Work Institute.
Kenneth Matos, senior director of Employment Research and Practice at the Families and Work Institute and a co-author of the study, said: “Anything that takes you away from full-time work is less popular among employers.”