I just read an article by Kay Hymowitz on Time.com about how extended maternity leave may put women at a disadvantage in the workplace. I’m not mad at Ms. Hymowitz because she’s just reporting the facts but I am left with a little bit of a “meh, I could have told you that” reaction.
Do I wish that an employee – male or female – could take a year off of work without having the negative side effects mentioned in the article? We’ll yes, it’d be great if I was gone for the next twelve months and my skills didn’t get rusty, my social networks stayed fresh, I’d be able to come back with the same or higher pay and that my longer term career potential wasn’t affected. But I believe it’s a little unrealistic to think that one or more of those wouldn’t be affected by my choice to exit the workplace for a while.
Let’s flip the script a bit. Let’s say Joe in the cubicle next to you made a decision to serve in the military. His time away from work to serve his country is protected by law. Would you expect him to be sent on required training for a year and then think he’d come right back to work without missing a beat? Might he have forgotten a bit about the company’s complex accounting system, could the advocates he had previously in the organization moved on without him, could that affect his rate of pay increases for the next few years while he caught up? It’s highly likely one or more of these things would happen. Even though that stinks, we’d support him through this transition back to the workplace and respect his service to our country.
I believe that sustaining the human race through pro-creation is also a noble cause. And here’s the upside that I think we forget. Why did I take the time off in the first place? TO HAVE A BABY! That trumps a few bucks more an hour, don’t you think?
I’m afraid that people (ok, specifically business leaders and policymakers) in the U.S. read about extended leaves in other parts of the world and say “See, our twelve week maternity leave policies are better than other countries because we get a woman back to work sooner, therefore improving her chances of getting back on the career track more quickly.” Uh, ok. Lame.
So, all that to say, I will still advocate for improvements in maternity leave offerings around the world and I hope you join with me in that work. Check out my other blog posts that show just how far behind we are in the U.S. in regard to our offer for working mothers-to-be. Then write a letter or change a diaper.