A Boss Speaks: It's Time For A Paid Family Leave Law

women at work stigmaSo what is the real reason more women aren't running big businesses? In their unguarded moments, some male execs and business owners may tell you: It's because they have babies.

Sure, women are talented and driven, but these men will say: When women have babies, they take time out of the workforce which is expensive and disruptive. And what the same men probably won't say but do imply is that having these inconvenient babies also indicates that women just aren't that serious about their careers. Of course, this is nonsense. In all the years that I've employed women, I've been struck by the fact that women are often more motivated and driven, and definitely more focused and efficient, after having kids than before.

But now, at last, there's data that shows that maternity leave isn't an expense; it either repays its own cost or actually saves a company money, as well as reduces the burden on taxpayers. The study, carried out by Linda Houser at Rutgers University and Thomas Paul Vartanian at Bryn Mawr College, indicates that new mothers who have paid maternity leave are more likely to return to work and are far less likely to use food stamps or other forms of public assistance after giving birth.

Among the findings:
  • Women who use paid leave are far more likely to be working nine to 12 months after a child's birth than those who do not take any leave.
  • Women who take paid leave are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps in the year following a child's birth.

"While we have known for a long time about the maternal and infant health benefits of leave policies," said Houser, "we can now link paid family leave to greater labor force attachment and increased wages for women, as well as to reduced spending by businesses in the form of employee replacement costs, and by governments in the form of public assistance."

And stable and healthy families pay a huge social dividend. Every business benefits from a society in which the next generation is healthy, secure and educated. That can't happen if parents ­ -- yes, children do actually have two parents -- ­ can't spend time with them when they're born and when they get sick.

It remains a scandal that America is one of just a handful of countries that does not have across-the-board maternity leave; it's up there with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. Just two states, ­ California and New Jersey, ­ have paid family leave programs. Other states offer some cover by classifying maternity under disability! But the mothers who do
take up to 12 weeks off are healthier, and so are their kids. As employees that is a real boon.

I've employed dozens if not hundreds of women who, while they were working for me, had children. I always told them the same thing: Do what you want, tell me your plan and I'm sure we can figure it out. Some came back quickly on part-time schedules, some took off a big chunk of time and came back full-time, others wanted to come back more quickly and take time off later. But nobody ever let me down. Pregnancy isn't an illness and maternity isn't a disability.

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