Jun 14, 2011
- Do you believe that working moms perform less than non-working moms?
- Are you open to the idea of your employees taking leave and do you provide flexible working time to allow them to cope between the demands of the job and family?
- Are you prepared for when your top performers take leave?
These are some of the questions that employers should ask regarding their approach to parental leave. This topic is a difficult one to approach as the policies differ between counties. There are pros and cons to having generous parental benefits, but whatever one’s opinion, we must certainly all agree that it’s a human right to have a family – one which employer, government and society should not hinder or forbid.
Yet the pressures from society, from employers and government are certainly there. Individuals are compelled to think about career first and social/cultural pressures make people sacrifice their rights. How can employers ask their employees to prioritise their job over their family and private life? It seems like a farfetched and unrealistic demand, one which many employers still sadly impose and one which many employees sadly submit to.
Parental leave promotes equal opportunities
The most important and compelling argument of implementing parental leave is to provide equal opportunities for women. Why shouldn’t they be able to pursue their career ambitions?
Studies prove that parental leave increases women’s employment prospects. If women are able to take temporary time-off to care for their child, and are provided with flexible working hours, they are then more willing to go back to work and pursue a career. Moreover, if men are encouraged to take part of the parental responsibilities, which they should naturally do, it’ll further promote and encourage their partner’s career growth.
Regrettably, views on women and parental benefits still remain closed-minded in today’s business community. Donald Trump, although a controversial public figure, is the epitome of the cultural mentality that permeates the corporate world. When asked about hiring working moms, Donald replies sceptically, “She’s not giving me 100%. She’s giving me 84%, and 16% is going towards taking care of children.”
Now that answer is definitely unjustifiable. Until future studies show that working parents are less productive than non-working parents, such assumptions are pure speculation and are bound to be flawed.
Rana Foroohar, in her article “The 100% Solution” (a review of the book by MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski: Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth), challenges such nonsensical and ludicrous statements:
“Forget about the Donald and his imaginary 84%; many working mothers are so grateful to be employed and so worried about the perception that they might be less than 100% committed that they overwork themselves. (A CEO once confessed to me that he loved to hire them for this very reason.) They are the ones keeping the number of useless meetings to a minimum in a relentless effort to be home for dinner. I have always been struck by how much working moms resemble Germans. They toil diligently and efficiently from 9 to 6. Then they go home. Germany, it should be noted, has higher productivity and a faster-growing economy than the U.S., proving that you don’t have to be in the office 24/7 to get the job done. Perhaps rather than being the laggards described by the Donald, working moms are actually at the vanguard of a smarter way to work. Paying them what they’re worth could end up making us all richer.”
The gender wage gap
Women entered the American workforce about four decades ago, according to the Time magazine article, and although women account for more than 50 per cent of it today, women still earn 77¢ for every dollar earned by a man.
Rana Foroohar explains that the gap can partly be explained by women choosing lower paid and more flexible type jobs in order to take care of children or elders. Nevertheless, she categorically claims that 40 per cent of the wage gap is inexcusable.
What’s more, working moms have it even tougher. A study done by Cornell University showed that moms were not only judged to be less competent than non-moms, but were also offered on average $11,000 less in pay.
There is hope for working moms
Economists believe that the average woman in the U.S. and Western Europe, however, will surpass their male peers in income by 2024. Studies show that in OECD countries women are getting better educated; they are entering the workforce in huge numbers and they also choose fast-growing industries or sectors where job growth has been high, reports Rana. “BCG estimates that women will earn the majority–some $5 trillion–of the world’s new income over the next five years.”
The composition of the workforce is certainly changing and it’s a trend that employers can’t ignore:
- Smart companies will learn how to tap into the earnings of a growing and empowered female population.
- Employers will learn that attracting women and offering them flexible working conditions will be beneficial and good for business.
- A working mom might only work 80%, but she’ll do what needs to be done while the men fiddle time away.
- Lastly, men will have to take their fair share of parental duties to give their partner equal opportunities.
Differences on parental leave policies between countries
Even in countries as good as Sweden, the gender issue is still an obstacle. Parents have the right to a parental leave of up to 480 days, but women and not men still take nearly 85 per cent of it. As reported by Kimberly on the site crookedtimber.org ”Swedish policy tries to encourage men to take more parental leave; as two months of “daddy only” leave are lost to the couple if the father doesn’t take them. Yet, men working in the private sector report feeling pressured by their employers not to take a lengthy leave.”
In the UK too, where the new coalition government is trying to encourage dads to take an extra four weeks of paternity leave, in an attempt to make Britain more family-friendly, many men are afraid of being stigmatised as uncommitted to their career and will relinquish their right as a parent. Universum’s research interestingly shows that 12% of graduates would prefer to receive financial support for taking parental leave. Twenty-six per cent of UK students also associate work/life balance to an employer’s approval of taking parental leave and 32 per cent to flexible working hours.
In the US women get 12 weeks unpaid leave. America’s lack of paid parental leave or subsidised day care makes parenthood much more stressful than in France or Scandinavia. The lack of support systems is therefore noted to have a negative effect on the happiness and well-being of new parents. Universum’s research shows that 21 per cent of US students associate work/life balance to an employer’s approval of taking parental leave and 40 per cent to flexible working hours.
Parents work smarter
In short, just because an employee works long-hours, it doesn’t mean that they work efficiently and effectively. It’s far better to have an employee who comes to work focused, signs-off things quickly on their to-do list, moves onto the next project, questions purpose and outcome, and looks forward to enjoying time at home with friends and family. It’s natural to have a life outside of work, right? Why not give that mom or dad a chance, they might just surprise you.