As you would expect, there are huge differences in equality from country to country when it comes to women in the workplace. One of the biggest you will see is in different countries attitudes to paid maternity leave.
Paid Maternity Leave – Government Attitudes
Three of the richest countries in the world; the UK, Australia and the United States have wildly differing views and legislation on paid maternity leave. In the UK, statutory maternity pay is 39 weeks. In Australia, paid parental leave can be up to 18 weeks at a time. In the United States, it is….. you’ve guessed it: ZERO. Women aren’t entitled to paid maternity leave in the US.
Think about that for a minute. Let that sink in.
Likewise, the US is one of only of nine OECD countries that have no leave policies in place for fathers. More shockingly, however, the US is the only industrialised nation in the world without paid maternity leave.
As a new Dad, I now know first hand what it is like to go from two wages down to one as you prepare for the new arrival. It is tough. The paid parental leave we received from the government has been a real blessing for us. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for families in the US who have to endure financial hardship purely because they have a new family member.
When you scratch the surface of these policies, they are seemingly backed up mainly by myths.
When it comes to women in the workplace, perhaps the biggest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Women work for the exact same reasons as men do. Money! Also personal fulfilment and a passion for their job (in some cases). They also work (just like men) to support their families, and always have done. In many western countries, having a job and earning money is an absolute necessity for most women. And unfortunately, the sad truth is that, in the US at least, the government isn’t doing anything to support mothers or their families – not because they can’t, but because they won’t.
The issue with these myths is that they prevent us from seeing things as they are and responding in a meaningful way.
And don’t for a second think that this kind of inequality only affects poor women. It doesn’t. It affects all women.
Thankfully, there are a few forward thinking companies in the US that are setting their own standards. Netflix being one. Last year, Netflix announced “Unlimited” paid maternity and paternity leave for the first 12 months after a new baby is born or adopted. That means that new mums and dads can take as much time off as they want during the first year after having or adopting a child. Bravo Netflix!
Aside from the fact that this is a truly awe inspiring step to take, Netflix have gained a huge amount by stepping forward on this issue. For a start, there has been a mind boggling amount of positive PR for the company in the 6 months or so since they made the announcement.
Secondly, to know that you have an employer that is willing to go to that length to support you and your family, must work wonders for your staff retention policy! I would be fiercely loyal to any employer willing to allow me the freedom to bond with my new child without having to suffer for it financially.
Thirdly, it is a very innovative way to attract talent. This is because it appeals to both mums and dads. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that gives you unlimited maternity and paternity leave for the first 12 months?!
Netflix is not the only US based company leading the way in paid maternity leave, however. Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google (and YouTube), Microsoft, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter and Yahoo all have some of the most generous paid maternity leave policies in the world.
Notice that these are all Silicon Valley based US tech companies. But why US tech companies? Why Silicon Valley?
These companies are embroiled in a war with each other for talent every single day. So if one company offers up something so amazing as unlimited paid maternity leave to potential employees, they all have to follow suit! Silicon Valley realises, perhaps more than anywhere else, that the best way to attract the top talent, is to offer up flexible working schedules and sometimes even flashier perks (such as unlimited paid maternity leave for the first 12 months).
Millennials Leading The Way
So who do we have to thank for this workplace revolution that will (hopefully) soon be sweeping the globe?
Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) are currently the fastest growing segment of the work force. So much so that in just 10 years, 75% of the workforce will be made up of millennials. Millennial workers are starting to have children, and according to a recent survey by Ernst & Young (EY), the Millennial generation is almost twice as likely as Baby Boomers to work full time and have a spouse or a partner who also works full time.
What this means is that Millennials around the world are “more likely than other generations to cite paid parental leave as an important benefit”. So implementing family friendly policies such as paid maternity leave, is imperative for any companies who want to attract and retain the best talent.
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That’s why, in Silicon Valley at least, generous paid maternity (and paternity) leave is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
For now at least, and for the vast majority of us mere mortals who don’t work in Silicon Valley, the status quo remains the same. Governments and companies around the world continue to ignore the issue of paid maternity leave.
Pretty soon there will be a new superpower in the global workforce, and one thing is for certain… Companies won’t be able to ignore the issue for very much longer. Thanks Millennials (and Silicon Valley) for that one!
Have you had a good or bad experience when it comes to paid maternity or paternity leave? Leave a comment below and tell me your story…