Maternity Leave Is for Bosses to Decide

pregnant womanI really try so hard not to be cynical, but could paid maternity leave be the latest issue in the 2012 elections that the Democrats are using to paint all Republicans as anti-women? Because this is part of an 2012 Election year forum, I hope no one will mind if I talk about Bain for a moment.

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I tapped into Working Mother's website. And guess what was one of the top companies listed for working moms? Bain. That's right. The company that the Republican candidate for President Mitt Romney gets maligned for being associated with. It turns out that Bain Capital treats working mothers really, really well. Two-month sabbaticals, flex time, paid leave.

According to WorkingMother.com, more than a third of Bain's managers and executives are women. Of the top earners at the firm, 20 percent are women, almost half of the hires in recent years were women, the average number of weeks of full paid maternity leave was 12, and this is a biggie, 87 percent of employees at the firm are working flexible hours.

A lot of women say it's time for the United States to pass a new Family Medical Leave Act that mandates PAID leave. It is a black eye on our country that we lag so far behind in this area. California has already passed its own state law mandating paid leave. California is funded by the employees themselves in a system that costs the average recipient of the benefits $47 annually. According to MSNBC, "One bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), calls for eight weeks of paid family leave within a one-year period. Benefits would be paid out on a tiered system depending on salary. The program, which would not affect companies with 50 employees or fewer, would be funded by employee, employer and the federal government." I don't know if the Feds have the money to pay for much of anything right now, but I think most employees would be willing to pay the state $47 a year to get paid leave.

There was also a great study done out of Northwestern University last year that questioned whether stay-at-home moms who have decided to stay at home are really driving that decision or whether the decision is being made for them because of a dearth of female managers and a lack of flexibility in the workplace. This is complicated stuff that we don't want to oversimplify. But it is safe to say companies with more women at the top get it in a way that others don't.

I was talking to a friend's mother the other day about feminism and her work in the '70s ushering in the women's movement. It was really poignant. "Yes, women have more credibility and opportunities in the workplace but when you look at the cost to family life, we're not there yet, are we?" she asked. She said she wasn't sure the early feminists were after the kind of pressure and stress a lot of moms feel trying to juggle careers and kids. Then her daughter turned around and said she would happily give up Mother's Day to know that women finally got equal pay. How about both? I think we're entitled, don't you?

It does seem we are on the brink of change. The question isn't if but when. Women have so much to contribute to the economy. We need to respect all parents and make it easier for them to work around their family commitments like they do at Bain. I think it should be up to the states, but businesses also have a great opportunity to lead the charge and show that doing good can lead to doing well! And the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has a unique opportunity to reframe the discussion about his time at Bain!

 

Image via tinyspark/Flickr

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