How Longer Maternity Leaves Are Permanently Damaging Women’s Careers

In a move that was supposed to help working mothers better navigate their careers in the workplace, the truth is that it has proven to be detrimental to them even more than ever. A dilemma that has haunted pregnant women ever since they become employed, child care versus career is a question they simply cannot escape. While science has proved that maternity leave plays a big role in helping mothers lower their stress levels while also reducing the infant mortality rate. Motivated by helping mothers ease their way into a better “work-life balance”, is this well-meaning decision have a dark side to it where women are actually losing out on their career. Moreover, many have lost their jobs or are forced to resign due to long maternity leaves and flexible work timings that were supposed to work in their favor. 

HBR revealed that women who take longer maternity leaves are passed up for promotions, etc

While a bulk of research conducted on maternity leave, countries, where parental leave is offered to both mothers and father to share, shows that mothers take a majority of that time. This choice does them no favors as companies view women making motherhood their priority as something negative when they decide to come back to work. Harvard Business Review reported that women who take longer maternity leave are penalized for it as they are passed up for promotions, salary hikes, etc and this even reduces their chances of reaching the management level. Also, they are at a bigger risk of being made redundant or demoted from the current position that they hold. HBR also discovered that women who applied for jobs and also took a 12-month maternity leave were perceived as less desirable. On the other hand, women who took the same amount of leave, but chose the “keep in touch” programs were more hireable than the ones who did not opt for it. 

Consciously or unconsciously women are being punished for accommodating their family in their career trajectory

In Chile, the law requires employers to provide childcare for working mothers, however, women are paid less because of this. Meanwhile, in Spain, working mothers have the right to work on a part-time basis, however, this policy has led to fewer full-time jobs that are made available for women, even if they are not mothers. Also, many areas in Europe that have longer maternity leaves for women are seeing that men have a much higher chance of reaching the managerial level that women because of this. Therefore, consciously or unconsciously women are being punished for accommodating their family in their career trajectory. As a result, more than 70% of women fear the dreaded career break says Louisa Symington-Mills of City Mothers, “No one talks enough about the hit your confidence takes when you become a mother and then attempt to reintegrate professionally. It is almost politically incorrect to say that women might lose confidence as new mums. But for most women, we barely we feel we’ve mastered one realm of life (mothering) when it’s time to add a challenging new variable to the mix (heading back to work).”

Men are declared as heroes for taking paternity leave, like Mark Zuckerberg when he became a father

Interestingly, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer was pillaged for her decision to take a two-week maternity leave when she had her twin babies; she wasn’t leading by example, apparently. Many of her critics were, in fact, women who could by no means cut Meyer any slack for such a terrible decision. On the flip side, when Mark Zuckerberg too paternity leave, he was hailed as a hero and become the topic of morning talk shows and bold newspaper headlines in bold. These two examples simply show the hypocrisy of people holding men and women CEOs to different standards. In India, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 has resulted in women being sidelined at recruitment drives and job interviews due to the burden of maternity leave on corporate companies. To make things worse, even small and medium companies are choosing to hire men instead of women, about 46 percent fo them. After the amendment, India is now known as a country that has one of the most generous maternity leaves all of which is paid by the employer, which means that many companies want no part in it. This also means that men alone greatly benefit from this. 

Companies need to encourage men to take paternity leave when they become fathers

As a result, working women in India and finding themselves being discriminated against especially if they are of “child-bearing age”. A study by Team Lease revealed that about 12 million Indian women may remain unemployed across all sectors due to the new maternity leave policy. Even if mothers do get the opportunity to work, they often do not get the promotions they deserve because their “loyalties” may lie elsewhere, with their child. So, how can the corporate world ensure that maternity leaves do not hurt women and their careers? Research states that a number of companies today are failing women by not supporting them through motherhood and as a  result, women are left feeling distraught and frustrated. While much time, effort, and capital are spent on newbies at the workplace, women returning after a career break are not given the same energy and focus. Women employees either face hostility, unconscious bias from colleagues or support, and renewed energy. Obviously the latter is better for women employees and will help them easily transition into the workplace. Therefore, there is a need for an enhancement program where the entire workplace is schooled on what it means to have a career break and getting back to work. HR teams must be well equipped to mentor employees who are returning to the company while also having an open dialogue with them about their concerns. Also, while there is a minuscule amount of men who would choose to take paternity leave, companies must also encourage men to share the joy of becoming a parent. 

Therefore, opinions on maternity leave, especially negative ones are an excellent reflection of the culture of a company and this shows how much more needs to change regarding attitudes on working women and motherhood. Laws and policies may come and go, however, it is imperative that attitudes change to ensure that the workplace does not bully a certain gender. 

Image credit: hcamag.com

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