The Maternity Leave Feedback Loop

The USA is the only developed country in the world without government-funded paid leave for mothers.

The closest thing we have to a federal maternity leave policy is the “Family and Medical Leave Act,” singed in 1993.

Under this law, if your company has 50 or more employees that work with a 75 mile radius, then you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and you company has to save your position for you while your gone. Oddly enough, only about 60% of working women even qualify for this unpaid leave. (And if you’re in the top 10% of earners, you don’t qualify!) And of those 60% who do qualify, it turns out that only 36% actually take the full 12 weeks!

The reason for this is simple. Most people can’t afford to go 12 weeks without getting paid.

This creates a problematic feedback look for employers. They see mothers coming back to work soon after the child is born, and so they assume that women either don’t want or don’t need more maternity leave. Imagine it, “They don’t even take the 12 weeks… they must love working here!” — Yeah, as if.

So how many companies actually provide paid leave?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 60% of American employers have some sort of paid leave policy. This is usually only partial pay, such as 50% of your wages, for 6 weeks.

But here’s the rub. Despite 60% of employers having policies, it turns out that only 12% of working women actually receive paid maternity leave in the US.

The natural conclusion from this data is that American business culture is, to a degree, anti-child. Or perhaps the assumption is that only wealthy mothers deserve to spend time with their newborns. Or perhaps employers are scared that a cushy maternity leave will be taken advantage of.

The irony is that better maternity leave tends to make healthier, happier, and more loyal employees. It also tends to benefit the children, which in turn make healthier citizens.

It’s a human centered design problem. Innovation welcomed.