Maternity Leave – has it changed over the years?
I have two children, one 30, and the other 28 and, other than one 10 month extended holiday before we got married and two three month maternity leaves, I have been employed.
When viewing my personal maternity leave, the major difference was the comparison between the corporate and small business approach to women going on maternity leave.
It amazes me now, but when I had my daughter, I landed up having to manage a rather challenging situation.
I had a company car and was working for an international company.
As I was planning to go back to work, it hadn't occurred to me that they would take the car away, but about a week into my maternity leave, I received a phone call from my boss, who said he was going to pop around and collect the car.
I still didn't get it, when he arrived with one of my colleagues, I guess I thought he was taking it for a few days.
I was very surprised when he informed me that as I was not working, he was re-allocating the car.
I do understand and appreciate the business logic behind his decision, but it was not discussed with me at any time prior to my maternity leave. Not to mention that I discovered that the young men doing army camps of up to 3 months were able to keep their cars!
Three months of maternity leave ensued, with no vehicle and we were not living in an area with easy access to public transport!
As a point of interest, the company car was part of the package, we were not given a choice of our own car and a travel allowance. I did offer to pay all costs during the 3 months, but this was not accepted.
The next time I had a baby I had my own car and a new job...
In a small business, things were much more flexible. I was able to work at home up till the birth, and then get the full 3 months after the baby was born. I repaid that flexibility by assisting with events during the time off.
So have times changed?
Certainly, in South Africa, four months paid maternity leave is now offered at a number of companies, and Unemployment Insurance is also available, although I hear that, often, by the time you get it, you are back at work, so no change there!
The average paternity leave in South Africa is nowhere close to maternity leave, leaving the primary caregiver of a dual working family as the mother, even if the parents would like to make a different choice.
Frequently, babies are born before women have reached senior levels, so the challenges of continuing an upward career path are very real.
Networking with women entrepreneurs has also strongly indicated that many women owned businesses started because, as mothers, they needed more flexibility than the corporate world could give them.
It is true that there are many options for skilled, professional, financially stable women which allow them to continue working while raising their children, should they wish to do so, however, there is a vast group of women who have to work, but do not have access to local, affordable care giving.
Many conversations around this topic have led me to believe that child care issues remain a global problem for mothers who work. Of course, there are fathers that are the primary care giver and they face the same challenges.
Interestingly, the US allows 12 weeks unpaid leave for new mothers (See link below), and, at the opposite end, Sweden offers 480 days of paid parental leave split between the parents. (See link below).
While staying at home to rear children is the first choice for many parents, it is not an option for significant numbers.
There are companies, and countries, that are doing great work to ensure that women are able to care for their babies, as well as hold down a job. But there are a lot that are not.
My view is that we need to continue to treat this issue as urgent and keep it top of mind when discussing gender concerns in the workplace.
Links, References and Notes
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, signed into law during President Bill Clinton's first term, guaranteed maternity leave to many new mothers across the nation. It mandated a minimum of 12 weeks unpaid leave to mothers for the purpose of attending to a newborn or newly adopted child. However, the act did not attain universal coverage as it included several limiting stipulations. In order to receive maternity leave, employees must work in a firm of 50 or more employees, maintain employment with the same business for 12 months and have accumulated at least 1,250 working hours over those 12 months.
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