‘The Maternity Leave Alternative Nobody is Talking About’ By: Manon DeFelice
While the topic of paid parental leave seems to dominate politics, business and media convos, there’s another solution for working moms who want and need more time with their babies.
We all know that that paid maternity leave is a crucial issue facing today’s working mothers. Back in May, HBO’s John Oliver even devoted an entire segment to America’s paltry maternity leave policies, and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out for paid maternity leave on the campaign trail. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently received widespread praise when it announced it would offer 52 weeks of maternity leave to its employees. And there’s been nothing but kudos for Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he is taking two months off work to help care for his new baby girl—and that Facebook is offering four months paid parental leave to all of its employees worldwide.
Supporters of paid parental leave point out the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t mandate some form of paid leave, and even the 1993 law that guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave only applies to full-time workers; part-time and freelance employees are out of luck. And even when mothers are given leave, they often don’t take it because of financial reasons. Because of this, one in four moms return to work within two weeks of giving birth.
But while paid maternity leave laws are certainly one way to support working mothers, treating it as a panacea to all work life balance issues ignores a viable alternative: flexibility.
There are millions of mothers in this country who, while being well educated and highly accomplished, find it difficult to advance in their careers, not because their jobs lack maternity leave, but because they don’t have the latitude to set their own schedules. That mothers are expected to choose between a thriving career and spending a meaningful amount of time with their kids leads to too many women leaving their jobs—often to the detriment of businesses that would otherwise benefit from their presence.
But there is a middle way. I founded Inkwell, a company that connects talented moms with businesses and nonprofits, after seeing the brain drain of fantastically brilliant women around me who felt they needed to step off the career track to raise their kids and then later found it impossible to get back on. Inkwell pairs high-level candidates with high-level jobs, the key difference being that those jobs allow the moms to craft their own schedules and take the appropriate amount of time to care for their children.
Some would call it “part-time,” but part-time, I believe, is a misnomer. The foundational belief of Inkwell is that 20 hours a week from an unbelievably qualified candidate with years of experience—a candidate who also wants to have two days at home with her kids—is much more valuable than a less-experienced candidate, male or female, who’s available five days a week.
There is this misconception that the only value you bring is dependent on the number of hours you work, but multiple studies have confirmed that the 40-hour workweek is an outdated concept for those in the creative class, and the most productive employees often work far less than that. Some researchers have suggested that a 25-hour week is ideal for knowledge workers. It’s time for American business leaders to reconsider their assumptions about what constitutes a “full-time” worker and realize that forcing employees to be in the office for 40 hours results in them overlooking perfectly qualified candidates who can bring a wealth of knowledge to a company or organization. Only then can we claim to live in a nation that truly supports its mothers, without whom none of us would be where we are today.