The 2017 TED Women’s conference was held in New Orleans this year and I was thrilled to be among those in the audience. Imagine my delight when one of the speakers, Christy Turlington Burns – advocate and social entrepreneur – happened to sit down in the audience in the seat next to me for the second day of sessions. My colleague and I later giggled about how we chose not to get up for a bathroom break for nearly three hours for fear of clumsily climbing past her elegant presence, still reeling from the power of her talk one day earlier.
Between sessions, we chatted with Turlington about the experience of attending TEDWomen, and we complimented her on her talk. She was warm, engaging and humble as she likened delivering a TED Talk to the enormity of giving birth. She laughed off her jitters with great humanity – the very energy that she clearly puts behind her noble cause at Every Mother Counts. She also mentioned that she’d be running the Golden Gate Half Marathon to benefit her organization in San Francisco the very next day, another endeavor we readily compared to childbirth. These shared experiences immediately became a common language, one that Turlington has become fluent in as she’s connected with women all over the world in the name of her mission: Every Mother Counts.
“Safe pregnancies do not begin or end in the delivery room.”
Turlington began her talk by painting the picture of her birth experience, which was as beautiful as it was privileged. But after her baby Grace was born, something in the room shifted. What had been going well suddenly went wrong – and it nearly cost her life.
Turlington learned later that many women die every year of preventable medical emergencies like her own – and she wanted to make a difference by working to improve birth outcomes for mothers and babies.
Turlington was shocked to learn that the U.S. is 46th in the world for infant mortality rates. America spends more per capita on childbirth than any other country, but it doesn’t have the birth outcomes to show for it. In addition, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal death over any other developed country.
And there’s more shocking news: in 2017, the United States is the only country in the world without a paid family leave policy.
“We have the worst maternal health in the developed world.”
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world to not have government-mandated paid maternity leave. In Europe, maternity leave ranges from 14 to 52 weeks, depending on the country. Some countries pay 100% of previous earnings for the full leave, while others pay a percentage of the mother’s income, or full pay for a certain time and a percentage after that.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible U.S. employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, companies are picking up the slack for the lack of additional legislation by offering paid leave policies for maternity, paternity, and family-related events.
States have been stepping in as well, with paid family leave policies in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Minnesota. The state of New York’s policy will go into effect in 2018, and policies in Washington D.C. and Washington state will take effect in 2020. While these policies help, it’s up to employers in every state to lead the way in providing first-world benefits for their valued workers.
Our eBook, Guide to Parental and Family Leave, offers guidance on what factors to consider as you develop or modify your leave policies and tips how to build and promote a family-friendly culture. But first, it’s important to understand why paid leave is so important for today’s families.
Paid leave helps reduce the gender pay gap
With an overall gender wage gap of 24.1% and an adjusted gap of 5.4%, the United States is far from gender equality in the workplace. The lack of legally required paid maternity leave compounded with conscious and unconscious gender bias has led many women throughout the years to choose between career and family.
At the same time, a federal policy that does not guarantee pay for women while they take maternity leave puts financial stress on families, limits women’s lifetime earning potential, and impacts retirement savings.
- Only 58% of U.S. employers offer at least some replacement pay for maternity leave. Of those, just 10% offer full pay.
- 70% of moms with kids younger than 18 are in the labor force, up from 47% in 1975. About three-fourths of all employed moms are working full time.
- 27% of women have quit a job due to familial responsibilities.
- Mothers spent an average of about <15 hours a week on childcare and 18 hours a week on housework in 2015.
Studies in the U.S. and in countries with more generous leave policies show that women who take paid maternity leave are more likely to return to work, stay employed long term, and maintain their earnings over time. Employers that assist women through parenthood are more likely to retain them, thereby increasing their value to the organization as their careers develop.
The way forward
What can we do? As we start to build and rebuild, we need to think about how we can make the systems more welcoming for women.
Our eBook, Guide to Parental and Family Leave, offers additional facts and employer examples of successful family-friendly policies. Download it today to get started on giving your employees the world-class benefits that will help set your company apart for generations to come. Because every mother counts.