The bold announcement last month by Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter to his newborn daughter, Max, that he and his wife were giving away 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charity was a grand gesture (or not), and it consumed the media as the holidays launched.
What was lost amidst this story is the new parental leave policy that Facebook announced just days before the arrival of little Max Zuckerberg. The company, which already had one of the most liberal paternity leave policies among U.S. companies with 17 paid weeks for both mothers and fathers, expanded its policy to employees outside the U.S. and became gender neutral, allowing same-sex couples to participate in the program.
While generous, Facebook's policy pales in comparison to that of Netflix, which last August announced an unlimited maternity and paternity leave for employees who become new parents. While this trend continues, with many large companies adopting generous and flexible leave policies for parents of new babies (newborns and adoptions), it poses a serious problem for entrepreneurs.
How do small businesses compete for top talent against huge corporations with the resources to provide these amazing benefits?
The answer: national subsidized maternity and paternity leave for businesses. More than just levelling the playing field for small businesses, this idea also has significant economic and moral considerations.
Economically, women constitute 47 percent of the modern American workforce, so without a doubt, working moms play an important part of our economic growth. Unfortunately, only a very small number of companies offer full-time working mothers any kind of paid-leave options, which according to Jessica Shortfall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat. The ultimate survival guide for working, breastfeeding women, leaves 88 percent of all moms with no access to paid maternity leave.
Also, we should understand that the U.S. birthrate has fallen to 1.88 births per woman, which is well below the birthrate of 2.1 births per woman needed to sustain a healthy and vibrant economy. New generations will replace and replenish our workforce and make up our future economic engine. Having children, therefore, is not optional. We need women to work, and we need working women to have babies.
The U.S. does have a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but because it is only available to full-time employees in businesses with 50 or more employees, over half of working mothers are ineligible. Moreover, those parents who are eligible have a difficult time taking advantage of the permitted leave because, again, it is unpaid.
For this reason, on average, full-time working moms return to work within two weeks of giving birth. To put this in perspective, consider studies that demonstrate that 40 weeks is ideal for raising a child. Furthermore, according to Shortfall, newborns who spend just 12 weeks with their mothers are more likely to get vaccinations and receive the early parental care needed to establish early childhood habits.
Morally, we simply need to allow parents to spend more time with their newborn children.
Lastly, consider that there are only nine of the 100 nations listed by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that do not provide paid maternity leave. The first eight have a combined population of eight million people -- the ninth country is the U.S., with 315 million people. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide working moms (or dads) with support during the vital first few months of a newborn’s life.
The common argument against nationalized paid maternity leave is that it hurts businesses or that people will take advantage of the system. Jon Levs, author of All in: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together, studied the effect of paid leave in California and New Jersey, which have paid family leave programs, and found that the majority of businesses reported that their state's paid leave programs had either no effect or a positive effect on their business.
Still other opponents will, quite astutely, ask how we intend to pay for this type of program. Without getting into a discussion of politics or taxes, I would simply say -- we cannot afford not to.
In the end, women are and will continue to make up a significant part of our workforce. For economic reasons, we need them to work. For the benefit and sustainability of the U.S., we also need them to have more babies -- responsibly, of course -- and we need parents to take an active and nurturing role in the imperatively formative early years of a newborn's life.
The only way to accomplish this -- without waiting for each state to take action individually -- is to offer nationalized maternity leave.
What do you think? Please share your valuable feedback in the comments below.