Times have changed since the era of majority-female homemakers and male breadwinners: Women today make up 60 percent of the workforce in the United States and are working their way up to top executive positions. That's progress, but there's less positive news when it comes to maternity and family leave: In fact, U.S. policy has yet to catch up to the rest of the world in these areas.
Under current federal law, new mothers may legally take up to 12 weeks off with job protection, but only 13 percent of new mothers receive any compensation during their leave. A 2015 UN report described the United States as one of only four countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. And, within this country itself, only three states -- California, New Jersey and Rhode Island -- offer it.
Even in those states, new mothers are eligible only for partial income replacement through their state's disability/family leave program, supported by payroll taxes. (California fathers are also eligible for paid family leave.) If a business employs staff in these states, its corporate benefits can be designed to supplement the gap in income. Employees of these businesses who live in other states? They're out of luck.
This is where funding creativity comes in. Moms-to-be and their husbands/partners have turned to crowdfunding to help bridge the income gap during their maternity leave. Sites like Plumfund, Babylist and GoFundMe are seeing an uptick in campaigns, where friends and family can contribute financially for this special time.
While the traditional baby shower category makes up around 10 percent of these crowdfunding sites, about 5 percent of users on our site, Plumfund, are mentioning maternity leave as part of their cash gift requests. Families, on average, have asked for $3,000 to supplement the 12 weeks taken off work, and ultimately they've received gifts totally between $500 and $1,000.
The benefits of paid leave
Along with over 400 other parents on Plumfund, Amy Dean-Gerving raised money for her maternity leave for her third adopted child, sharing online that the $3,500 she received would bring "peace of mind that I can be home and help him transition into our family and not worry about how the bills are going to get paid."
(Note: While some employers offer family leave for biological children, they often do not compensate for adoption, though time off in these cases can be crucial for bonding between new mothers and their children.)
The trend toward relying on friends, family, and the internet to make ends meet during family leave highlights the gap in what the United Nations has called a "basic human right" for women. Moreover, the gap itself reflects a lack of understanding of the long-term benefits of company-paid maternity leave.
If governments and business owners do some simple math, they'll find that offering this benefit to more than half of the national workforce would encourage them to return to their jobs, and perform better when they do. The advantages of maternity leave are particularly clear when you consider the majority proportion of the workforce that millennial women comprise.
There's also a competitive advantage for businesses here: Until such time as the United States as a whole mandates paid maternity leave, companies that already offer this benefit are going to have greater appeal when it comes to recruiting top talent. Some notable companies that depend on top talent to survive and thrive have figured this out. They include Amazon, Etsy, Starbucks, Ikea, Adobe, Google and Facebook.
Beyond productivity and worker retention, there are other benefits to companies offering at least some paid leave. Diversity among senior management is one: Without paid leave, upward mobility in the workplace remains more difficult for women than men. This topic is highlighted by the fact that only 14 percent of women hold C-level positions in leading companies. Women shouldn't have to choose between having children and having a career -- when they do, society as a whole loses out.
A lack of gender diversity in the workplace has also been shown to foster hyper-masculine cultures that, sooner or later, wind up alienating customers and hurting the bottom line.
Maternity leave should be recognized as the basic human right that it is. Simply speaking, it's a simple, biological fact that we Americans must not only reproduce, but care for our children after their birth. As couples increasingly share the responsibilities of child-rearing and financial support, it's become clear that paid maternity and paternity leave, through corporate and government funding, is the obvious next step toward elevating women professionally and acknowledging the parenting role of their partner.
In the meantime, the use of crowdfunding sites in this situation proves the "power of the crowd," and companies like my own will continue to provide services for these families until large-scale action is taken. My hope is that the federal government will establish paid maternity/paternity leave guidelines soon and that, in the meantime, more companies fill the gap for their mothers- and fathers-to-be.