Women represent one half of the total population, and in some female-dominated industries they may form an even greater proportion of your workforce. The biological imperative of reproduction and nurturing of infants still impacts mainly on women, even with today’s more liberal and inclusive attitudes towards child rearing. The US Census Bureau population data on fertility shows that in 2010, only 19.2% of women between the ages of 35 and 44 were childless. Again in 2010, more than 75% of the births to this age group were not first births. This means that more than 80% of women are giving birth at some stage in their life, and more than 75% will have more than one child. Clearly, your organization’s maternity leave plan is crucial, and there are several advantages to be derived from having a liberal policy.
Attracting the best female staff
Given the statistics already quoted, it is likely that 8 out of 10 female employees would make use of maternity leave, if available, at least once in their career, and 75% of those 8 (6 of them) would use it twice. Decades ago, most young women stopped work shortly after the start of their first pregnancy, and if they did ever return to the workforce it was usually after their youngest child started school, and even then probably only on a part-time basis. All this has now changed. Pregnancy is no longer a reason for immediately quitting work. Many women stay in their job until the last possible moment and return as soon as suitable care for their child can be found, whether this is delivered by grandparents, their partner or professional day care.
These women obviously enjoy their work and take pride in it, and are likely to be amongst your best and most productive employees. The best way to attract such women to work for your company in the first place is to offer a liberal maternity leave allowance, so that they know they will be able to resume their career after a brief interruption. When a woman is the best candidate for a vacancy, there is no longer any need to hesitate about her long-term viability in the face of likely parenthood.
When you hire someone, and spend time and money training them and developing their skills until they become a truly invaluable asset to your organization, it is more than annoying to see them leave in search of newer pastures, higher salaries or more rapid promotion. Jobs for life are no longer the norm, from both sides of the employment equation, but it would be good to be able to rely on a certain amount of staff loyalty. The good news is that, with a generous and flexible maternity leave policy in place, your female staff are unlikely to depart in a hurry. A qualifying period of employment, usually spanning a number of years, is in any case usually required before maternity leave is granted. Such a benefit is likely to be viewed by most women as being more valuable than a short-term increase in salary or even a fast-track career path. A woman with children is often looking for job security most of all, and a solid maternity leave program offers her the chance to resume her career with your company even though it may be interrupted several times. It gives you the edge over prospective employers without a comparable policy.
Projecting a family-friendly policy to male employees
Even men appreciate a good maternity leave program, especially the 80% who are likely to be partners of the 8 out 10 women who bear children. There may be some grumbling about preferential treatment from single men without family obligations, especially if you are forward-thinking and generous enough to grant paternity leave as well, but they are a 20% minority. Men and women with family responsibilities are also likely to be your most responsible and productive employees, and they will appreciate a liberal maternity leave policy.
Improving your corporate image
Granting maternity leave is not just good for employee relations, it’s beneficial for your corporate image as well. The fact remains that modern society, though vastly different in many ways from the culture that prevailed in previous generations, is still a childbearing society, and always will be if there is to be a future. By promoting family well-being and financial stability through your maternity leave program you are demonstrating that you are a good corporate citizen. Take every opportunity to remind the world at large how thoughtful and generous you are.
Complying with statutory obligations
For businesses above a certain size, maternity leave is a benefit enshrined in law in many countries. If this is applicable in your country, by establishing a maternity leave policy you will be meeting your statutory obligations, and by being more generous than strictly necessary you will not only comply with the law but gain the esteem of both employees and the general community for the sake of a little extra cost.
Having employers offer a liberal maternity leave policy is no longer an impractical utopian vision or a feminist pipedream in most countries. It is a modern-day business reality which, though costly in terms of staff disruptions and even financial compensation in the case of paid leave, will reap rewards in terms of attracting and retaining high caliber staff, improving your corporate image and complying with statutory requirements.