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Women's Health Homepage

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Jennifer Jordan

Working moms are a driver of the U.S. economy

From the July 2017 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine
More than half of American women actively participate in the U.S. workforce, according to Department of Labor data.

Countless women hold positions of responsibility. In fact, more than half of management and professional positions are held by females. Women also made up more than 20 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500 last year.

But the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that one-quarter of mothers quit their jobs after having a baby. Those women are valuable members of the workforce. It’s not easy to replace them and their unique set of skills. And their exit is hurting our overall economy.

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With fewer women having children, and more working moms leaving jobs, it’s more important than ever that those who want to remain in the workforce are supported with an easy transition back into the 9-to-5.

One way to do this is through a strong parental leave policy. Paid parental leave has benefits for both parents, not just mothers. But the U.S. is the only United Nations member besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t offer paid parental leave. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least four to six weeks of physical recovery time, but they add that attention also should be given to maternal-infant bonding. The Family & Medical Leave Act also mandates a woman’s right to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but few mothers can afford to take that much time away from work without pay.

In an ideal world, the federal government would mandate 12 weeks of paid parental leave for both parents. In the meantime, employers can play a role by choosing to offer a substantial paid parental leave policy. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s widely accepted that companies more effectively retain employees who feel valued, taken care of and have a flexible working schedule.

Some highly regarded global companies expanded their parental leave policies last year. 3M announced it would offer 10 weeks paid, followed by 10 weeks unpaid leave, with mothers becoming eligible for short-term disability, as well. Bank of America announced that both full- and part-time employees (of any gender, and even if they’ve become parents via adoption) can take 16 weeks of paid leave. Discovery announced last September that all new parents can take as many as 22 weeks of paid leave when paired with short-term disability.

Different companies have different approaches to parental leave, but no matter what the most effective approach is for yours, employers should keep in mind that it will improve loyalty and retention. Google, consistently ranked as the best company to work for (eight times in the last 11 years), is a strong case study of this. Working moms were leaving the company twice as often as other employees, so Google expanded its leave policy from three months (12 weeks) of partially paid leave to five months (20 weeks) of fully paid time off. And it worked. Attrition was reduced by 50 percent.
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