In the US, women are not entitled to paid maternity leave. Instead, they have to take holiday, which amounts to 10 days in most companies, or unpaid leave for which they are entitled to 12 weeks. Essentially, women in America get two weeks paid leave after giving birth, if they haven’t already taken it for something else necessary, and then they’re on their own. Unless of course, they are lucky enough to be surrounded by colleagues who will donate their own paid leave, as was Angela Hughes, from Missouri, who works in a registrars office of a private college.
Hughes was at her job less than a year when her daughter was born two months prematurely. She had gathered up as much holiday time as possible while pregnant, not taking a single day’s leave, and with her daughter born so early, she was under considerable stress. Noting this, her boss donated 80 hours of her own paid leave, and as more colleagues caught on and donated their own, Hughes ended up with eight weeks paid maternity leave.
It enabled Hughes to take a month to recover from her cesarean section without the stress of making money, and after her daughter, Bella, was in neonatal intensive care for three months, she took another four weeks to bond with her. With Bella now one, Hughes has spoken to Good Morning America about the experience.
‘It took a weight off of my family’s shoulder,’ she said, ‘Having a baby is a huge adjustment anyway but having a premature baby, my emotions were all over the place.’
While this story shows just how truly important good work friends are, it only reminds us of the stark reality of maternity discrimination in the US. They are the only country among 41 industries nations that do not mandate paid maternity leave, with only 35% of organizations offering it as a benefit of the job according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2018 Employee Benefits Survey.
Paid maternity leave should not be a luxury, neither should others have to donate their own paid leave, of which they have hardly any, to women who need it. Donating holiday is a lovely idea, albeit only an option at 15% of employers in the US, but it should not be the answer to this problem.
Just as the UK is facing its own maternity discrimination problems, it’s clear that globally, women are still overburdened when they choose to start a family. They either don’t have access to suitable maternity leave, or when they take it their jobs are undermined. Essentially, women are unfairly punished for the one thing that society pressures them to do, start a family.
It was clear when the Department for Business found that their campaign to push shared parental leave had failed, with only 2% of couples taking it. While 53% of the public agree childcare should be shared equally, when it comes to actually doing that, we fail.
And its policies like those in the US, or lack thereof, and the failings of the UK system that prove women cannot access the very things that enable them to fulfil the pressures society places on them. To take on the higher burden of childcare that is forced on us, women not only have to deal with the emotional and physical labour of looking after a child, but also in the US, sacrifice their monthly salary and in the UK, have their career undermined.
And people have the cheek to wonder why there’s a gender pay gap or glass ceiling...