DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR MATERNITY LEAVE
In 2015, when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced she was only going to take two weeks of maternity leave after the birth of her twins, she sent shivers down the spines of many women in the tech industry and beyond. It became all the more confusing when at the same time tech giant Netflix announced it was offering its employees a full year of paid parental leave. Weeks later, Microsoft announced twelve weeks of fully paid leave for both men and women. And then, not to be outdone, Adobe announced sixteen weeks for men and women and an additional ten weeks for women who had given birth.
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The list of companies to follow suit goes on and it would seem to be a bounty of riches, but here’s the rub: It remains unclear whether employees will actually take the full leave offered them. Men, as noted in chapter 6, are highly unlikely to take their full leave, if they take leave at all.
And women? Marissa isn’t the only one cutting offered/available leave short due to workplace pressures. The current message about maternity leave tells women that if they want to get to the top they have to work up to the day they give birth, take as short a leave as possible, and race back to the office. Often, women worry that they’ll seem no longer as committed to their careers if they take their full leave. As a result, many ambitious women have followed Marissa’s strategy and taken as little leave as possible.
Remember Symantec vice president Carolyn Herzog, from chapter 3? She is the primary breadwinner in her family and has a stay-at-home husband who cares for their two daughters.
I met Carolyn when I moderated a panel on women and their careers at LinkedIn’s Mountain View, California, campus. She shared with the audience that she was inspired by her grandmother, a successful career woman and Holocaust survivor who worked every day of her life.
“My grandmother taught me if you want to get ahead, you have to work and work hard,” Carolyn said.
So Carolyn took the minimum time possible during each of her two maternity leaves. In fact, when she gave birth to her second child in 2006, she was back in the office after six weeks and is proud to say she was promoted the day she returned.
Carolyn’s actions are what used to pass for corporate loyalty and ambition. Even today, for some women, short maternity leaves are a badge of honor signaling to the boss that work is more important than anything, including the birth of one’s child.
But what if a woman wants more time with her newborn and still wants to climb the corporate ladder? Does she follow Marissa or Carolyn and take a truncated leave to make sure her employers and other key stakeholders know she is committed? Or, does she take an “extended”243 leave and risk sending the message that family does comes first, at least sometimes?
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