December 17, 2014 — The "sad truth" is that paid maternity leave is "rare in America, and the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in providing for the needs of pregnant women and new mothers," YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Wojcicki notes that she was four months pregnant when she joined Google, which now owns YouTube, in 1999 and later became its first employee to take maternity leave. Since then, about 5,000 women at Google have taken maternity leave, and Wojcicki is about to take her fifth. All of Google's female employees are entitled to "18 weeks of paid maternity leave," she explains.
While some "generous employer[s]" offer paid maternity leave as an employee benefit and five states "have publicly funded paid-maternity-leave laws," the U.S. "is the only country in the developed world that doesn't offer government-mandated paid maternity leave," Wojcicki writes.
This "patchwork of corporate and state benefits covers only 12% of private workers," and "[l]ow-wage earners ... have it much worse: only 5% get any paid maternity leave," she continues, noting that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (PL 103-3) is "a step in the right direction" but only guarantees unpaid leave and does not apply to half of the female workforce in the U.S.
"In study after study, ... organizations have shown how harmful a lack of paid maternity leave can be for mothers and their babies," with some women "choos[ing] to drop out of the workforce" or returning "to work too quickly," which can have "adverse effects on her and her child's health," according to Wojcicki.
Further, paid maternity leave is "good for business," she writes. For example, a 2011 survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research "found that 91% of employers said [paid maternity leave] either boosted profits or had no effect."
"[S]upport for motherhood shouldn't be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course," she argues, concluding, "Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it" (Wojcicki, Wall Street Journal, 12/16).