Rita Kakati Shah

Our May “Stay-at-Home” vs. “Working Parents” get together was on the verge of Mother’s Day weekend,… where we were thrilled to see moms from all over the world, including Canada, Romania, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and India, travel to our Park Avenue headquarters to share their experiences and discuss the important issue of parental leave.

The United States is almost alone among nations in its parental-leave policy—the only nation other than Papua New Guinea that does not mandate paid parental leave. Add to that the fact that Norway offers new moms 87 weeks of paid leave; and Japan, Croatia and Canada afford moms 58, 56 and 52 weeks respectively. What’s more, Japan offers 52 weeks of paid leave for dads.

Companies try to do their part. Several offer some kind of leave policy, for both women and men. But, to put it in perspective, here in the States, paternity leave is considered a benefit—whereas maternity leave requires filing a disability claim and using up her holiday allowance. These host of other nations across the globe’s forward-thinking policies are in stark contrast to the United States.

Our policymakers ignore evidence like the report out of Rutgers University offering the overwhelming evidence regarding the benefits of giving parents access to paid time off following childbirth. It makes for healthier babies, the report says, more workers returning to the job post-maternity leave (a win for companies) and stronger families—perspectives shared by Uma.

All of this certainly has negative physical consequences for a mom who must return to work when she is no doubt sleep-deprived and before her physical resilience has returned to normal.

The severity of the situation came to life when our get-together participants once again engaged in role play. We put ourselves in the shoes of these exaggerated role types:

  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith – Seemingly enviable New York City couple, with holiday homes and unfettered by financial pressures
  • Joan of Arc – A single mom with a four-year-old and newborn twins, but living in the U.K.

The practical logistics and a six-week return policy forced Mrs. Smith to leave her job, placing the financial burden of family support entirely on her husband.

Then, there is the emotional component. It’s excruciating to have to cut bonding time with a newborn to return to work. “You feel guilty as a mom leaving your infant at home,” said Bianca Benedetti-Fang, Wealth Management Strategist at UBS. In fact, Ashley Flanagan Slaughter, president and founder of Sweat for Smiles, said she chose to stay at home after becoming a mother for that very reason.

Joan of Arc though, enjoyed governmental and workplace policies that within a year led to renewed stamina, a workable home routine, enjoyment of her three children as well as the benefits of mentoring, re-engagement and a return to work.

In a country like the U.S. where politicians routinely preach the importance of families, how can we accept forcing new parents to choose between nurturing a newborn and staying financially afloat?

It is as if women are being punished for deciding to have children and experience the incredibly rich passage of motherhood—a thought that particularly stings, as in the United States families were preparing to honor their mothers on Mother’s Day.

What’s more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14% of all private sector workers receive any form of paid parental leave. The other 86% are left with the small consolation offered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which Congress passed in 1993. That law does mandate up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year without loss of health benefits during the leave.

But even that minimal protection comes with qualifications. In fact, in a recent segment on Paid Leave on the John Oliver show, there were stories of women whose financial situation forced their return to work after two weeks—even worse, birth on Wednesday and a return the following Monday!

No matter what her financial circumstances or how much help she has, no mother is ready after six or eight weeks to return to work. Medical, societal and workplace wellbeing all point toward the need for better parental leave policies—including paternity leave, currently a benefit in the U.S. that is culturally frowned upon.

Such policies would also benefit companies who spend an estimated one-and-a-half times an existing employee’s salary to hire and train a replacement. When the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that between 2015 and 2016 there was a decline of close to 11% in re-entries to the U.S. workforce, while 16.75% of workers voluntarily left their jobs, companies are not only losing talent but also spending billions of dollars on hiring.

These practices fly in the face of our Uma mission to bring talented women back to the workforce. We came away feeling strongly that our meet-up was indeed a catalyst for change. Indeed, Uma women will be empowered as the change-agents who will alter existing beliefs and transform the current structure. After all, our company’s namesake, the Goddess Uma, is a mother, daughter, sibling—a bold, powerful woman.

Our mission can help those employees who want to re-enter the workforce find those enlightened companies that see the value in these powerful women’s talents.

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