UMA Research

April 10 was Equal Pay Day and at Uma, we certainly think it warranted a special celebration…

Our founder and CEO Rita Kakati Shah used the Uma platform to remind people that, “if you truly want to empower a woman, pay her. There is nothing more powerful than feeling valued for your work. It’s Equal Pay Day. Let’s make it right. Give women equal rights for equal work. Today.”

With these strong words Rita addressed one of the most relevant issues of our time. For example, consider the issue of maternity leave policies. Did you know that there are only three countries in the entire world without mandatory paid maternity leave policies? Unfortunately, the United States is one of them (the other two are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea).

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 their health benefits during the leave. But even that minimal protection comes with qualifications—the company must have more than 50 employees, the employee must have been with the company for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the leave.

Contrast that with the protections offered in other developed nations. Sweden with one of the world’s most generous programs lets parents take up to 480 days of leave for each child, usable at any time until the child is 8 years old. Bulgaria offers 410 days (45 prenatal and 365 post-birth) with the National Health Insurance Fund paying 90% of their gross salary. In Iceland both parents receive 80% of their salary for three months after the birth or adoption.

As anyone who has gone through the experience knows, having and raising children is hard work. The lack of clear and equitable policies around parental leave and childcare is likely one of the factors behind why so many women, at least among those who can afford to, choose to stay at home with their children. For many individuals the path of least resistance is to put off resuming one’s career until after the children are old enough to look after themselves.

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, and if you couple that number with the almost 17% of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs, you can see there’s a serious problem here. Since it costs on average approximately 1.5 times an existing worker’s salary to hire and train a replacement, if you quickly do the math, you can see losing so many skilled workers is a costly proposition. If we’re talking about executives in the $100K salary range, that could mean as much as $20bn in extra costs just to fill the existing roles.

We still have a long way to go in this country on the issues around work and parenthood. Mothers are forced to go back to work early against their own wellbeing, because without sensible parental leave policies they have no choice. No matter what your financial circumstances or how much help you have, no mother is ready after 6 or 8 weeks to return to work. Medical, societal AND workplace wellbeing all demand better parental leave policies.

In her groundbreaking book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg suggested that as many as 43% of highly-qualified women leave their jobs to have kids. The loss of that level of experience and the intellectual capital that goes along with it strongly suggests that choosing motherhood not only thwarts a woman’s career pursuit, fulfillment and earning power but also heavily blocks corporations from recruiting and retaining top talent.

That failure to retain top talent due to the complications of parenthood can be extremely costly for companies since it costs an estimated one-and-a-half times an existing employee’s salary to hire and train a replacement.

It’s also interesting to note, as a recent commentary on Slate pointed out, that “38 percent of the persistent gender wage gap in the U.S. is due to ‘pure discrimination’ related directly to traditional gender roles.” This discrimination affects not only parents, but young women who may have no intention of bearing children, but whose employers fear that someday they may become pregnant.

As we celebrate Equal Pay Day, let us resolve to continue asking for equal rights and opportunities to fully embrace our roles as both professionals and mothers!

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