The maternity leave debate: how long is fair?
Marissa Mayer provoked an interesting debate last week when she was made CEO of Yahoo! whilst being several months pregnant.
As someone who has not yet considered the pitter-patter of tiny feet, it is difficult to see what the issue is. Why would her pregnancy matter at all to her appointment?
Opinion is very much divided on Mayer. Some praised her decision to only take a few weeks of maternity leave, which she will work through. Others cursed her for doing feminism a disservice – as if, by refusing to take as much maternity leave, somehow suggests that all women do not need or want it.
However, neither of these perspectives are right, especially considering Mayer’s only reason for cutting her maternity leave short is because – well, she simply wants to. She is an independent woman, she likes working, and she is excited for her new role. What is the problem?
Similarly, what business is it of women who decide that they want to spend the full 12 months with their child to comment on her decision? As the Huffington Post article neatly points out, Mayer will not have the same strained first few months of motherhood as most women.
She will indeed be able to afford such good childcare arrangements that she will probably be able to see her child throughout her working day, maybe even breastfeed. She will also be able to outsource many other household chores to cleaners, cooks and nannies alike.
Furthermore, is it right for us to assume that taking 12 months off will not leave women with some changes to their careers?
“To pretend you can reach the top and take long career breaks is disingenuous,” said writer Julia Llewellyn in a recent Guardian piece. “It fools young women into thinking their ride can be just as smooth.
“The truth is that women who enjoy frequent, long maternity leaves badly damage their career prospects. They’re also – inadvertently – damaging the rest of our careers. I’m always speaking to employers who are increasingly reluctant to employ any women of child-bearing age, because of the headaches maternity leave causes,” said Llewellyn.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting website Netmums.com, disagrees with Llewellyn’s views. She states that companies who recognise the investment they make when they take maternity leave seriously are thankfully overtaking companies who have these “outdated” views.
Whilst it would be great to agree with Siobhan, because she asserts that whatever your background is you should be entitled to paid maternity leave, it is hard not to see Llewellyn’s point. It seems somewhat unrealistic to expect a bottomless pit of understanding from company heads when it comes to taking time off for your family.
Furthermore, what Llewellyn continues to say is perhaps the most practical and hopeful suggestion – that women should be entitled to maternity leave, and a decent amount too.
But they should not, as women are in Germany, be entitled to such long periods of absence that they become irrelevant to their jobs. Currently, parents in Germany are entitled to take up to three years between both parents in maternity leave, and the current minister for families is campaigning for even more benefits for child bearers.
“I respect this personal step being taken by Ms. Mayer,” said minister Kristina Schroder. “But I regard it with major concern when prominent women give the public impression that maternity leave is something that is not important. Maternity leave is absolutely important and not just from a medical point of view.”
However, the German minister only took ten weeks maternity leave herself, as opposed to the mandated 14.
With all these points taken into consideration, would it not be fair to say that – as long as no one is denied a decent maternity leave – it is for each individual woman to decide how long she takes off? And should it not remain a personal decision, untouched by pressure from both the working world to cut it to as short as possible, and overzealous parenting groups? In my opinion, very much so.