Family

Does longer parental leave do more harm than good?

We're often in awe of European countries that provide months of parental leave - but are these long breaks ruining their careers?

maternity leave debate
We often praise Western European countries for their parental leave policies. And it’s true that in nations such as France and Sweden, the minimum leave parents are able to take is far longer than in countries like the United States.
Here in New Zealand we’re getting better, with changes introduced in 2016 upping the statutory maternity leave period to 18 weeks paid.
But while we might admire the German policy of allowing women three years post-partum to have with their child, could these flexible conditions actually be damaging their careers further?
Ariane Hegewisch, from the Insititute for Women’s Policy Research, says of longer leave: “It seems to slow down both women’s career advancement and labor force participation.”
Marissa Mayer, pictured here in 2015, took only two weeks mat leave
Annette Storr, a UPS employee in Germany, is inclined to agree, after taking 18 months off following the birth of her child.
“I lost contacts on some projects and my network had changed,” she told ny mag.
The idea of motherhood negatively affecting women’s career prospects is not a new one. But as we become a more flexible workforce that allows parents to take the time they want away from employment, it leads us back to the age-old question: can women really have it all?
Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! started a similar debate in 2012, when she only took two weeks out of the office after having her child. She repeated this in 2015 when she gave birth to twins, taking just a handful of days out of the office.
Parental leave: how much is too much?
At the time, Guardian writer Julia Llewellyn defended Mayer, by saying that thanks to her million a month salary, Mayer wouldn’t be the “frazzled new mum” most of us expect. As she pointed out, Mayer will be able to afford helpers to allow her to do her day job and be a mother.
Controversially, Julia wrote: “To pretend you can reach the top and take long career breaks is disingenuous. 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.”
Marissa, and Julia in turn, received criticism for their ‘un-feminist’ actions, but plenty of people seem to agree with them.
This week, comedian Sarah Silverman took to Twitter to defend her decision never to have children.
She stated that as a comic, she made the choice between “motherhood and living my fullest life.”
“I chose the latter,” she tweeted, while adding that as it stands: “Men don’t have to do that.”
“I’d so love to be a fun dad, coming home from the road & being my best fun dad self.
“So this is just a lil ** y’all because you can’t be a woman without sacrifice and that’s the fact jack.”
Has taking maternity leave damaged your career prospects? Or perhaps it’s improved them? We’d love to hear you story. Drop us a line at hellowomensweekly@bauermedia.co.nz.
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