Yahoo recently hired a pregnant woman to be their new CEO. This is generating a fair amount of discussion on the subject. The best so far is from Forbes.
[Marissa Mayer]’s a CEO and can give herself work-from-home days if she needs to. She can hire a nanny, a nurse, a courier, a cook. She can set her company policy so that infants are allowed in the workplace (which has benefits like higher morale in the office!). Her hot-ass husband is a venture capitalist with a flexible schedule who can take the kid to doctor appointments and whatnot.
You know who’s not a CEO? Almost everyone else. Marissa Mayer is an outlier, and while her actions may make splashy headlines, her situation doesn’t apply to the rest of us. […]
Things have improved immensely since the early ‘70s for college-educated women like me: In 1971, 27% of working women with B.A.s were able to take paid maternity leave; by 2006, that figure was 66%.
For women whose education topped out at high school, though, 16% had paid maternity leave in 1971. And these days? Why, would you look at that: The number hasn’t improved at all.
The vast majority of women going back to work after two weeks have nothing in common with Marissa Mayer. They’re dragging their weary butts back to work, and wrapping up their boobs because there’s no place to pump at work. They’re getting paid by the hour.
Clancy has quite a bit of vacation and sick leave saved up, so we’re not going to be taking as much of a financial hit as a lot of people do when it comes to maternity leave. Even so, it’d be nice if Clancy had been able to take her vacation days and get some time to take care of the baby after it is born. A lot of other countries apparently manage this, but not ours.
Having said that, there are some real concerns that would come along with it. The Forbes author gives an anecdote about how she declined to take advantage of something she was legally entitled to. Similarly, I know a pregnant woman who is under a degree of pressure not to take advantage of her due maternity leave. She talked of taking eight weeks of leave, and the response was along the lines of “We’ll see.” She was legally entitled to it, but an uncooperative employer can make life difficult for you if you take advantage of it. And if you force, force, force it upon them and go after them for anything that merely sniffs like a punitive response, you have essentially added a asymmetrical cost to hiring women.
Another female acquaintance, in response to Mayer’s hiring at Yahoo, mentioned on Facebook that she got her current job while pregnant. She said during the interview “I don’t know if you realize I’m pregnant or think I’m just a porker, but I’m only somewhat porker and very pregnant.” (You’d have to know her to believe as I do that yes, she would actually say this in a job interview.) She got the job. Would she have gotten the job if it meant that she would be gone for 12 weeks and that they’d have to pay her and a replacement? I don’t see employers as being that far-sighted.
So where does that leave us? The government could take care of paying the parents. A social evolution where men were just as likely to take the time off as women could negate any discriminatory effect. Alternately, if you had generous leave that was so limited that men would almost have to take the time off, you could relieve the discriminatory effect. Of course, then you would be discriminating against one-parent households. Unless you said that a single parent gets twice the leave, which then penalizes women who married their child’s father.
One other possibility, I suppose, would be tax credits to corporations with family-friendly policies. That would encourage more companies to offer paid maternity leave, but would let those that are worried about it off the hook. That would, of course, be yet another line in the tax code. There would also likely be some employers that would take the credits and then apply pressure on employees not to use them. Intuitively, it seems like the abuse would be less than simply by demanding maternity leave for everyone. Of course, you’d have to strike the right balance between “enough of a tax credit to encourage employers to do it” and “not too much of a tax credit to where they have to do it whether they intend to comply or not.”