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Can we get Maternity Leave on the CSR Agenda?

I am a bit biased.  Being 30 weeks pregnant myself, my thoughts are turning to what happens after this little person enters the world.  How long will I be able to stay home with him, breast-feed him, bond with him and generally adjust to this new way of life?  As I look at my options, both legal and complimentary from my employers; I am left wanting for support, both emotionally and financially, during this huge life transition.  I am not alone. 

“A 2008 report from the Families and Work Institute indicated that 16% of companies with at least 100 employees provide full pay during maternity leave. This is down from 27% in 1998,” reported Forbes.com.  I was surprised to find out that;

the U.S. and Australia are the only developed economies in the world that provide no paid maternity leave. France, Singapore and Austria all offer four months’ paid maternity leave benefits, and Germany offers 14 weeks. In the U.K., a woman receives 90% of her salary for up to a year off with her baby. Swedish mothers hit the jackpot with 480 days off at 80% of their salary, followed by their counterparts in Serbia and Denmark with a full year off at full pay. Even in Gambia, Somalia and Vietnam new mothers receive at least three months’ paid maternity leave (Heidi Brown, Forbes.com, 05/03/2009).

While gender equality and diversity are issues rising to the top of CSR and Sustainability agendas, it seems that maternity leave is a subject still largely ignored by most companies.

Even a search for “maternity leave” on the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was created by President Obama and specifically tasked with ensuring that all government agencies include the welfare of females when formulating policy; a priority of which was to evaluate and develop “policies that establish a balance between work and family,” yielded zero results.

Based on data from the United Nations, the US offers less maternity leave than 60% of the countries in the UN’s 180 country sample.  A more recent report cited by Reuters.com stated that out of a 190 country sample, just three countries clearly offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave — Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States. 

To really embrace diversity and take advantage of the immeasurable talent held by many American women in the workplace (not to mention a competitive advantage internationally), is it not time to take maternity leave, and dare I mention paternity leave,  more seriously in the United States? 

If we cannot get maternity leave on the federal agenda, should its place be on the CSR agenda?  Weigh in inspiredeconomist readers – I’d like to know where you stand on this issue.

Image Credit:  Gilzee via Flickr under CC license.

Written by Emily DeMasi

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.

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