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What companies don't want you to know about maternity leave

How learning more about maternity leave empowers women in the workforce

Reading the headlines recently, you might think employers were in an arms race to improve their parental leave policies. Netflix, Microsoft and Adobe are among those who received well-deserved accolades for implementing more generous maternity-leave benefits.

While a small handful of company policies are widely known, it remains remarkably challenging for the vast majority of women to determine the maternity leave policy for any given employer before starting to work there — and often even after they become employees.

At FairyGodboss, we did some research and discovered just five of the Fortune 100 companies disclose their maternity leave policy on their website. So, while it’s wonderful that some market leaders have enhanced their policies, the reality is that most women are not afforded the opportunity to assess a potential employer based on their maternity leave policy.

We surveyed 100 women and learned 80 percent of women were not aware what their company’s maternity leave policy was before accepting their job, and 32 percent later found out that it was less than they had expected. Many women also don't even understand their maternity leave policies after they became employees. Some are disappointed to find out that they don’t qualify for paid leave because they don’t meet tenure thresholds. Others realize — too late — that they didn’t pay into insurance premiums before getting pregnant, which means that they aren’t eligible for short-term disability payments.

In short, there is a veil of secrecy and confusion surrounding maternity leave policies. This is a real problem because the last question that any woman wants to ask of her current or prospective employer is: what is your maternity leave policy? Women tell us that this question is a lightning rod, with 75 percent surveyed saying that they are quite uncomfortable asking the question. Thus, it appears that even in 2015, most women believe that even broaching the topic of maternity leave will undermine her chances of getting hired or promoted.

So, what is the solution? Clearly, employers should take steps to be more forthcoming about their policies. This week, Fairygodboss launched a free, public maternity leave database based on crowdsourced data from visitors and members. Approximately 600 companies are included to date, and new companies and maternity leave tips are added every day. The database is fully searchable and can be filtered by industry, so that women can also use the data to negotiate with their employers if they see competitive companies with more generous policies.

Pregnant women in the workplace face so many challenges. Hopefully, empowering women with better information about maternity leave goes some way in supporting them.

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