The Business Case for Providing Paid Maternity Leave: An Interview with Chatón T. Turner, Esq.

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Family culture isn't just about families; it's about holding onto valuable women who have choices.

Chatón Turner is a mother, lawyer, and blogger from the city of Pittsburgh.  She and I have met at several events.  We’ve talked about schooling options for our kids, being working mothers, and the joys and realities of new motherhood.  I’ve heard her speak on the power of networking, and how to do it efficiently.

But she absolutely blew me out of the water when she discussed maternity leave at Northwood for Moms.  She’s smart, articulate, and has a strong working knowledge of where we stand today versus how far we have to go.  I was so impressed, I asked her if she’d be interested in sharing some of her knowledge here on Femme Frugality.  Happily, she agreed!  Check out the interview below as she talks not only about how leave policies affect America’s families, but also about how bolstering them can be a boon to business.

What sparked your passion around maternity leave policy?

My passion about maternity leave was sparked around two things, my personal experience as well as a documentary made by Heather Arnet of the Women and Girls Foundation. I was fortunate to be able to take paid leave from my job. We have a short term disability policy. Also, I powered through my pregnancy and took no days off. Each time, I worked the day before I delivered so that I could have that paid leave. Even though I was fortunate to have good pregnancies and blessed to get what I got, I knew that there was a more humane way for it to work. Heather’s documentary was about the rise of the first female president of Brazil. However, her researched revealed that every country that has had a female president provides mandatory paid maternity leave. Indeed, Brazil provides women with 120 paid days of maternity leave. That’s four months of paid maternity leave. In this country, women who work in large companies are entitled to only three months unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, and many women get nothing.

It is important to note that there is a business case supporting providing paid leave. When Google expanded its maternity leave to five months fully paid from three months partly paid, attrition decreased by 50 percent. It shows that offering paid leave isn’t “generous”. Rather, it is the right thing to do because it makes sound business sense. It is important to reframe the issue, and begin talking about how Corporate America can win by offering paid leave instead of why women need it.

What policies can companies put in place to make the current state of affairs better? Once they do, what’s in it for them?

Strong workplace policies that support women communicate a strong message that women and children matter. The reality is that it is hard to convince young girls that they can be president when we can’t convince them that they will receive equal pay for equal work. I am convinced that making maternity leave a right as opposed to a privilege, and achieving true gender equality in the workplace are the first steps to electing a female president.

Establishing policies that support mothers is in every company’s best interest because they promote loyalty, which increases retention and promotes morale. Marissa Mayer was able to return to Yahoo two weeks after delivering because she was literally able to bring her baby to work with her. Absent that, most new mothers need maternity leave to adjust to life with a new baby, bond with that baby (which has measurable health benefits to the mother and baby), as well as help the baby breastfeed.

Is maternity leave only about mothers? What’s your take on parental leave policies (either paternity leave or an extended term of leave for either the mother or father to take advantage of while raising young children?)

Fundamentally, the question is whether mothers and fathers need to be involved in the lives of their children and the management of the home. I believe the answer to those questions is yes. Accordingly, both mothers and fathers should be able to take advantage of leave policies. This is not just a woman’s issue. It’s a family and societal issue.

After maternity leave is over, should companies continue to provide supports to their employees with families? How is doing so beneficial to them?

Great question. Supporting mothers and families is about more than maternity leave. We have to engage in a corporate dialogue about what it takes to make families successful and what it takes to run a successful organization. When talented employees leave and have to be replaced companies incur avoidable expenses. That is a fact. We know that more highly educated mothers leave the workforce at higher rates than other women. One reason for that phenomenon is that more highly educated women have resources that other moms lack. Those options give them the ability to make different choices. That said, when they leave the workforce the loss to those organizations is extreme.

Women, and to a lesser degree men, who have children are often looked down upon by their childless coworkers. The general attitude is, “Why should I have to pick up their slack because they decided to have children?” What would you say if confronted with that question?

We are all in this journey called life together. So, I would begin by fostering a team environment that communicates that message. Most work environments fail to promote true teamwork. Instead, we promote a sense of individualism that makes people resent having to do more. Managers also tend to frame the request as, “Can you help Mary out? She has to leave to pick up her kids and can’t do the work.” The framing of the issue is wrong. Managers should evaluate the work that needs to be done and create a method for the work getting done that accommodates everyone’s needs. Creative management techniques can be used to even out the work allocation.

How businesses benefit from extending paid maternity leave.

Thank you so much to Chatón!  Head on over to Chatón’s World to check out more about her and her work.


17 thoughts on “The Business Case for Providing Paid Maternity Leave: An Interview with Chatón T. Turner, Esq.

  1. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    As a HR Manager I can tell you it can be hard at times to deal with a new mother on the job who has to run out often to tend to her new baby. Since I am a woman, I hate that I just typed that but its true. I hate asking other workers to cover for a new mommy, especially when they have just taking off six weeks, but I do it because I have been there. Some mothers also take advantage of this and I think that’s why there is such a stigma on the job about this subject.

    With that being said I do agree that more policies need to be implemented to support new mommies. Also there need to be more training to help supervisors deal with this issue in a appropriate manner.

    1. Chaton

      I’m honored that I was able to express my opinions on this issue. Respectfully, I think that framing is key. Coworkers that “cover” for working moms are investing in the future of our nation. Everyone benefits when there are more people in the subsequent generations to fund Social Security and other social programs. People feel entitled to those, but fail to consider what it actually takes to fund them. Since I used to be an employment attorney, I know it’s a hard sell for HR. However, I have some tips to help. Let me know if you’d like to chat!

  2. Prudence Debtfree

    Wow, do I feel spoiled! By the time I had my third child – 16 years ago – maternity leave had advanced to the point where I was able to stay home for a year. With pay (though not 100%). Many of the men I work with have taken paternity leave. It can be done!

    1. Femme @ femmefrugality

      You neighbors to the north are a shining example in both health care and maternity leave! I think a lot of people down here would rather cite reasons it wouldn’t work rather than take note of the numerous examples of places where it does.

  3. kay ~ the barefoot minimalist

    What a well thought out argument on the subject. Motherhood is not as highly regarded as it should be. None of us would be here if it weren’t for our mothers. We should all want a better society filled with well nurtured children. Great interview, Femme! 🙂

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  5. Mel

    I do think the whole “picking up the slack because others had children” is still an interesting topic to tackle. I don’t buy the whole “we’re in this life thing together.” I’d be willing to make accommodations for when and where a co-worker with a child does their work, but if we’re making the same amount of money or have the same job title, we’d better be doing the same amount of work and you leaving to go get you child should not regularly trap me in the office working overtime. Emergencies are emergencies, but it shouldn’t be a common occurrence.

  6. Hayley @ Disease Called Debt

    Back in the days of my corporate job, I remember how frustrated I was when my boss took random days off to look after her child when she was ill (after a year off work on maternity leave). It did sort of feel that special allowances were made for those with kids and there I was picking up all the extra work.

    Now I have a daughter of my own, I do have a different opinion of course. She’s my priority and work comes second, luckily I’m self employed so the only one that this impacts now is me.

    Going back to paid maternity leave, here in the UK, we’re pretty lucky as every woman gets statutory paid maternity, providing she has paid her national insurance. That’s for 6 months I believe, it’s works out at around £500 per month so it’s like a part time income. Employers can then choose to top up the statutory pay to full pay, it works really well to support parents and enable them to be with their child during those important months.

    I do think though in general that more needs to be done to support people in the workplace to ensure that they don’t suffer through work overload and work stress because a colleague needs to leave to take care of their children. This is such an important topic for parents and businesses alike.

    1. Femme @ femmefrugality

      I’m honestly surprised to hear so many comments about abusing the situation. Every parent I’ve come into contact with stresses when they have to leave work to care for a sick child. It’s not something they want to be doing. I mean, of course you want to take care of your child, but you don’t want the situation to arise in the first place.

      Good to get your perspective, especially since you’re from a place with much better leave policies than our own!

  7. vmorgan456

    Some great points given! My daughter had the option of coming back after 6 weeks or extending it to 3 months without pay for the extra time off. She chose to take the extra time off. It was a hard ship for her family but one that she is so happy she took. She needed that time as well as the baby needed her.

    Giving more time for Mothers and Fathers makes for a happier work environment and therefore productivity will go up. if only more companies will realize this!

    1. Femme @ femmefrugality

      Agreed! Like the Google example! I’m glad she was able to take the extra time, as hard as it may have been financially. Some things are worth more than money, but I truly feel like it’s a decision she shouldn’t have had to make.

  8. Melissa

    I used to be annoyed by maternity leave given my experiences last year. In a span of 2 months, our team went from 5 people to 3 people during our busiest time of year. One person retired, and one person went away from maternity leave.

    At the time, I was really annoyed because this meant overtime, unpaid, but a year later, I’m still mad – but at management.

    Management KNOWS when people are going on maternity leave (and, most of the time, when people are heading toward retirement). If they’re too greedy to hire some part-timers, or make other teams help a team that is struggling, that’s their fault, not the people who took time off.

    Granted, maternity leave is not like being sick, but I was out for a week during our busy season this year (flu). Again, only a week, but it was very inconvenient and my coworkers had to emergency cover for me.

    We’re all in this work thing together, love it or hate it. It’s management’s responsibility to foresee issues, hire part-time work or “encourage” other staffers to help out a team that’s short employees. I refuse to begrudge my coworkers who don’t abuse their time off just because management is too greedy/short-sighted to plan ahead.

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