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Paid Maternity Leave Is Good for Business
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:49:17 EST

I was Google ’s first employee to go on maternity leave. In 1999, I joined the startup that founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had recently started in my garage. I was four months pregnant. At the time the company had no revenue and only 15 employees, almost all of whom were male. Joining a startup pregnant with my first child was risky, but Larry and Sergey assured me I’d have their support.

This month, I’ll go on maternity leave once again—my fifth time—joining the nearly 5,000 women who have done so since I joined Google. And though I’m now CEO of YouTube (which is owned by Google), I’ll be entitled to the same benefits as every single woman at the company who has a baby: 18 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Having experienced how valuable paid maternity leave is to me, my family and my career, I never thought of it as a privilege. But the sad truth is that paid maternity leave is rare in America, and the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in providing for the needs of pregnant women and new mothers.

According to a survey released in May by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, the U.S. is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t offer government-mandated paid maternity leave. Every other developed country offers paid maternity leave benefits through social-security programs, so businesses don’t have to shoulder the entire cost. Paid maternity leave isn’t just a First World perk—the U.S. is one of only two countries of the 185 surveyed that does not offer it. The other is Papua New Guinea.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are two ways women in America can receive paid maternity leave. They can work for a generous employer that provides it as a benefit. Or they can live in one of the few states—California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island—that have publicly funded paid-maternity-leave laws. According to the Labor Department, that patchwork of corporate and state benefits covers only 12% of private workers. Low-wage earners, those in the bottom income quartile, have it much worse: only 5% get any paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is a step in the right direction, but it is unpaid and doesn’t cover half the working women in the U.S.

In study after study, the ILO and other labor and health organizations have shown how harmful a lack of paid maternity leave can be for mothers and their babies. Many times when faced with insufficient maternity leave, mothers choose to drop out of the workforce, leading to a considerable loss of income during a woman’s most productive years. Or it can force a woman back to work too quickly, with adverse effects on her and her child’s health.

A quarter of all women in the U.S. return to work fewer than 10 days after giving birth, leaving them less time to bond with their children, making breast-feeding more difficult and increasing their risk of postpartum depression. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, suboptimal breast-feeding causes higher rates of infant illness and hospitalization that cost billions of dollars annually.

Paid maternity leave is also good for business. After California instituted paid medical leave, a survey in 2011 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 91% of employers said the policy either boosted profits or had no effect. They also noted improved productivity, higher morale and reduced turnover.

That last point is one we’ve seen at Google. When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%. (We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, as we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business.) Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line—to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.

Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently. It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.

I’ve been lucky to have the support of a company that values motherhood as much as Google. And I’ve been lucky to live in a state like California that supports working mothers. But support for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course. Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.

Ms. Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube.

This article is provided by, which is published and distributed by Paolo Cirio Ltd., registered in England, number 8188080. Registered Office: Suite 36, 88-90 Hatton Garden, City of London, EC1 N8PG, United Kingdom. Paolo Cirio Ltd. alone is responsible and liable for information and services provided through Daily Paywall’s newspaper and website.

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