Priti Youssef Choksi, Facebook’s director of business development, said in a recent New Yorker article on Sheryl Sandberg “the logistics of being away for X amount of time is something women are afraid of” when it comes to the issue of maternity leave. Choski brought up this topic at a meeting with female Facebook executives where they were reviewing the discussion agenda for the company’s upcoming Women’s Leadership Day. She said one of her employees had come to her when she was pregnant to talk about taking a short maternity leave because she feared that she would lose her job if she stayed out longer.
When Sandberg joined Facebook she changed the policies to allow men and women four months, but this employee wanted to take only one because her job security fear was so great. The fear that you may not be able to take as much time as you would like is as big as the fear that your job may not be there or may be diminished when you come back, it seems.
The U.S. along with Papua New Guinea and Swaziland are the only countries that don’t require paid maternity leave. For now women have to rely on the goodwill of their employers when it comes to maternity leave payment. Your strategy to attack this plan should be thought out in detail because, after all, this will not only affect you but your baby as well.
According to Lisa Gates, founder, trainer and coach of She Negotiates, an institution that helps women with essential negotiation skills:
From a negotiation perspective I think it’s important for all women to craft a maternity leave plan, particularly if the standard policy in the workplace doesn’t address the reality and totality of your needs. And, we not only have to craft and negotiate our exit, but our re-entry. We have heard story after story of women whose positions were eliminated during their leave, or whose salaries were set back upon resuming work. For this reason, it’s best to negotiate all the moving parts of your maternity leave, and get it all in writing in advance.
For example, two women at the same company had situations where they were promised raises before they announced their pregnancies and then their bosses offered to give them more time off in lieu of a raise. Not that another week of maternity leave is appealing but money would have also helped and they could have perhaps used better negotiating skills in these situations to counter this proposal.
Gates says there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself before you tell your employer you are pregnant: How long is the standard maternity leave in your company? What are your wishes that may fall outside of that policy? Would you prefer to start back to work with minimum hours and gradually move back to full time? What’s your time frame? What do your finances allow? Are you willing to telecommute during your maternity leave? If so, what specific projects and tasks will you be willing to do? How many hours per week are you truly willing to commit? Will your position need to be temporarily filled by someone in the company or will it require hiring someone? If so, will you have input on the hiring process? If your responsibilities and projects will be handed to others, do you have input on how to structure both the transition and the workflow? What guarantees do you want to negotiate?
All of these points are items to put on the table for negotiation, said Gates. “Part of your preparation is to know what your bottom line is, what items you must have, and what items you’re willing to concede during the conversation.”
Gates said the most important thing is to be sure you have asked for enough time. Even though Ivanka Trump says she is going back to work two weeks after her baby is born she says that could change depending on the baby’s needs. “You don’t know if your baby is going to be colicky and difficult. You don’t know how easy or hard it will be to arrange for child care. And what if you run into ongoing medical needs? You can always come back to work early, but having to ask for more time is harder, if not risky,” said Gates.
Gates especially warned women to not be swayed by HR talk like “that’s not how we do things around here.” Be clear that you intend to have a conversation leading to agreement and that you’d like to have an open, transparent conversation about what’s possible.