Coming back to full-time work after maternity leave is notoriously difficult. Many women intend to come back, but don’t, for a variety of reasons: They miss their baby, they don’t feel physically ready, breast-feeding is onerous, or the costs of child-care cancel out their salary. This is how many women end up stepping away from the workforce for at least a few years, which ends up lowering their lifetime salaries significantly. Now, one Australian company is trying to do something about that: It’s offering women a “welcome back to work payment” after maternity leave.
The Insurance Australia Group, which is one of the country’s biggest companies, already provides more than three months of paid maternity leave. But under its new plan, it will double the salaries of new mothers for their first six weeks back at work.
“This initiative came out of some discussions that we had with our people, and specifically women, on the difficulties and pressures that they faced upon returning to the workforce,” CEO Mike Wilkins tells Australian news outlet the ABC. “We think this welcome back payment is a good first step in helping them to address a number of those pressures.”
Wilkins says he anticipates the extra costs will be offset by the money saved recruiting new employees for mothers who would have otherwise left the company.
The “choice” not to return to work — I use scare-quotes because it’s often more of a calculation than a free-will expression of preference — can have serious long-term effects on women. Scholar Sylvia Ann Hewlett has found that women stepping away from the workforce for three years return with just 60% of their previous earning capacity [PDF]. If a little extra cash can help women afford day-care and incentivize them to stick it out through the difficult first weeks back in the office, it’ll benefit both employees and employer.