The Surprising Rationale for Google’s 4 Months of Paid Maternity Leave

According to the tech giant, generous policies for new parents benefit businesses in the long-run.
(Photo: Laura O Photography/Getty Images)
Jan 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

As one of Google's first-ever employees, Susan Wojcicki practically pioneered the modern technology of Web traffic analytics. Now the CEO of Youtube, 46-year-old Wojcicki recently analyzed a different set of data to further a cause many other women are getting vocal about: paid maternity leave.

In an op-ed published last week in The Wall Street Journal, Wojcicki, who is about to embark on maternity leave for the fifth time, crunched the numbers to determine that paid maternity leave is not just good for families—it's also good for business. When Google increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks in 2007, they found that the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50 percent, she wrote. She reasoned that it would be 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."

Wojcicki's op-ed, along with several others published this week in both Time and Fortune magazines, comes in the wake of the Obama administration's Jan. 14 announcement of the president's plan to create paid leave programs. The proposed initiative includes the Healthy Families Act, which would grant Americans up to seven days a year of paid sick time, and a presidential memorandum that will ensure federal employees have access to at least six weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child.

President Obama's senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who broke the news on LinkedIn, echoed Wojcicki's sentiment, writing that providing paid leave for working families "will ultimately improve the financial bottom lines of the companies that choose to step up and make a change on their own."

The claim is supported by a 2011 survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which found that 91 percent of employers said California's paid medical leave policy either boosted profits or had no effect at all. (California is one of only five states that have publicly funded paid-maternity-leave laws.)

Emily Crocker Skyrm, a postpartum doula who went through her own postpartum period after giving birth 16 months ago, says some high-level executives "just don't get it" when it comes to understanding the needs of new mothers—and making a smart investment in their workforce.

"If companies could capitalize on this cycle of a new mother's life, they would capitalize on a section of the workforce that is exactly where they want to be and probably not looking to make many more changes for a while," she wrote in a Jan. 16 op-ed in Fortune.

Belinda Luscombe, a full-time parent and Time magazine editor-at-large, uses parenting potty humor—"New parents are swapping the jobs they know for shift work in an excrement-making factory"—to argue that employers and employees alike need to stop characterizing maternity leave as a vacation.

That many still view it as such, she wrote in Time magazine last week, could be why the U.S. is the only developed nation without federally mandated maternity leave. Changing that could begin with the presidential memorandum.

If Wojcicki is right in her calculations—after overseeing Google's acquisition of Youtube in 2006, she's got a pretty good track record—then Obama's proposal for paid leave has the potential to be just as good for business as it is for new families.

Maternity Leave in the U.S. Infographic