Women Are Crowdsourcing Their Way Around a Major Workplace Taboo
In Sarah Seltzer’s family, her mother’s maternity leave is legend.
Her mom, a lawyer, was able to go back to work part-time after giving birth to twins—a rarity to this day. “I think it’s why she was able to have such a long career, and why she was such a role model to me of a mother with a successful working and intellectual life,” Seltzer said.
The situation is rarely as flexible for most American women—88 percent do not get paid leave at all after giving birth, and they often struggle to come back to work and advance because of inflexible schedules.
As crucial as it is to women’s success, seeking information about pregnancy leave can be taboo, which is why Seltzer, editor at large at Flavorwire, and Meredith Clark, a reporter at MSNBC, have created the Tumblr “Having It Some,” a crowdsourced clearinghouse that asks contributors to list the maternity, paternity, or family leave policy for their company.
Only three U.S. states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—mandate paid leave for parents after birth or adoption. The Family and Medical Leave Act, established in 1993, guarantees that new parents who work for companies employing more than 50 people can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. At least 40 percent of working mothers work for companies that are too small to be required to supply even unpaid leave. That despite that economists say paid leave increases the likelihood that mothers will return to work, work more hours, and earn higher wages.
TakePart: What’s the taboo surrounding asking about parental/family leave in a job interview?
Sarah Seltzer: You can ask about it, the same way you can ask about vacation time, but I think the fear is that your prospective employer will think you’re about to get pregnant; you’ll give off this vibe of not wanting to work. Meredith and I have both seen a huge range of circumstances in regard to parental/family leave—people who were able to take a significant leave, people who had to figure it out as they went along, and people whose jobs were in danger. Our goal with “Having It Some” is to create a place for people to find organizational policies so they won’t have to ask. That can also be a basis of comparison, for employers and employees.
TakePart: Why did you choose this route, creating the Tumblr, to address the issue?
Seltzer: Meredith and I are both writers who have spent much of our careers working in some aspect of social justice. Unfortunately, we know that there’s a divide between the stated goals of an organization and its actual policies. We believe in DIY activism, but we don’t have a ton of time, so starting a crowdsourcing thing seemed like a good investment and a good way to bring this to light.
TakePart: If you could create the ideal parental/family policy, what would it look like?
Seltzer: I would say 16 weeks of paid leave, flexibility around reentry—giving people the chance to return part-time, work from home, etc.—and sympathetic workplace policies, like having lactation rooms. In general, places should be mindful of work-life balance and be committed to an overall atmosphere for well-being, on top of the parental/family leave package.
TakePart: What do you think is important for convincing companies to make parental/family leave a priority?
Seltzer: We know that sympathetic male colleagues, those who have taken paternity leave themselves, make it easier for women to come back to work after having kids. There needs to be a change in the broader culture. The work of feminism isn’t just women saying we can do everything men can do; it’s about structuring society so things are easier for everyone, and everyone at some point will have a personal emergency that affects their ability to work. A culture that gives people time to take care of their own lives creates loyalty and community. We can’t necessarily “have it all,” but we can have it better than we have it right now.