baby phoneFlickr/Makelessnoise CC

 

Expectant moms who work at the telecommunications company, Vodafone, will soon be reaping the rewards of expanded parental benefits. Vodafone has launched a new maternity leave policy, that stipulates mothers will be entitled to a mandatory minimum of 16 weeks maternity leave, and for the first six months after their return to work, they will be paid their full salary while expected to work only 30 hours a week.

Certainly, not every mother is ready to return to work after only four months with her newborn. However, this policy benefits those working moms who – either out of financial necessity or career ambitions – are ready to take that step.

The policy is also an effort by the company to retain mothers. They understand moms are valuable to their business and want to entice them back to work – it’s a shift from the old way of thinking that children just distract women from their day jobs and that childless women make the best employees.

Studies show that supporting parents makes good financial sense – paying for maternity leave top-ups and giving new moms some flexibility when they come back to work is less expensive than training new staff to take their place if they choose not to return at all.

International advisory firm KPMG estimated that, “if businesses were able to retain more women in the workforce after their maternity leave, they could save up to $19 billion a year and would retain the knowledge and experience of these women with positive consequences for productivity and effectiveness.”

Companies are now starting to realize that mothers bring a valuable set of skills to the workforce and, instead of seeing mothers as a burden, are making efforts to retain them.

“Too many talented women leave working life because they face a difficult choice between either caring for a newborn baby or maintaining their careers,” Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive said in a press release. “Supporting working mothers at all levels of our organization will ultimately result in better decisions, a better culture and a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs.”

Mom skillls in the workplace

Pregnant women are often told their work will suffer with all the responsibilities of being a parent, some even feel they have to choose one or the other because it’s impossible to “have it all.” But what’s often overlooked is that parenthood can actually affect work life for mothers in positive ways.

Many other mothers who work outside the home say they were surprised at how their career benefited from the new role of parenthood.

One of the things mothers talk about is how they become better able to manage their time – they can’t put things off because they never know when their next opportunity to come back to it will be. Parents also say they don’t want to bring work home with them, because that’s the time they have to spend with their children, so they learn to work smarter during the day and get things done at the office.

Though being a parent can be extremely draining on your patience at times, it can teach you to be more patient and understanding at work, which can be a huge bonus when working with clients or a team.

Having children also helps to put work into perspective – no emergency at the office compares with having a child in the hospital. This new way of looking at work helps women make more level-headed decisions in the office.

It is also a great stress-reliever: a little kid running into your arms after a tough day at work immediately makes those office problems fade away. A more relaxed employee is a better employee.

For many parents who choose to continue with a career after kids, having children motivates them at work – they want to provide for their kids so they may be more confident asking for a raise or a promotion, or further their education because they want to be a good role model. Companies that accommodate parents’ needs and make it easier for them to find balance in their life can make sense for families, for business and for the economy as a whole.

What’s offering for those who want to cut back on work?

Still, many women feel that putting their babies into someone else’s care at the tender age of four months is a less than ideal option. Company policies that push what’s best for the bottom line sometimes need to be regarded skeptically by women trying to decide what’s best for them and their families. 

Research done by the Pew Research Center shows women who cut back at work are happier and that if money were no object, the majority of married women with children would choose to work part time.

While improved maternity leave policies make sense for companies and for the women who need to or choose to work full time, these company incentives should be balanced by government incentives that make it easier for women who want to be home to do so.

Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has introduced an income-splitting tax policy for couples with children – which means in a household where one parent makes more money than the other, they can transfer some of that money to the other parent and thus save up to a couple thousand dollars at tax time. This “family tax cut” will primarily benefit families where one parent stays at home, and make this option more affordable for those who want it.

While studies looking at the effects of daycare on young children have had mixed and inconclusive results – often depending on the age the child enters care, the length of time they spend there and the quality of care, research does show that the advantages of a mother’s care are substantial for a child’s long-term emotional, psychological and educational well being. The first three years of a child’s life is the time they go through the most formative period of growth and development; allowing mothers to devote more time and attention to their children during this phase tends to result in more stable and well-rounded individuals.

Company policies that increase the length of time working mothers can stay at home with a new baby, and give them more flexibility once they are back at work should be praised, but governments should also provide incentives that make it easier for those mothers who want to stay home to do so.

Social policies that give mothers more choice and freedom in how to balance their home and professional life are the ones that truly benefit society.

Ada Slivinski is a Canadian journalist who writes about family and social issues