The Myth of 12 Months of Maternity Leave

In Slovenia every mother is entitled to 12 months of paid maternity leave. It's actually 13 months since the mother is entitled also to at least 20 days of vacation, but that's paid by employer and is therefore not a concern of Slovenian government. Such gracious maternity leave policy is lauded as a hallmark of our "advanced" society but in this post I'd like to question this widely held belief.

First, I never heard of a women who would decide to have a baby just to enjoy one year of paid maternity leave. On the contrary, I know several women postponing having a baby since they didn't want to make such long career break or felt their employer needs them while baby can wait. For a woman in Slovenia it's a huge social stigma if she's not spending the first 12 months of baby's life 100% focused on baby's upkeep. Such woman is considered a bad mother who's putting her egoistical career interests before the interests of the child. Of all the women I know only a single one disregarded this stigma and started working already six months after giving birth.

The maternity leave myth is a recent invention. Our grandmothers couldn't fathom to stroll in the park while the rest of their family would labor in the fields. It's only our mothers who accepted to be rendered incapacitated for any productive work just because they've become mothers. And while that might even made sense 40 or 50 years ago when most people worked in noisy and dirty factories, it makes no sense in the post-industrial world of today. Therefore I advice women to reconsider if the maternity leave is still a benefit for them and their children or would it make more sense to have shorter maternity leave and use the resources to build better infrastructure supporting work-life integration of mothers and fathers.

I usually don't write about general topics on this blog since I like to keep it focused on matters related to start-ups. But one of the pressing issues of start-ups is also the gender disparity, especially in engineering teams. As much as I frown upon the practice, it cannot be denied that part of the reasons why there are so little women engineers hired is due to fear of employees that a young women will spend most of her late twenties or early thirties on maternity leave and not building great products. In fast-paced, high-pressure world of start-ups there's little understanding for people not committed to the cause. But there's definitely plenty of space for children, as Zemanta's founders can well testify this year.