Negotiating Maternity Leave
Gender may play a role when it comes to negotiating with your employer.
Posted Oct 17, 2018
Adapted from original publication in The Feminist Psychologist
Negotiating maternity leave can be a scary process. A woman may feel haunted by fear of retribution when she discusses the terms of her employment. Unfortunately, many women have found this fear to come true, as in the case of a faculty applicant to an East coast college in 2014. Her offer was rescinded after she tried to negotiate a number of requests, including one semester of paid maternity leave (Konnikova, 2014). While the candidate knew the administrators would not comply with many of the arguably “lofty” items on her wish list, she simply thought there was no harm in asking.
Research indicates that women “don’t ask” when it comes to negotiating salary and family leave. According to one study, seven percent of women negotiated initial job offers, compared to 57 percent of men (Babcock & Laschever, 2003).
Clearly, there is a gender difference when it comes to negotiation in the workplace. Hannah Riley Bowles (2014) conducted a number of studies on these differences. Bowles identified a social cost of self-advocacy for women — backlashes in attitude and treatment from coworkers and supervisors. In an interesting twist, Bowles found women were viewed positively when advocating for others. This finding reflects the gender norm that it’s okay when we take care of the people in our circle, but not ourselves.
To add to this research, Bowles found that women were even penalized for business negotiations by other women. People are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate, reflecting an attitudinal penalty for asserting your needs. Gender stereotype effects were worsened by ambiguous policies. If you work for an organization with unclear maternity leave practices, you may be particularly at risk of incurring negative attitudes from your negotiations.
With the Family Leave Medical Act (FMLA), companies with more than 50 workers in a 75-mile radius must grant the primary caretaker of an infant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Paid leave is another matter altogether. According to the Families and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers, 58 percent of mothers and 14 percent of fathers received some replacement pay in the U.S. (Matos & Galinsky, 2012). Only nine percent of companies have a fully paid maternity leave benefit. In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid maternity benefits, and 1 of 3 countries in the world without them (Gallo, 2012).
It is important to acknowledge the systemic problems of maternity leave. Hook (2012) noted tendencies for these discussions to place the responsibility on women to manage impossible scenarios posed by the systems within which we work. For example, we are told that as women we just need to strategize more effectively, access the right resources, or try harder to overcome the problems of our institutions when it comes to maternity leave. We are told to manage our schedules better, choose supportive spouses, time our children “correctly,” work from home, and stage our careers to peak later in life. Hook added that this discourse not only overlooks gender barriers faced by women, but also the class barriers among women with limited financial resources to help their families get by during maternity leave and thereafter. She reminded us that, “blaming the oppressed group for their mistreatment is a common tactic designed to maintain the status quo.”
In the next installment of this series, I will explore a few case examples from the world in which I work, academia, that illustrate the challenges men and women face in taking parental leave.
Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don’t ask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bowles, H. R. (2014). Why women don’t negotiate their job offers. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/06/why-women-dont-negotiate-their-job-offers/
Gallo, A. (2012). How to negotiate your parental leave. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/10/how-to-negotiate-your-parental-leave.html
Hook (2012). Having it all is possible for everyone. Counselling resource: Psychology, therapy, and mental health resources. Retrieved from http://counsellingresource.com/features/2012/07/23/having-it-all/
Konnikova, M.. (2014). Lean out: The dangers for women who negotiate. New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/lean-out-the-dangers-for-women-who-negotiate
Matos, K., & Galinsky, E. (2012). 2012 National Study of Employers. Families and Work Institute. Retrieved from http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/NSE_2012.pdf