Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Maternity Leave Musings

Before I got pregnant, I never gave much thought to corporate maternity leave policies. I knew that they existed, but I just hadn't paid much attention.

The first time I really discussed maternity leave was at my immediately prior job, which was at a start-up cable network. I'd been there for a couple of years before the employee handbook was printed. When it finally happened, women at the company were angry to learn that we offered no paid maternity leave. I was already interviewing elsewhere, so I didn't really get involved in the discussions.

My current company, a web 2.0 start-up, also has no paid maternity leave. Prior to these start-ups, I had been in the venture capital business. That experience firmly ingrained one primary belief regarding employee compensation. Employees are the hardest asset for a company to acquire, and the hardest for a company to replace; they are also the most important. While a company - particularly a young company - needs to be highly aware of how it spends its cash, nickle-and-diming employees is never worth it.

I understand that a start-up can't be paying people who aren't working. But I also understand that there is enormous value in the loyalty of key employees. For this reason, I viewed the no-leave policy as a starting point. I really thought through my request before approaching my new boss, who had joined the company only a couple of weeks prior. Given my year with the company and the fact that I'm not on their health insurance plan (a big cost savings), I asked if he would be willing to pay me for 5-10 days of sick time, plus allow me to take my full vacation even though it would not all be accrued by Memorial Day. He said, "no." No counter-offer, no negotiation, just "no." I would not be paid a penny between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but they would hold my job for me. The letter of the law, nothing more.

This inflexibility is very short-sighted. I was the top revenue producer; in fact, I was the only business development person with either meaningful revenue or large clients. I am also being paid a third (or less) of my market value. If my company had shown that I was valued - a few thousand dollars being a drop in the bucket to them, but quite symbolic to me - they would have earned my loyalty. As it is, I return to work in six days with none. I'm going back because the company has done well over the past three months and the technology and market perception are both on an upswing. If they'd fared differently over the summer, I would be starting a new job instead.

I have tried to put the pieces in place to make myself succeed: I stopped breastfeeding, we've lined up a babysitter who seems fabulous to take care of the Bug, and my husband is even able to spend Tuesdays at home with her. On the flip-side, though, I have a 1-hour commute, I am being paid nothing, my equity was just meaningfully diluted in the last fundraising a couple of weeks ago, and my boss is neither impressive nor fun. [Stay tuned: Lots to say there; probably a future entry.] I am hoping that within a couple of weeks I'll be able to realistically propose my working from home a day or two a week, which is both manageable and very important to me. But I am not sure there is any other way that the positives will be able to outweigh the negatives, particularly when the company has shown no loyalty to me. I certainly am not going to abide a situation I'm not happy with; ironically, I will have more time to look for a new job once I am back in the office.

Given my experience, I was not shocked to learn that the United States rates worse than many third world countries - and certainly worse than all of Europe and the former British Empire - when it comes to our treatment of women in the workplace. How is it possible that even with impeccible academic credentials and a proven track record, my company - which I've been with virtually since its inception - is all but encouraging me to look elsewhere for a job? It makes no sense at all to me.

1 comment:

frenchlion said...

Hey Angie, I am about to be in your exact situation. Need to go on maternity leave with a small company and fearing the negotiation....any suggestions?