Fewer Women Taking Maternity Leave And The Risks Could Be Higher for Black Women

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November 30, 2012 ‐ By Ann Brown

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The higher you rise in a company, the more you may need to look over your shoulder for people looking to take your position. This could be one reason more and more executive women are skipping maternity leave—and many of them work right up to delivery.

Marissa Mayer, who became CEO of Yahoo when she was six months pregnant, raised eyebrows when she announced she would be back to work as soon as possible upon giving birth. But it turns out Mayer is part of a new trend, according to Forbes, where women in power positions are foregoing maternity leave.

“The trend is growing because women are simply overachievers and competitive. Not to mention when you have the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, saying she is only taking a few weeks off for maternity leave [then] coming back to work, the landscape in the workplace begins to shift. The message is that if she can do it perhaps maternity leave is not necessary,” says Karen Taylor Bass, author/PR expert and mommy commentator at The Brand New Mommy.com in an interview with Madame Noire. Experts who spoke with Forbes speculate that HR departments and managers might now frown upon women who request leave because of the precedent Mayer has set.

Even setting the precedent, Mayer tells HollywoodLife.com that being a working mom is hard. “Most working moms may love their careers and babies but mostly they just feel EXHAUSTED and overwhelmed,” she says.

“Women are competing for job security, and proving to the world that they are just as capable as men to do it all and break through the glass ceiling. The real problem is women are not men and we have certain hormones, which need to normalize after pregnancy not to mention the high rate of post-partum for career women,” notes Bass, author of The Brand New Mommy: From Babies To Branding To Bliss. “Women must not allow HR directors to dictate the terms of their maternity leave; it’s critical for women to take time to heal, reinvent as ‘brand’ moms and bond with their children.”

But it is not just corporate women who are not taking maternity leave. According to independent nonpartisan educational institute Center For American Progress (CAP) data most “non-college” mothers do not get paid leave for maternity leave. So rather than skip a pay check, many just keep working because they cannot afford time off.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows for both women and men to take time off from work after birth. But while it is a job-protected leave, it is unpaid. Also, you must qualify. A “worker must have been employed for at least 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius,” explains CAP. Because of these requirements, says CAP, young people and people of color are most likely excluded from taking job-protected FMLA leave.

Birth complications around the country are on the rise as well. Between 1998 and 2009,  researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the rate of serious complications including heart attack, stroke, severe bleeding and kidney failure during or after childbirth almost doubled, reports Reuters. And a recent CDC study found that minority women are at particular risk. “Between 1993 and 2006, minority women accounted for 41 percent of all births nationwide, but 62 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths,” the story says. “Black women were at greatest risk. For every 100,000 babies born to African Americans, 32 to 35 mothers died. That was roughly four times the rate among white mothers.”

“Having a baby is one of the greatest gifts a woman will experience. The notion of skipping maternity leave is a scary idea when we think how society has simply become a microwave lifestyle. Women/mom/dad need time to heal physically, emotionally, spiritually and not to mention bond with their newborn and allow self a moment to simply experience a new chapter. I am an advocate for moms and dads taking time off from their career to enjoy the miracle,” concludes Bass.

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