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How I Negotiated for 4 Months Paid Maternity Leave

by Kimberly Sanberg on March 4, 2015

When I found out I was pregnant in the spring 2011, one of the first things I did was investigate my maternity leave benefits. I pulled up my employee handbook on my computer and scrolled to the parental leave section.

I was appalled by what I saw: I was entitled to 2 weeks of 100% paid leave. (The US, which requires 0 weeks of paid parental leave, has the absolute worst maternity leave of any country in the world.)

That’s two weeks to recover from childbirth. Two weeks to bond with my new baby. Two weeks to master breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding. Two weeks to get into some kind of sleep schedule that left me with enough brainpower to function at work.

Determined to fight for more leave, I got to work right away. In the end, I negotiated for 16 weeks of leave, 8 of it paid at 100% of my salary, an additional 5 weeks paid at $500/week through short-term disability insurance, and used 2 weeks of vacation and 1 week of unpaid leave.

Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Explore Your Options

Unfortunately, most women in the US have to cobble together whatever leave they can in order to spend more than a couple of weeks with their newborn babies. The first step is to look into any kind of leave you think you could pile up — vacation, disability insurance, sick days, holidays, floating days, you name it.

Read your employee handbook. Write down any questions you have for HR. Spend some time googling the different kinds of leave women have put together for their maternity leave. Not everything may be explicitly outlined in your employee handbook, especially if you work for a small company; short-term disability insurance wasn’t mentioned as part of parental leave in my employee handbook. I brought it up with my HR person and, together, we called the insurance company to figure out my options. It turned out I was eligible for short-term disability.

Mom with Daughters

Step 2: Do Your Research

I worked for an international organization with offices in countries around the world. I researched government-mandated leave in those countries and made a chart outlining the amount of leave to which women working in our other offices were entitled vs. the amount of leave I would get under the current US policy. I laid out the reasons the US maternity leave policy should be improved, including that it didn’t align with the organization’s progressive values.

In your case, you might instead do a competitive analysis of sorts of similar companies in your field.  This article is a good place to start your research. Do whatever you think will make the most compelling case to management at your organization.

Step 3: Put Your Ear to the Ground

See what information about maternity leave you can gather around the office. Talk to colleagues who have recently taken maternity leave. Ask them how much they took and whether they have any tips for navigating the system or getting more leave. I was the first person to take maternity leave at my office, so I made my own path, which had its advantages and disadvantages. I know moms-to-be who have gotten great tips from colleagues about how to approach the leave conversation.

If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, start a conversation with him or her and see if you can get a sense of how flexible the policy is. Your supervisor understands how valuable you are to the company and might end up being your biggest advocate.

Step 4: Craft Your Proposal

Once you’ve done your research and talked to colleagues, figure out what you want to ask for. I recommend keeping any kind of formal proposal to 1-2 pages and including charts and/or graphs and bullet points to make it easy to read. Summarize your research (including competitive analysis), state what you want, and make a case for why it will be good for the company — and for you — to get more leave. Make sure you keep the focus on how it will benefit the company; instead of saying, “My family can’t make it 3 months without my salary” (even if it’s true), say something like, “Company values family and hard work. When I return after 4 months of paid leave, I will be energized and ready to jump back in, which will be good for me and for Company.”

Be sure to include information about the preparation you will do before your leave starts — cross-training a colleague or temp, outlining processes for your work, etc.

Step 5: Negotiate

Women often shy away from negotiating, which can contribute to their getting paid less — and getting fewer benefits — than their male counterparts (women in the US earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn). According to a 2013 article in The Atlantic, men are four times more likely than women to enter salary negotiations and 20% of women say they will never negotiate — even when it’s appropriate and expected.

Benefits and salaries are almost always negotiable. When you ask for more, the worst thing that can happen is that your employer will say no. It’s worth the risk. It might make you uncomfortable and it might feel unnatural. That’s okay; it will be worth it. A simple negotiation around parental leave can mean you get to spend one or two more precious months with your new baby. Prepare for your negotiation by reading this advice for women from master negotiator Margaret A. Neale and by practicing with a friend or spouse. Don’t be embarrassed or intimidated. Negotiation is part of all work environments and the payoff can be huge.

Step 6: Be the Change

Even if you don’t get everything you’re hoping for during your maternity leave negotiation, remember you are still making an impact. Every woman (and man) who asks for — or demands — better parental leave is one more reminder to management that family leave is essential. The message to companies is clear: If they want to keep good employees, they’re going to have to start improving their parental leave policy. When you talk start a conversation about maternity leave, you force your company to confront reality and consider positive change.

Good luck!

How have other moms and dads negotiated for parental leave? Share your experience in the comments below.

Photo credit: donnieray


We’ve had some amazing stories come through for Women’s Money Week 2015. Check out some of the great posts below:

Canada vs U.S. Maternity Leave: Here’s Our Experience With Both at the Dough Report

When Radhika and I moved from Toronto to San Francisco two and half years ago with our toddler, we knew it would be an eye-opening experience. We’d travelled to the Golden State many times, but you know what they say: to really get to know a place, you have to live there.

And come to know it we have: both the good parts, which are almost too numerous to list (weather, food, wine, etc) and the bad, which include an outrageously high cost of living, a byzantine medical system, and, as we learned getting ready for the birth of our second child, maternity leave that really does leave you wanting.
When my wife found out she was pregnant with our second child last year, we knew right away that we’d have to start researching, planning – and saving – for maternity leave, U.S. style. And now that our son is four months old, it’s safe to say we’ve seen both the Canadian and American systems up close – here’s what we found.

My Parental Leave at Little Miss Moneybags

I was working when I became pregnant with my first child. We tried to time the pregnancy so that I would qualify for FMLA leave, and we planned for me to go back to work. As a quick refresher, FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying employees (you have to be employed full-time at your job for at least one year, and there are other criteria which you can find here - as you can see, it’s very easy not to qualify for leave). My employer was required to offer FMLA leave, and I did qualify once I’d been there for a year. There is no additional state mandated leave where I live. I also had a disability policy that provided 60% of my salary for 6-8 weeks following giving birth.

Pickle was born unexpectedly 25 weeks into my pregnancy – 15 weeks before her due date. If you do the math on that, you can see that I didn’t even have enough maternity leave to make it to what should have been her birthday before I had to go back to work.

Maternity Leave Laws Don’t Effect Pay in Gender Inequality at Femme Frugality

It’s a never-ending battle:  to stay at home or return to work after having children?  The answer is different and difficult for every woman.  In the United States, it’s sometimes even used as an argument for discrepancies in gender pay equality.  It shouldn’t be.

 Are You Prepared for Maternity Leave? at Planting Money Seeds

Anyone with children knows that kids cost money. Having a new baby requires changes to your financial plan as well as to your lifestyle. When planning for the new addition to your family, it’s important to consider maternity leave.

Dealing With a Return to Work After Maternity Leave at Live Rich Live Well

There are a number of challenges women face when they return to work after maternity leave. In my case, it was fairly easy to transition back. I was 23 years old, and working as a cashier while I waited for my husband to finish his undergraduate degree. We couldn’t afford for me to take more than four weeks off, so that was the length of my maternity leave. However, being a cashier and taking leave doesn’t really mean problems for most people. All it means is that shifts are shuttled around.

Getting Ready For Maternity Leave? Don’t Forget About the Money! at Lowest Rates

Congratulations on your pregnancy! Have you thought about how you’re going to pay for it? I know that seems like a harsh question but trust me you need to think about it. I’m not trying to bring you down, I just want to make sure you’re financially prepared for the next phase of your life.

Maternity/parental leave in California at A Gai Shan Life

SDI, FMLA, PFL, oh my! PiC and I are eligible for protected leave in various forms after Little Bean’s birth, not all the same, and not all equal, so it was a bit of a maze figuring it all out.

PiC is entitled to six weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), and qualifies under the birth of a child. This has to be taken within one year of birth.

His employer also pays for an amazing six weeks of parental leave to be taken during the year following the child’s birth.

9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming A Work-At-Home Mom at Early Bird Mom

Having a new baby is often the impetus for a mom to look into working from home. A home-based job usually offers lots of perks for parents- perhaps flexible hours, part-time work, no commute. But working from home also brings a lot of challenges.

Whether you’re continuing on in your current job from home or you’re starting up a new venture working from home, be prepared for a lot of changes.



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