Facebook’s Poor Maternity Leave Highlights The Need For Flexible Working

Facebook’s Poor Maternity Leave Highlights The Need For Flexible Working

Facebook have long been lauded as a great company to work for, but thanks to a former employee, their seriously poor maternity packet has been revealed – as has the discontent of thousands of parents who work for the company. So why is maternity leave not taken seriously? And which companies are giving new parents the time off they need?

What’s the story?

When Eliza Khuner started working at Facebook as a data scientist she was already five months pregnant, and worked right up until the day her daughter was born. After her birth, Eliza said she had just four months maternity leave available to her, which is standard policy at Facebook. As a new mother and a parent to three children, returning to full-time work just wasn’t realistic, but after asking for leniency with her hours and requesting the ability to work from home part time, HR was clear when they told her she couldn’t work from home, work part time or take unpaid leave. She left the company, posted the reasons why on a Facebook message board and wrote an op-ed for Wired on her experience.  

After leaving, Eliza was surprised to find thousands of Facebook employees reacting to her post, adding their narratives of being new parents at the company, telling of the pain of not being able to spend time with their children and even missing crucial family moments. Even those who didn’t have children came out in support of Eliza and her message.

Why is the story a big deal?

Facebook has previously placed itself as a forward-thinking and revolutionary company – it was commended when Mark Zuckerberg took two months paternity leave in August and December 2017 after the birth of his second daughter. In fact, it was generally felt that wealthy tech firms like Facebook, Google and Apple were prioritising policies for parents, which includes on-site childcare, generous paid leave and lactation rooms for new mothers.

Zuckerberg has always been open about where he stands on the importance of family life; after his two children were born he even wrote open letters to them on Facebook, which gushed: “Max, we love you and feel a great responsibility to leave the world a better place for you and all children.” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, is notoriously supportive of working women and her book Lean In spoke about the power of working mothers. And yet, both told Eliza personally  it was not possible for her to work part time as it would put strain on other employees.

Around 5,500 Facebook employees replied to Eliza’s post about leaving the company and lamented similar issues with being working parents at the company. And while Eliza did acknowledge that Facebook gave her $4,000 (£3,043) cash just for having a baby, and there was partial reimbursement for childcare expenses and lactation rooms in every building, they weren’t able to give new parents what they really needed, time to care for their baby.

The lack of flexible working in the workplace is thought to be partly to blame for the lack of women in senior roles. Part time jobs and flexible working are often favoured by women with children but they are hard to come by, particularly in the upper echelons of companies. In fact, only 34.1% of women are in senior management roles, while just 16.3% of CEO positions are occupied by women.

The want for flexible working isn’t just reserved to women and new parents. Research conducted by Timewise.co.uk last year showed that 87% of full-time workers in the UK work flexibly or would like the opportunity to do so – a number that rises to 92% when it comes to millennials.

This means the demand for more flexible working is growing – and the benefits are not just boosting office morale. Morgan Stanley found that companies that don’t offer flexible working underperformed in the MSCI World Index (which shows the equity of certain companies) between 2011 and 2016.

What companies do offer flexible working?

Plenty of women like Eliza are fighting back against poor maternity benefits, but in the meantime, there are some companies renowned for providing first-rate benefits for new parents. Global consultancy firm Accenture offer mothers, fathers and those who are adopting, 36 weeks maternity leave with full pay; Transport for London’s maternity scheme is open to all employees regardless of how long they’ve working at the company, and offers 39 weeks maternity leave (26 weeks full pay followed by 13 weeks statutory pay) plus 13 weeks additional maternity leave (unpaid), meaning some new parents can take a whole year of maternity leave should they wish. Etsy’s policy is ‘gender blind’, meaning they offer all employees, regardless of gender or location, 26 weeks paid leave; while over at Netflix they have been praised for their care of new parents; as much time off as they want in the first year of their child being born or adopted, with full pay.

Offering this kind of flexibility will help companies to establish employee loyalty, keeping their best and brightest members of staff happy. Facebook is considered an innovative, trailblazing company that revolutionised the way we use the internet and socialise. So why have their maternity benefits remained so archaic? Perhaps Zuckerberg should prioritise bringing Facebook’s parental policies into the 21st Century, too.

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