Google's formula to retain women: Longer maternity leave

Aug. 24, 2012 at 7:23 AM ET

Many employers end up scratching their heads when women who are seemingly on the fast track to the corner office end up leaving their companies.

Google managers decided to use their expertise deciphering data to figure out why it was happening within their ranks.

A story in the New York Times titled “In Google’s Inner Circle, A Falling Number of Women” discusses how the search engine giant used its own internal data to figure out why some women leave the firm.  One of the best nuggets was buried in the next-to-last paragraph of the story.

“Another time Google was losing women was after they had babies. The attrition rate for postpartum women was twice that for other employees. In response, Google lengthened maternity leave to five months from three and changed it from partial pay to full pay. Attrition decreased by 50 percent.”


That piece of data — albeit from a limited sample of corporate America — points to a simple idea: If women can get some extra paid time to get their bodies and minds back on track after the baby comes they may be able to figure out how to make work-life balance a reality when they return.

Unfortunately, research from the Families and Work Institute shows employers are cutting back on providing full pay during such leave.

Although employers have grown more likely to offer some form of paid maternity leave, they are becoming less likely to provide time off with full pay.

About 58 percent of employers provide some form of pay for maternity leave based on the latest survey, up from 46 percent in 2005. But only 5 percent of all employers offer full pay for new mothers, down from an estimated 6 percent in 2005.

Clearly Google is bucking the trend on this one in the United States although they are still not up to the standard set by Sweden, which offers workers more than a year of paid maternity leave.

The jury is out on whether such a generous amount of time off will help women crash through the glass ceiling. But you have to give Google kudos for realizing it has a problem keeping talented women on board, especially given the recent departure of a pregnant executive at the firm, Marissa Mayer, to run Yahoo.

Not that having maternity leave would have helped Google keep Mayer. She sparked a national debate last month when she said she planned to work through her leave after she gives birth.

Eve Tahmincioglu is a career blogger and director of communications for workplace think tank Families and Work Institute.