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Parental leave a double-edged sword for employees

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about parental leave plans and how taking the time affects the careers of the parents. Many reports claim that women’s careers can stall if they take leave to have children, particularly in male-dominated professions.

Some women combat this by returning to work quickly. High profile examples of this include Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser going back at work one week after adopting a baby. Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was on the campaign trail following the birth of her son. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took only two weeks after giving birth to twins.

While some may criticize these women for returning to work so soon, others believe that expecting women to take time off plays into the stereotype of women having to take maternity leave to be the primary caregiver. One way companies can address this is by extending parental leave to both sexes and encouraging them to take advantage of it.

Sending mixed message

Many companies have updated their parental leave policies, often in effort to encourage hiring and retaining of women employees. However, the message can be become mixed if parents (particularly those in leadership roles) choose not to take advantage of this accommodation. While mothers may fear that it would stall their career if they took the time, fathers may fear being stigmatized or taken less seriously for taking on a caregiver role.Leadership can set the tone by taking the time, or not judge those who choose to do so.

Ambivalence about working vs. parenting

Every good parent strives to balance family with work.That starts when employees become parents. They soon find that that there is no right answer – the ones who return to work quickly may worry that they are not spending enough time with their children, and the ones who stay home may feel that they are not focusing enough on their career.

Creating policies to encourage equality in the workplace

Providing a meaningful parental leave policy for mothers and fathers can make this work-life balance easier to manage, and can even avoid legal disputes or lawsuits involving hostile workplace, employment discrimination, FMLA and other issues. It is really a matter of finding a solution that works for each company.

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