Women in Tech Feel Pressure to Cut Short Parental Leave

Women in Tech Feel Pressure to Cut Short Parental Leave

A recent survey from Indeed, reported last week at Recode, finds that despite the sector’s relatively generous parental leave policies, many women in the US tech industry are afraid to take full advantage of those benefits out of concern for their jobs or future careers, or due to overt pressure from their managers and coworkers:

Survey participants gave different reasons for why they felt pressured to return early:

  • 34 percent said they were directly pressured by colleagues or managers.
  • 32 percent feared losing their jobs.
  • 38 percent cited a fear of losing credibility or value. …

“Frankly, women are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. We’re worried we’ll be forgotten while we’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind,” said Kim Williams, director of experience design at Indeed, in an email to Recode. “Things move so fast in tech, projects move forward and you wonder: Once the team gets used to working without you, will they decide they no longer need you?”

Previous surveys of women in tech have turned up similar findings, as well as that women are widely subjected to questions about their family lives in job interviews and that women are held back from promotions based on misguided expectations by their employers that they will eventually leave the workforce to start a family. These are by no means exclusive to the US tech sector: A recent survey of UK employers, for example, found that a majority believed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to a prospective employer, while many said they believed mothers to be less interested in career advancement than their peers.

Indeed, both men and women find that extended leaves of absence, such as to care for children, can hold them back professionally, and because women are more likely to take such leaves, they are more likely to suffer the career consequences (what is known as the “motherhood penalty“). As Williams pointed out to Recode, this penalty is particularly severe in tech, where change happens a fast and even a few months’ leave can cause an employee to fall behind.

However, women who do put their careers on hold when they become mothers usually do so not by choice, but rather due to a lack of family-friendly policies at their organizations, which makes it difficult to juggle parenting and career obligations and forces them to choose between the two. Companies that offer generous paid maternity leave retain working mothers at much higher rates, keeping valuable talent within the organization and reducing turnover costs, which is why many employers are now expanding their family benefits, including not only family leave but also flexibility, assistance with child care, and re-entry programs for mid-career women who took career breaks to raise children and wish to return to work.

Indeed’s findings underscore the importance of not just having a good parental leave policy, but also ensuring that employees feel secure in using it and supported when they return from leave. That involves well-thought-out benefits communications, but also role modeling by leaders and culture management to make sure employees and especially managers are not pressuring women to cut their leave short. One example of an effective communication strategy in this regard is Adobe’s policy of proactively informing employees about flexible work options when they come back to work after parental leave, rather than waiting for them to ask.