She had one baby in Europe and one baby in the U.S., and now she’s on a mission to improve maternity leave for all moms.
When Anna Steffeny, a CEO and entrepreneur, had her first baby in Germany, she was first congratulated by her boss. She received a one-year financial stipend from the government to stay home in addition to her paid maternity leave and was given a three-year job protection guarantee. She was able to take time off before her delivery without it impacting her maternity leave. She had two weeks of (insurance covered) daily visits from a midwife who helped with her breastfeeding and showed her how to give her son a bath. She had six weeks of pelvic exercise classes, where she gained valuable emotional support and interaction with other new moms.
And then she had her second baby in the U.S. and realized that having a baby in the States wasn’t quite the same experience.
“I felt like the U.S. workplace was only offering me a binary choice,” Steffeny told me. “Work or family, ultimately not really helping me find [that] work-life fit. Simply put, I didn’t feel supported.”
Seeing the disparity between two mindsets that impacted the logistics of how parental leave plays out, Steffeny decided to do something here in the U.S. to help “normalize” the process of parental leave for parents and businesses. She created LeaveLogic, a platform designed to save employers money and employees the headache of trying to figure out the logistics of taking time off to have a baby.
“We estimate that by using LeaveLogic, we can save companies 63 percent per leave by allowing employees to self-serve their leave plan information,” Steffeny says.
She explains that LeaveLogic utilizes a company’s pre-existing policies, country federal (“Yes, we can go internationally!” she notes), state local laws, and even a partner’s parental leave benefits to create a personalized plan. Employees are then notified when they need to complete paperwork or take a next step. The dashboard provides financial and benefit information, leave milestones, and a full timeline of events. “But best of all, the platform allows expectant mothers and fathers access to their full benefits so they can plan a successful leave even before notifying HR,” Steffeny says.
A tool like LeaveLogic can be so valuable to parents who often feel like they are left to their own devices when it comes to navigating leave. But the idea behind that platform, to give parents more support in making a choice that works best for them, is what is really key.
Take Anna Scorah for instance. She felt forced to go back to work after having her baby and (unsuccessfully) asking her employer for additional unpaid leave to stay home with him. Just hours into her baby’s first day at daycare, he died. What her story so tragically illustrates is that the issue of parental leave in the United States isn’t just about numbers or a magical six or 12-week mark when caregivers and babies will be comfortably separated. It’s about giving parents more of a choice, about valuing caring for the littlest members of our nation, in raising the next generation.
“In comparison with the other new mothers I knew, I felt lucky to have three months’ paid maternity leave after Karl was born,” Scorah wrote for The New York Times. “Most of the parents in my community had only weeks before they had to leave their babies to go back to work. But nonetheless, even with three months under our belts and Karl’s neck strong enough to hold himself up, I was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving him. I wanted to be his caregiver longer, until he was a bit bigger. I could see how our time together in this early infancy was of so much value, how being with me every day made him more and more comfortable navigating his new environment.”
Not everyone agrees that employers or employees should pay into a system that allows for parental leave. Forbes writer Abigail Hall made her opinion very clear when she commented that a system that guarantees paid leave places an unfair “burden” on those who feel “entitled” to caring for their own offspring. “Such laws send the message that other people are responsible for your choices,” she wrote.
Steffeny points out the flawed logic in that kind of thinking, especially in relation to how our economy works.
“In this country we see having children as personal choice, almost borderline selfish,” she explained to me. “Something that should solely be the burden of the parents and not society as a whole. Yet, at the same time we have built an economic system that requires the population to maintain or grow as one of the basic tenants of capitalism. This means as a country we will struggle to grow our economy, maintain our real-estate prices, and compete globally if we have a negative fertility rate. In fact, we have experienced a negative fertility rate in the US since 2007. This is the same reason China has recently lifted is one child ban, it is a matter of national security and interest.”
As someone who has never actually had a paid maternity leave (ahhh, the life of a part-time and freelance employee), I have to admit that I honestly have a hard time thinking that I “deserve” any sort of financial help while home with my baby, but as CNN recently noted, guaranteed paid leave actually results in healthier babies, healthier mothers, higher breastfeeding rates, lower rates of postpartum depression, more paternal involvement, and even better financial stability and security for working mothers over the course of a lifetime.
In layman’s terms, if you’re one of the few who believe that paid parental leave costs too much, you’re completely wrong.
Helping parents to be able to afford to stay home in some capacity to care for very young babies actually costs less in the long run. It’s shocking, I know, but Steffeny notes that it’s an economic idea that many other countries have recognized for a while. When she questioned why Germany was so willing to pay for postpartum pelvic floor therapy and mother-baby support groups, she was surprised when the insurance worker replied, “Because it prevents so many complications post baby.”
Steffeny wants to encourage other mothers and parents to think beyond the confines of their company’s current leave policies and push for better choices. “There are so many options beyond your company policy,” she says. “I really want to encourage choice for other mothers and families. We should not judge the choices of others, but understand there is a spectrum of choices.”