Posted by: hannahchenault | March 12, 2015

The “Maternity Wall”

The last recent days we have focused our readings on women opting out of business leadership positions. One of the main proposed reasons as to why women are not going for these higher positions is due to maternity. As suggested in Lisa Belkin’s “The Opt-Out Revolution”, women do not get close towards reaching top leadership positions due to the “maternal wall”.  This barrier has hindered women by forcing them to pick between their careers and family.  As attested in Belkin’s article, many women want to leave their careers in lieu of their children.  The reasoning behind this decision lies in the notion that women will never get actively experiencing their children’s growth back, but they can get back their career.  However, this is not the case.  Belkin notes that women are experiencing difficulties when it comes to reentering the workforce once maternity has come and gone.  This notion that women are being held back by this “maternity wall” barrier intrigues me because it challenges me to think about the solutions towards breaking down this barrier.  The factor comes to mind when I think of how break this barrier is amending maternity leave policies.

To get a little introduction into general maternity leave policies in the United States, here is a short video I came across on BuzzFeed.

As made evident by this video, the United States is falling way behind when it comes to maternity leave in relation to other countries around the world.  You would think that the United States would be the most advanced in this area since it is at the top tier of developed nations in the world.  However, this is clearly not the case.  Getting a glimpse into other countries’ maternity policies has made me come to the conclusion that the United States should amend their maternity policies.  By ensuring maternity leave with pay, I think this would encourage women to come back to the workforce.  Since women seem to be having a tougher time coming back into the workforce after having children, I think paid maternity leave would serve as an incentive for women to return to their job.

In addition to paid maternity leave, I think that paternity leave should be included in maternity policies.  By including both mothers and fathers in this process of paid leave, I think that more male dominated leadership roles would slowly conform towards accepting this type of leave for women.  Perhaps men, who tend to dominate the business workplace setting, are jealous that they cannot leave their job and have security if they are taking in a child into their family and this is why maternity leave policies are limited.  If men cannot do it than why should women? My question is, do you agree with this notion of mine? Are there better ways to break this “maternity wall” or is there no such thing as this type of barrier? Are there benefits to including men in maternity/paternity leave?


  1. I absolutely agree that the maternity leave policies should be amended in the United States and the changes should include men to have sometime off. It is essential that men be involved in child-rearing especially when a child is born to help relieve the pressures and stresses that women face with having to take care of a child 24/7. If men were involved in the early stages of raising a child I think men would have a glimpse of what it takes to raise a newborn baby. If both parents were granted maternity/paternity leave I do think that it would help women to continue in the workforce because society is not focusing on pressuring women to stay home instead it shows that men are just as capable of taking care of children. A new policy on maternity/paternity leave could bring equality between men and women because both have a choice to continue working or quitting their jobs without pressuring women to stay at home. Women could have more opportunities to succeed in the workplace since they would not be seen as a liability because they can have kids or incapable of continuing with working (because of having children) for a particular company.

  2. I was so excited reading this because I agree 100%. I am a huge proponent of paid maternity/paternity leave. Many countries in Europe, especially the Nordic ones, have adopted this idea and made it extremely successful. I believe that allowing women a longer maternity leave would increase the rate of recidivism among women in the workforce. As for paternity leave, I also support the idea of men being allowed to stay home for the early stages of a child’s life. This reduces the amount of stress on one parent who stays home and allows both to be equally involved in raising the child.
    The only problem for paid maternity/paternity leave in America is capitalism. Countries with long/paid leaves for parents are most commonly social democracies. This system of governance is much more accepting of social welfare programs. Americans typically oppose such welfare programs because they include with them a higher rate of taxation, and in a capitalist system taxation is a dirty word.
    I do not think that we will have a successful system of maternity or paternity leave in this country as long as we so vehemently oppose social welfare. It is a nice thought and something that we should work towards, by all means.

  3. This is a topic we have discussed in my Women and Politics class and I think it is interesting. While the U.S. does require that businesses offer maternity/family leave (anyone can take the leave for childbirth or caring for a sick family member), it is unpaid leave. It is controversial because you have to wonder is it really fair to pay someone when they aren’t actually working? As an above comment noted, forcing companies to offer paid leave for mothers and families does seem to require the government to contribute and I honestly, do not believe that our government is financially able to do so at this time.
    Another point you made was about the idea that taking maternity leave can make it very difficult to continue being up to date on the skills needed for the workplace, I have seen this problem up close with my mother who worked in law publishing in the 1970’s and early 1980’s before having children. When her children had all grown up and gone to school, the 21st century had begun and she did not have the computer or technological skills to keep up with her career. Like in my mother’s case, it is very difficult to take any substantial amount of time off work to have multiple children. I think the key to making it better for women lies in the changing the societal views of woman and man’s role. If the father and mother have equal ability to make their decision of either taking time off to raise the children or continuing working, this would not be as large of a problem.

  4. I was shocked when I watch this video! I knew the US was behind in maternity leave but I had no idea that we were that far behind or that we were the only developed country without it. I think you are right with the notion that it is because of men that we don’t have maternity leave but I don’t think it is because they are jealous. I remember back to a video in class we watched about women in congress and it got me thinking. Women’s issues such as maternity leave aren’t being addressed because of a male dominated government. Men should not be the ones to decide whether or not women get maternity leave. They don’t have to give birth therefore they don’t understand what a women goes through nor are they expected to raise and care for the children. If men and women got maternity leave, then the expectation of a woman bearing all the parental responsibility might be reduced. We need more female representative in government to make sure these issues are being discussed.

  5. I was very shocked to see this video and see the comparison between the US and other countries around the world. It is completely unrealistic to give women 12 weeks of leave unpaid. After having a child you have many financial responsibilities that may need two parents and only being promised job security isn’t enough to help out the family. I also agree with you opinion about the maternal wall. Women are forced to divide up their time and energy into what they do. That being said I do think that women still have the chance to get higher positions even with the road blocks of maternity leave and choosing between work and family. Women are still able to be VP’s of departments and CEO’s of companies, they may face some tough choices but the being a leader in the work force and family doesn’t have to be something women have to make a choice between. Women could especially be helped if men were given paternity leave; giving men a chance to take time off and lighten the load for women while they work on their career could help women get to where they want to be and also be with their family. Men are thought of as the bread winners but women could be too. Because society has the perception that men make the money and women take care of the family, is that why we don’t even think about giving men paternity leave?

  6. Both Carol and Jordan’s points are very good about the issues facing both maternity and paternity leave in the United States. I do agree that I think it is necessary and right for both women and men to be offered time off at least when a child is born. I struggle with whether the leave should be paid, as though I think it makes taking the leave easier, it also can cause several issues as both Carol and Jordan have highlighted. I think that companies could offer a few weeks of paid leave for both mothers and fathers, with extended unpaid leave available for the mother or father to take if they desire. This would alleviate the burden of choice for some women and men as there is some source of income for at least a few weeks that could allow both parents to bear the burden of taking care of the child for a little while and adjust to their new roles. There is no doubt that maternity and paternity laws need to be changed, but it is largely a matter of developing new laws that will be able to be enacted in our political-economic climate.

  7. Judging by how far behind the US is when it comes to maternity leave, I think changing our policies could definitely help women be good mothers as well as become leaders in their careers. The addition of paternity leave could give the mother more flexibility as well as teach society that it’s okay for a man to step back from his career and help with the children too.

    While providing paid maternity and paternity leave seems like a financial burden for companies, my sociology class last semester found evidence that the money lost providing paid maternity leave is made back plus some when the mother returns because the worker feels like the company has invested in her, so she puts more effort into her work (the same can be said for paid paternity leave). If every company put a value on family and was more willing to work with the needs of their employees regarding family, the system could work a lot better and women could advance more in their careers.

  8. I completely agree with you on this topic! What a great buzz feed video as well! It really opened up my eyes to see how far behind the US really is! I really am fuming about this subject. I just don’t understand how society can make it so difficult for a person who is attempting to repopulate it, to give it live, to ensure that it will continue to grow. Being a mother is not an easy job and our society really undermines that which is disgraceful! I would almost go to argue that parent-child relationships are the weakest in the US simply because parents do not have the ability to spend time with their children! If all of these other well developed thriving countries have such exquisite care for new mothers and fathers I really don’t think that the US would fall behind if we offered our new parents the same option. I think we may even have a happier, healthier country because of it! I also agree that if the US were to provide something as simple as this it would break down many of the gender barriers which could lead to more respect for women and the roles that they take upon themselves to fulfill. This almost makes me nervous to have a family and I’m only 20. I don’t expect to begin thinking about kids for years but things like this are pretty frightening. The worst part is I think men don’t understand how big of an issue this is but it doesn’t directly effect them until they have a kid and realize how much they want to be home with them. If more men had an open mindset I think that something could be done about it but right now I think they dominate the industry because they are too focused at taking these women’s places.

  9. I think that the US’s policies regarding maternity (and paternity) leave are absolutely unjust and incredibly old-fashioned compared to essentially every other country. At times, I have actually worried for my own future about employers’ responses if I ever do need to take time off to have children. I think that the US needs to match other countries’ policies for maternity and paternity leave as soon as possible. I believe that paternity leave is almost as important as maternity leave because it could help to alleviate some of the unevenness that our society expects of parenting. Although women must take time off for medical purposes when having a child, she could more than likely recover more quickly if her significant other was present to help care for the newborn. I can’t understand why the US is so behind on these policies still, but it seems to be similar to a lot of other ridiculous gender inequalities that occur in our society. It’s embarrassing to me that US society still accepts that.

  10. Based on some of our readings, some businesses are moving towards giving women maternity leave and letting them come back by working out an agreement. In one of the readings we just read, some are also including that for all parents, men and women. I believe (and there’s empirical evidence) that children can be raised equally whether or not they have a parent at home with them 24/7 or working. It’s purely a choice for some women who can afford to make it whether or not to leave. If you’re one of those who wants to be home all the time, find a job that will work with you from the start. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. That’s one way to avoid it. Also encouraging men to take paternity leave may help the cause because I’m sure plenty of men want to hang out with their children, but there is this social stigma and evolutionary pull towards men being the breadwinners and needing to provide for their family. Well supporting a family goes beyond just earning money, and the sooner both men and women realize this, the better off we will be. Family values should be number one over professional success.

  11. I love this. Maternity leave is definitely a necessary aspect to having successful families, and I wholeheartedly agree that men should have paternity leave to experience their children as well. I believe that there can an should be a balance between work and home if a woman chooses to do so. Women should get adequate paid maternity leave, as well as be allowed to have part time work for a while easing them back in if they want. Men should be able to do the same. I really think that some women are pressured by society and don’t get to do what they want to do in terms of what would make them happy because society has them believing that it can’t be done. I think all families should be afforded the same opportunities when it comes to leave for children and that the US needs to majorly step up our game. I also think the maternity wall is a myth. I think if a woman has had a child and is ready to dive in headfirst, yes there may be a few growing pains with balancing work and home but once you get into a pattern then it should be fine. If for some reason it is consistently not working, well then maybe as a woman, working isn’t really what was fulfilling them. This may be leading to an inability to find motivation to work and have a child at home. I just think this is a hard topic because every woman is different and there are so many different factors at play. But at minimum, paid maternity and paternity leave should be expanded.

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