Is a Career Break the Key to Breaking Even?

Lately in Brazil, the topic of maternity leave has been discussed exhaustively – motivated by a new law that increases leave time from four to six months. Prior conditions remained the same: full payment for the whole duration and preservation of the mother’s job position when she returns. Good news, right? I am not so sure…

Admittedly, as a working mother, I am in favor of a career break.

Being with your newborn baby is priceless; plus my Latin blood could not stand only 15 days off, as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer did. But, for an executive, to be out of the office for six months sounds like too much.

My concern about this change has two dimensions.

First, I really do not know, in what extent, maternity leave is (or is not) an obstacle for women’s career development. I don’t mean that a woman is less prepared to grow in her career if she is out for a couple of weeks or months; rather, I am concerned with how the corporate culture penalizes working moms for this temporary off-period.

Secondly, the exclusive focus placed on women (which is commonplace in most countries). Few countries have or are discussing politics related to both mothers and fathers – maternity and paternity leave. As well pointed by Carolina Klint, a top executive at AIG, during the 9th Annual Empowerment Event, her career owes a lot to her husband, who shares with her, equally, all responsibilities related to their home and family. (By the way, Carolina is from Sweden, one of the regions in the world with more benefits to career moms and dads.)

From my viewpoint, if we consider maternity leave as well paternity leave, we are helping women’s career. Why? From the beginning you involve men in sharing the responsibility of juggling career and family.

In the short term, the family and specially the baby are the true winners. The possibility of sharing together those first days is a unique experience. In the long term, I see that women will not anymore be the only one seen as a “burden”. If both are allowed to enjoy a time out, even if the mother’s leave is longer, companies will have no more excuses to blame women for her absence. Men and women are potentially even.

Families win as well as mothers’ careers.

By Cecilia Troiano
Cecilia is the General Director of Brazilian branding agency Grupo Troiano. 

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