Google Extends Maternity Leave to Help Retain Female Employees

Google campus

August 27, 2012

Google has long been recognized for its progressive company culture that prizes creativity and innovation. According to a new report, however, this open-minded policy might not be enough, and the company has decided to do something about it.

The New York Times reports that Google is having difficulty retaining women, especially at its highest ranks. The issue is perplexing because Google has long had a reputation for creating a culture in which women thrived. Still, executives note that too many women have been dropping out of the interviewing process and tend to not be promoted at the same rate as their male colleagues.

"There was a point at Google when the cadre of women leadership was pretty strong," a former Google executive told The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. "That has changed."

Google's retention problem is a common one among tech companies: as The New York Times points out, Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates the number of women working in professional computing jobs dropped by 8 percent between 2000 and 2011 while the number of men climbed 16 percent. Experts note this trend can have a negative impact on any organization's culture and potential for innovation.

"Having women leaders is not just a question of equity or somehow ticking the box," Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, told The New York Times. "Particularly at technology companies, it really does contribute to innovation and a company's ability to exploit new markets."

Google decided it was time to figure out why it was suffering the loss of women. In its usual data-focused fashion, the company created an algorithm that could identify when, and why, women chose to leave the company. According to Life Inc., their investigation uncovered a troubling trend: the company's attrition rate for postpartum women was twice that for other employees. In other words, women were not returning to the workplace -- or at least to Google -- following childbirth.

The company responded by extending employee maternity leave from three to five months and from partial to full pay, a decision that reduced attrition by 50 percent. According to Life Inc., Google's new maternity policy is noteworthy not just because it seems to help -- at least in part -- with its ability to retain more female employees, but because it comes at a time when most companies are minimizing maternity benefits, at least in terms of pay.

"Though employees who give birth are more likely to receive some form of pay during leave for maternity-related disability (from 46% in 2005 to 58% in 2012), employers have become significantly less likely to provide full pay during leave for maternity-related disability," reports the Families and Work Institute in its 2012 National Study of Employers.

Life Inc. notes that while Google's progressive maternity leave policy may improve matters, it still does not compare with those of countries like Sweden, which offers a full year of leave with full salary and benefits. It is also not a cure-all as even women who remain with Google are less likely to stick around or climb the corporate ladder as fast as men.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"2012 National Study of Employers,", 2012, Kenneth Matos and Ellen Galinsky

"Google's Formua to Retain Women: Longer Maternity Leave,", August 24, 2012, Eve Tahmincioglu

"In Google's Inner Circle, a Falling Number of Women,", August 22, 2012, Claire Cain Miller

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