(I am pleased to welcome a long-time, veteran, work-life colleague, Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, as guest blogger. Online since 1997, Pat has equipped thousands of working mothers and others to request a flexible work arrangement at their current job. Today, Pat is sharing strategies to help new moms maximize their maternity leave.)
Suppose some friends have invited you to join them for dinner at a casual restaurant. The menu is varied and has some acceptable choices, but nothing particularly appealing to you.
Then you spot a menu item that would suit your appetite perfectly if there was one ingredient switch.
Would you ask for the change? Or would you simply settle for something listed on the menu, as is?
If you’re a woman, more than likely you would settle for “as is.”
That’s not a statement of stereotype; it’s backed by ample studies which reveal women are far less likely than men to ask for what they want–or even recognize the options available to them.
In the book, Women Don’t Ask, authors Linda Babock and Sara Laschever do an extensive review of the empirical evidence which exposes dramatic gender-based differences in negotiating behavior.
They conclude that, as a “result of powerful social influences,” women have an “impaired sense of entitlement.” They often “assume that they are stuck with their circumstances” and refrain from asking for what they want.
Sound familiar? And it’s not age-related; younger women are impacted as much as older ones.
ASKING BEHAVIOR AND WORK-LIFE FIT
Over the years, I’ve observed a persistent pattern of nervousness about negotiating among the many women I’ve helped to propose a flexible work arrangement to their manager.
In the early years, I was baffled by this; here were highly accomplished career professionals expressing fear about asking for flexibility, as well as strong doubts about getting management approval.
They were in a strong position to ask, (AKA having high leverage), yet they often needed negotiation coaching and a confidence boost. Why?
The “why” became clear when I read Women Don’t Ask. The fear of asking, the low expectations, the safe targets, and the social drivers behind it all, explained a lot of what I saw.
I still see women’s “asking behavior” as a barrier to getting the work+life fit they need and want. Without prompting or guidance, many women simply won’t make the request.
It’s why Cali’s thorough treatment of “seeing the possibilities” and “asking and getting to yes” in the early chapters of her Work+Life book is so critical to fostering a desired outcome. And of immense more importance to one’s quality of life than switching out the grilled chicken for shrimp at dinner!
OPTIONS ARE WIDE OPEN FOR MATERNITY LEAVE
Focusing on possibilities sheds some positive light on an otherwise dim picture of maternity leave benefits in America.
What are the options for asking when the current maternity leave menu for most pregnant working women is lukewarm hodgepodge stew? (The recipe being a confusing mix of paid and unpaid time off– and not enough of it.)
In a perfect world, public policy and employer practices would drive better choices. Meanwhile, as with a flexible work-life fit, there are possibilities for something more than what’s offered IF women recognize their options, prepare their case, and present it in a professional manner–including a written proposal–then ASK for it.
That’s the purpose behind giving away free copies of Max Maternity Leave Proposal Template & Negotiation Guide.
In the 2011 version, I recommend a three-step strategy for getting a better-than-standard maternity leave. The third step is this: negotiate for leave terms that surpass the policy, whether there is one or not. Put another way, the given maternity leave menu options should be seen as the starting point. Asking for more expands the menu.
It might sound gutsy, but Max Maternity Leave provides a tactical framework that lays a strong foundation for asking for desired terms with confidence. At the same time, it provides a path to knowing, expanding and creating better options. Following is an example of each.
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS
There is a little-known provision under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allows new moms to return to work part-time after maternity leave.
“Reduced leave schedule” as it’s called, is a hugely helpful phase-back-to-work option for those who can’t afford a full 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, but who can afford a temporary part-time schedule.
The arrangement requires the employer’s agreement; from what I’ve seen, the woman who asks as part of her well-crafted maternity leave proposal usually gets it. (Dads can do this, too.)
EXPAND YOUR OPTIONS
A typical maternity leave menu choice is six to 12 weeks. But a strategic request for additional leave that’s not on the menu can deliver surprising results. Here’s how one woman’s request played out:
“I am a Director at a large health plan [employer] that I would not call flexible. I was prepared to take the standard 12 week leave, but I really wanted to take an extra month for a total of four months. Based upon your [strategies in Max Maternity Leave], I went for broke and asked for five months, hoping I could negotiate to four. The entire five months’ leave was approved and I’m thrilled!”
(Pages 5 and 6 of the free Max Maternity Leave guide outline the strategy for getting “supplemental leave.”)
CREATE YOUR OPTIONS
What about paid maternity leave? Understanding the conditions which foster getting paid maternity leave (beyond accumulated paid time off), having a strategy, then presenting a professional proposal, can have surprising payoffs. No guarantees, but worth the initiative.
While one to three extra paid weeks is a reasonable expectation, I’ve received some reports of approval for four to six weeks of paid maternity leave where the policy (if there was one) did not offer it. Unusual, but possible.
Know, expand or create your options–and ask for them. With a solid strategy, careful preparation and a detailed proposal, requesting something that’s not on the work-life or maternity leave menu can bring satiating results.
(For more, request a downloadable free copy of the Max Maternity Leave Proposal Template & Negotiation Guide from Pat’s new complimentary maternity leave advice service website, Maternity Leave Mentor.)