This week the U.S. Navy announced that it is will be tripling the period of paid maternity leave for personnel in the Navy and Marine Corps from 6 to 18 weeks. The rather unexpected announcement was issued by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus on Tuesday. This decision follows an idea he first presented back in May during a commencement speech to the U.S. Naval Academy: “Support to sailors and Marines has to extend beyond the workplace. Our greater Navy and Marine Corps family is equally worthy of support,” he said.
At the time, Mabus proposed doubling paid leave from 6 to 12 weeks. Yet the final number was tripled, and it is rumored that this period was inspired by the tech giant Google, which also offers workers an 18-week paid maternity leave. Organizations that substantially increase maternity leave see this as an incentive that helps recruit more women, and also keep them after they have children.
Jane Waldfogel, a professional at Columbia University School of Social Work explains that “The military doesn’t get much attention as a family-friendly employer, but they’ve been way ahead in terms of the quality of the child care that they offer to servicemen and women. And I think this extension of maternity leave is motivated by some of the same instincts of if you’re going to recruit the best young men and women, you’ve got to provide them family-friendly policies.”
More importantly, the Navy and Marine Corps’ new policy may likely have a much broader impact. Only a few years ago many workers and analysts would have considered 18 weeks of maternity leave in the U.S. a fantasy. Yet with the American military now taking these very steps, they are setting a standard that other companies, employers and workers will surely pay attention to.
Yet even with these positive changes, American maternity leave is still far behind most other developed countries. Canada and the majority of European countries, for example, offer a standard one-year paid leave. That’s right: a full year of paid leave for mothers!
The Navy and Marine Corps currently estimate that the new maternity leave policy will cover 5,000 women every year; moreover they do not anticipate any significant costs from the new measures.