The tech industry has a reputation for being both a wonderland of employee benefits and a place that is unfriendly to families, particularly mothers. Along with the weekly massages, travel stipends, unlimited organic snacks, and casino-themed happy hours are stories of women who are stigmatized and punished for having children, overworked employees who feel they will never be able to balance family and a career, and entrepreneurs who are told by their advisors not to hire women of childbearing age. The dichotomy is stark and puzzling.
The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world—along with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea—that does not guarantee the right to paid maternity leave. While a few states offer taxpayer-funded family and medical leave, and while President Obama is pushing for a national paid parental-leave policy, the responsibility of creating these policies remains at the discretion of each employer.
Supportive parental-leave policies are a critical part of keeping women in the workforce and in leadership positions. Considering that women today hold less than 20 percent of leadership positions in corporate America, according to a 2015 report by Colorado Women’s College, and just 5 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women—all while job participation by women during peak earning years is sharply dropping—the need for widespread change is dire. Tech companies serve as a role model for the rest of the country when it comes to corporate culture. Thus the dichotomy that exists in how the tech industry has ramifications that extend far beyond Silicon Valley.