should I take more maternity leave than I want to “set a good example” for other women in my organization?

A reader writes:

I am a woman in my mid-thirties, working at the director level at a midsize public company. I have six direct reports, including two managers with direct reports of their own. I am pregnant, and planning my maternity leave.

I live in California, which has some unique laws surrounding allowed leave, so that basically, given a “typical” pregnancy, my job is protected while I am on leave from 36 weeks pregnant to 18 weeks after the date I give birth (there is some pregnancy disability leave allowed prior to 36 weeks if medically necessary). Not all of this is paid; approximately 10 weeks depending on the nature of the birth are paid disability, an additional six weeks are paid family leave, and, for the remaining time I could potentially take off, I could either take it unpaid or apply my banked PTO.

I am planning my maternity leave and was discussing plans with my mom, and she thinks that because I am a woman at a fairly high level in my company, I should consider taking the entire allowed leave, to set a positive example for the women who report under me, as well as to other women within my organization. Her take is that if I take a short leave, perhaps other women will feel pressured to take a shorter leave themselves, and it’s my duty as a woman to lead by example and prioritize the importance of family leave.

I … am not sure. On the one hand, I totally get it. I wouldn’t want one of my staff to feel pressured to take less leave because she was trying to prove herself, either to me or to the company. On the other, I mean what? Is this a real thing? I am all about supporting women, and I do think leading by example is important, but I also think that part of that would naturally be doing what is best for me, my family, and my career. I may take the maximum allowed leave regardless, but I’m unsure if this should be a factor.

What do you think? Should women in leadership roles, in general, factor the impact of their decisions on the potential decisions of those watching them into their grand scheme life choices? It had never occurred to me that I would be watched in this way, and I guess I’m wondering if there is truth to it.

Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men? It’s only women — already dealing with sexism in all its manifestations — who are told they also have this additional burden of setting an example for other women. It’s exhausting.

I’m not blaming your mom. This is a really common perspective, and it obviously comes from a good place.

And it’s true that it’s smart to consider what kind of example you’re modeling for people around you. For example, it makes sense to be thoughtful about not always participating in office “housekeeping” duties if the men around you generally don’t (bringing in the coffee for meetings, cleaning up after meetings when it’s not your job, being the sole note-taker, planning the parties, etc.). But the cost there is pretty low. In those cases, you’re not denying yourself a big thing that you want just to set an example for someone else.

When the thing in question is much larger — like how much maternity leave you want to take — you can and should make that decision based on what works for you and your family. You are not obligated to subvert your own needs in order to set an example for other women. Do what works for you! As you wrote, part of leading by example is doing what works best for you.

That said … if you do decide to take less leave than the maximum you’re allowed, make sure that you’re finding other ways to reinforce for people under you (men and women) that you support them in taking more if they want to. For example, when you announce how you’re structuring your leave, you could add something like, “For anyone who doesn’t know, California has some of the best laws in the nation on this, and if you’re ever taking parental leave and want to take more time, you can take up to X weeks. As a company we strongly support you in doing that!” And you pay attention to other messages you might be sending people about time off — making sure, for example, that you encourage people to take time away from work, that you protect their off-hours time from work interruptions as best as you can, and that you don’t nickel and dime people on leave.

I hope you enjoy your new baby and your maternity leave, however much of it you decide to take.

{ 253 comments… read them below }

  1. Emi.*

    I actually would tell a high-up man to consider taking the maximum paternity leave, because one of the responsibilities of higher-ups is to set company culture. I don’t see this as *that* different from a boss who comes in sick all the time and make employees feel like they can’t stay home unless they’re basically dying. As Alison says, there are other things you can do to set a good example, but make sure you do them! If my boss just silently took a super-short parental leave I would absolutely think “Oh, shit, I better not ask for any leave advanced when I have a baby.”

    1. Amber T*

      Since paternity leave is still not a huge thing (in the States at least), that I think men taking paternity leave are setting an example for other men. One of our vendors just left for paternity leave, and my boss (a man) wished that was a thing when his children were born (they’re all under ten, so that’s not that long ago). I agree 100% with Alison – OP should make the decision based on her needs and what’s best for her and her family. But I also agree that OP (and any upper management) should advise their direct reports (and anyone beneath them) that no one will be penalized for taking the maximum amount if that’s what they choose.

      1. Samiratou*

        I wish it were a thing when my children were born, and they’re 9 and 5. My company always had “parental” leave, but only the primary caregiver was given the 8 weeks paid, and it had to be right after the birth. Non-primary caregivers got a week. Now they bumped it to 12 weeks, no primary/non-primary and it doesn’t have to be consecutive. My husband I both worked here when our kids were born, and that seriously would have been a godsend, and I’m a bit steamed they didn’t come around earlier!

        1. baconeggandcheeseplease*

          The phrasing of “primary caregiver” is a little mindboggling to me, parenting is a joint effort. I’m glad your company has come around as far as offering the same amount of time for either parent, but the wording is still a little dated.

            1. Eye of the Hedgehog*

              God, how I wish there had been a secondary birth giver. I don’t even need to split it fifty fifty.

          1. Emi.*

            Morally it’s a joint effort but in practice one parent usually puts in more time.

            1. Katieinthemountains*

              ….some women want to stay home/don’t make as much money/want to nurse, but some families would split it more evenly if the father could get more time off.

            2. baconeggandcheeseplease*

              Right, but I’m not really talking about the actual parenting time split in practice, I understand it shakes out differently depending on each family’s needs/situation. It just bothers me that the official HR/Company jargon is “primary caregiver vs. non primary caregiver” because it kind of perpetuates the idea there is one primary caregiver (and it would be assumed to be the birth mom), and that the other spouse in the relationship is just a babysitter or back up when the Primary Caregiver needs their shift covered.

            3. Optimistic Prime*

              Well, part of the reason that happens is because society is structured for it to be that way, including companies doing things like giving more time to a “primary caregiver”.

              1. lulu*

                Exactly. Both me and my husband were home after our kids’ birth, and other than breastfeeding duties (because duh) the effort was pretty much equally shared.

          2. anon here*

            It’s interesting: had not thought of that much, but when I have traveled for work and brought my husband along to schlep baby to & from my breast (basically) I have used the phrasing that he has come along for the purpose of being primary caregiver. I have actually used this in grants.

    2. Lehigh*

      My first thought (before reading Alison’s answer) was, “You don’t have that responsibility as a woman but you might have a responsibility as an executive.” Because yeah, lower-level people who aspire to management do watch how much sick time, leave, PTO, etc. the boss uses.

      But I agree that most men would not think of that or have it suggested to them. (Maybe they should start thinking about it, but…there’s not much incentive to change when things are working in your favor.) At the least, using Alison’s script or something similar is a good idea.

      1. ANon.*

        “‘You don’t have that responsibility as a woman but you might have a responsibility as an executive.'”

        Yes, came here to express that exact sentiment. That said, I would tell any executive (regardless of gender) to base their parental leave on their familial needs, and to just ensure they properly express to their staff that other options are available.

        1. Triple Anon*

          Right. And there’s more to setting an example than the basic choice you make. It’s also how you communicate about that choice and how you go about whatever you’re doing. In this case, the OP could explain to her staff that she prefers a shorter maternity leave but that she encourages them to take the maximum time allowed if that’s what works best for them and their family.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I tend to fall in the same line of thinking. I don’t really love the example set by women executives to be back at work within a week (sometimes, some women). They can do what they want, but with access to nannies, personal assistants, and setting their own pumping schedule, etc., it is different for them to be back at work immediately than it is for one of us regular employees. Plus, nothing is going to run into the ground if I’m not at work, so I wouldn’t want executives to influence that culture down the ladder. I don’t think they have a responsibility to take the maximum, but something in the 10-12 range would be a happy medium.

      3. EMW*

        Yes I agree. I do think the generally messaging around it is the most important though. Being very encouraging of all employees to do what works best for their families and knowing they won’t be penalized for taking the maximum legally allowable leave.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Also be sure it’s not just said, it’s done. If employees see one thing while being told another, they won’t believe what they’re told.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yes. You’ve said how I feel about this perfectly.

        “You don’t have that responsibility as a woman but you might have a responsibility as an executive.”

      5. Anancy*

        This framing “You don’t have that responsibility as a woman but you might have a responsibility as an executive.” is really perceptive and brilliant.

        I once worked for a company and the CEO only took 6 weeks off for her first and only baby. Except she then extended her maternity leave for all Fridays for three months, worked from home for two days a week, and brought her baby one of the two days in the office and had other staff watch the baby while she was in meetings. Those perks were not an option for any other staff members, and yet when anyone would mention wanting to take 12 weeks leave, she would comment something about how she was so glad she was only out of the game for 6 weeks but I guess some people just don’t bounce back fast.

        So yes, I also agree that the messaging around leave is extremely important, but it is also important to look at responsibilities and benefits that one gets as a higher level employee.

        This also applies to pumping rooms. If you are the CEO and have a personal lockable office to pump in, that’s awesome, but does not relive you of the need to have something similar available for the people in cubicles.

        1. Also anon*

          Reposting, as it posted in the wrong thread.

          I think the key here is the messaging, to your point. It’s fine that she structured it that way–I’ve seen other high-level execs do this simply because their job demands can make it hard to balance both at that level. It risks not setting a great example, but I think you can mitigate that if you set the right tone. In my case, I wouldn’t at all feel guilted or bad if I took the full leave. Time off is encouraged here and I realize that the folks several rungs above me were doing what worked best for them.

          1. Also anon*

            It also sounds like your CEO was rather blind to the realities of her situation v. others, which is a big problem.

      6. Emmie*

        IMHO, OP should set her leave in a way that suits her family. If she chooses to take a shorter leave than the max, I recommend acknowledging that to her teams (those she manages and lateral.) That she elected to take a shorter leave, that it fits her family and work choices, and that people are free to take what works for them. I also hope that OP doesn’t feel internal pressure to perform at a certain level, to maintain her workload. If I were in OPs shoes (considering a mat leave with my own Director role), I would think about returning for half days for a few weeks to get acclimated. But, that’s my choice and NOT pressure to OP.

      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Super agreed. OP still doesn’t have to take the full leave period (and frankly, OP’s feelings may change during leave—nearly all of my friends changed their leave up or down), but the example-setting has more to do with OP’s position than OP’s gender. Communicating support for direct reports taking their full benefit (if they want, and in a non-coercive/pressuring way) is a net positive, imo.

        And I would absolutely tell men to take their full paternity leave. The increase in men taking full leave at my current employer has been tremendous in “allowing” women to take full leave with fewer career repercussions, as well. Industry-wise, we’re still super behind, but I will take the wins when they come.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yeah, the career repercussions are still a thing even when there’s more-generous leave. I’m a teacher in a private school in California and took 5 months off after my baby was born (some paid and some unpaid). My school was really great about doing what worked for me and would have held my job for me for an entire academic year. BUT – our salaries are based entirely on how many years of teaching experience we have, and I lost a half-year of experience because of my leave. That means I’m permanently at a lower pay grade, for the rest of my time at this school, than if I’d never had a baby.

        2. Safetykats*

          I don’t see anyone pointing this out, but typically only your company-provided leave will be paid at your full salary. Even in California, the state provided leave is paid at 55% of your wages during the highest paid quarter of the precious calendar year.

          From that perspective, taking the maximum leave you are allowed is honestly something that not a lot of working moms have the option to do, from a simple financial perspective. I’ve had a number mom’s who work for me express that they would really like to take the extra time, but can’t afford to – and there is nothing I can do about that (although I think, every time, that they must think I can.) I end up explaining that the state pays what it pays, as with any short term disability, and I have no control over that.

          At any rate, what I want to say is that for a highly compensated employee like the OP, the financial ability to absorb that cut in pay is something that is associated with a level of privilege – in salary, and doubtless in the ability to practice proactive financial planning that comes with a higher salary – that many of her employees may not have. As such, it can (and often is) seen as an exhibition of that level of privilege. In other words, encouraging parents to take the leave they can afford to take is probably a better practice than taking leave others can’t afford, and holding it up as an example. (I know this isn’t what the OP is proposing to do, but I can’t help but wonder if her mom would step in with her lost wages if that was a factor in her case. It’s awfully easy to encourage others to take a moral stand when you personally don’t suffer any of the downside.)

          1. Anna*

            I mean, I think that it’s fairly absurd to say that the OP should somehow not take the leave she is entitled to because others might not be able to afford to take the same amount.

            It’s also worth noting that California leave has increased from what you cited – as of this year, employees are eligible to receive 60% of their pay for most workers, and 70% for low-income workers (earning less than ~$5000 in a quarter). That’s for both the disability and the paid family leave portions of that leave. Further, the disability payments are not taxed, and PFL is not subject to state tax (which can be significant in California). So many workers would have 80+% of their take-home pay replaced. It still might be a financial barrier for some, but it’s not a ridiculous exercise of privilege to take your entitled leave and encourage others to take as much leave as is right for them and their families.

    3. Jady*

      This was my first thought exactly. I would absolutely say the same thing to a man for paternity leave.

    4. Rex*

      At a job about a decade ago, I was at a small nonprofit with no explicit parental leave policy. I was hoping to change that. Then the ED (a man) took 3 days (!!) off after the birth of his child. That was a big factor in my deciding to move on.

      1. JustaTech*

        When my first boss’s kid was born (his third, his wife’s first) he was back at work the next day, where he was promptly told by the entire lab to go home.
        “Nothing is urgent!”
        “Take your laptop if you have to!”
        “You need to walk the dog!”

        But under all that genuine concern and exasperation was a fine current of fear “does this mean he doesn’t think anyone should ever take any leave?”

    5. Solo*

      yes yes yes re: paternity leave. I may not be planning a pregnancy soon, but at one job, within the space of six months four different men (of ~40) in my office had new babies. They all talked about it beforehand, took the allocated 1 week (1 week!!) of (consecutive only) paid paternity leave, and used vacation/sick time to meet their partners at doctors appointments and/or extend their leave. Except for the one man who was a new manager. :/ He took 3-4 days off.

      My big workplace culture indicators are paternity benefits (with a huge bonus if their language is “parental leave” policies, maybe with a distinction for birth parent vs non-birth parent, to support parents who might be adoptive parents, foster parents, same-sex parents, or transgender parents) and workplace training benefits.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        A friend of mine accepted a new job while his wife was pregnant. One of his reasons for accepting the job is that he would be granted 8 weeks of paternity leave. The baby was born when he was three months into the job and he is currently on leave, no questions asked, no intention of going back early, lots of casseroles sent to the house. I’m amazed and delighted by this, and I wish it was more typical. His company is basically a software start-up but run by very conservative men with huge families (I think several in the C-suite have more than 5 kids).

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Wow, lots of places wouldn’t offer any parental leave to somebody within their first year, your friend is fortunate (sadly).

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Agreed. I am male, and while I don’t have any direct reports, I’m considered a manager and senior staff. I do try to consider how my choices might influence the rest of our staff. When we had a child I took four weeks of leave and then went back to work 3 days a week for another 2 weeks. (This was before teleworking was as common or as technologically seamless as it is today.) My employer and my manager supported me quite enthusiastically, and while it was something I really wanted for myself and my family, part of me also wanted other men to know that they should consider paternity leave if they were so inclined.

    7. McWhadden*

      When I first started at the place I work now a male co-worker was taking paternity leave around the time I started. And our boss just seemed baffled by the whole thing. (Which I took as a red flag but he’s mostly great.) He just didn’t *get it*, at all. It wasn’t done.

      Subsequently, another male co-worker took paternity leave. And the original male co-worker took it again for a second child. And you know what? Both of those times our same boss didn’t even blink. Of course, they’d take paternity leave.

      It wasn’t that my boss was a jerk he was just used to a certain way. And once one guy started doing it our boss started rethinking it.

      So, yeah, I absolutely think it’s important for men to take some paternity leave to model the behavior. Not just at the top.

      1. JustaTech*

        A co-worker at another site’s wife was having a baby back at the beginning of the year. His boss simply did not seem to understand that coworker was going to be on *total* leave for the better part of a month and that *someone* would need to take over his tasks for the duration.

        It wasn’t that the boss was being nasty, he just didn’t understand that someone would take paternity leave, and that while on leave you can’t ask them to take emergency calls at 3 am.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Or even at 3pm, because that was usually when I had a baby napping on my chest.

      2. Specialk9*

        McWhadden, that’s such a cool story about how men taking paternity leave can actually change the culture.

        My husband had to dig way too hard to find out that he has 6 weeks of fully paid paternity leave. Dig and dig and dig – HR didn’t know, and he found a policy nobody knew about but they said, welp, guess you can take it then. The other men in his group were scandalized — ‘but then you’ll have to change diapers and deal with the baby, getting to go to work is the best Out ever invented, what’s wrong with you?’ It was kind of depressing, esp bc it’s a super liberal university. Like, guys, paternity leave shouldn’t be controversial or unknown.

        1. Lehigh*

          Wow. “Why would you want to parent your own child when your wife who has just been through major physical trauma can do everything for you?”

          1. Lara*

            Reminds me of the Medium article where a woman was writing about life working at home just after having a baby. She was still incontinent, and popping stitches, and her husband still expected her to cook when he got in. It was pitched as a funny portrait of a new mom’s life, but I just saw it as a completely non funny portrait of a new mom with an abusive, POS husband and I was horrified at so many commenters finding it funny and saying they could relate.

            1. Nita*

              Could be just plain cluelessness. I swear I was going on and on about how I’ll finally have time to cook all the yummy things when I was getting ready for my first maternity leave. So of course, two weeks in, my husband asks me where’s the cooking. And of course, I start crying. I always assumed that if I didn’t have to deal with 8+ hours of office work and 2+ hours commute, I’d free up a ton of time. I just had no clue that I’d spend most of that time chained to a couch, nursing, with the rest of the day nicely taken up by feeding myself, and by lots and lots of laundry. Since my husband was at work, he had no way of knowing that either, and in my sleep-deprived state I don’t think it even occurred to me to explain.

              Anyway, it all worked out. He took paternity leave when my time was up, and never again asked me why I didn’t do xyz while solo parenting.

            2. einahpets*

              Yeeaaaa, my husband scheduled an elective wrist surgery for 2 weeks after I delivered our second kid while he was on paternity leave. He told me that it was great timing, the surgeon told him it would be minimally invasive, etc etc. I had my doubts.

              When he woke up from the procedure and saw the cast they’d put on and got instructions post-op about not moving it, resting… he knew he had screwed up royally. That next week where he couldn’t even drive because of the pain medication he was on (so I was still healing, nursing a jaundiced newborn whenever possible, and shuttling our older child to activities) is kind of a haze now of sleep deprivation and stressing eating a lot of lactation cookies.

              He still gets all the dirty diapers when we are at home with kid (who is 2 years old now and calls them ‘daddy diapers’). I’m not even sorry in the least bit about it.

              1. Specialk9*

                I hope he accepts that well deserved punishment with total good grace and a fair amount of sheepishness.

            3. Competent Commenter*

              Slate just ran an article on how much unpaid time is spent on caregiving, especially children. Really brings home the hours with documentary cinemagraphs (fancy gifs, I might say)! I’ll put the link in my next comment.

              1. Nita*

                OMG. Those are some really fancy gifs. It took me a few minutes to figure out what’s off about the first two, because it wasn’t super obvious until the later pictures that somehow only one person is moving, while the other one is frozen in place.

          2. CMart*

            Yeah, that’s such a gross attitude to have.

            TBH, the best part of being a full time working parent is that daycare gets to change 50% of the diapers and deal with at least one of the meal times during the day. The drudgery of childcare is certainly no fun.

            But my husband and I pay them handsomely to do that, and they are in generally good physical health and hopefully medium-well rested. It’s not necessarily terrible to say “thank God for work, you don’t have to change diapers!” but it is incredibly callous to say “thank God for work, I can leave my exhausted, bleeding, emotionally raw partner at home all alone to do the things I find hard and icky instead!” It makes me so sad for those men’s wives.

          3. Specialk9*

            Yeah, it made me appreciate my wonderful husband even more. (Especially bc I had such a hard birth and needed the help!) I was proud that he was normalizing the male parent, but also weirded out that in the 20-teens that needed doing!

          4. Student*

            That’d be the attitude of every man I’ve known who’s become a parent in my male-dominated field.

            Some of them have approved time off and come into work voluntarily, on their time off, just to get away from childcare duties.

            One of them calls all childcare of his own children that he performs “babysitting” specifically because it spites his wife.

            Not gonna lie; this kind of widespread male behavior has influenced my decision to not personally have kids. I’m 99.73% sure my husband would do this same thing to me, and I’d be too much of a responsible adult to not watch/parent the children, and eventually explode at husband in a fiery ball of divorce rage over the chore imbalance.

        2. Amber T*

          Wow. Presumably, both parties plan on having kids, right? Like, dad got a say in the whole “yes, I want a kid too” conversation? Those coworkers are gross.

        3. Live and Learn*

          Good for your husband for continuing to dig to get what he was entitled to rightfully! My husband was granted 16 weeks (in America!!!) of fully paid paternity leave (I got half that as the birthing parent at a different company) and he loved it. I was so offended on his behalf when people would stare at me in disbelief when I returned to work and they found out he was happily at home with our son, feeding him, changing diapers and playing with him. He knows how lucky he is to have gotten generous paternity leave to care for and bond with our son.

      3. bonkerballs*

        I used to work for an organization that didn’t offer paid parental leave, but let women use any banked up sick or vacation time to cover as much of their maternity leave time as possible. Men, however, we only allowed to use their vacation to cover paternity leave. We were too small of an organization to be covered under FMLA, and we were a preschool so everyone was making really low wages and had fairly small vacation/sick allotments, so I thought this policy was pretty gross. We had a couple that worked there who had a baby and they were really concerned about the amount of time they needed/wanted to take off that would be unpaid since he had tons of banked sick time but almost no vacation. Thankfully, we also had a culture of people donating sick/vacation days to other staff members who needed it, so since I was in charge of payroll and sick/vacation accruals, I just donated all of his sick time to her and donated an equal amount of her banked vacation time back to him. Never told my boss about it (she would have been pissed that I’d found a workaround of the policy), but by doing that I was able follow policy to the letter AND make sure the whole time he was out for paternity leave was paid.

        1. Mary*

          >> since I was in charge of payroll and sick/vacation accruals, I just donated all of his sick time to her and donated an equal amount of her banked vacation time back to him

          Evil genius skills used for good. Well done!

    8. Avalanche Lake*

      Just last week I told a friend, a partner at a law firm, that he should take paternity leave (his wife is due in December) because it would send a message to associates that the firm would support that, for retention purposes. (Since law firm partners aren’t employees–but associates are–associates would be covered by the official paternity leave policy, but partners would not be. Any time they take would be at their own election.)

    9. Chinook*

      “I actually would tell a high-up man to consider taking the maximum paternity leave, because one of the responsibilities of higher-ups is to set company culture”

      I have seen VPs and other higher-ups make a point of maxing out vacation time and not coming in sick and then mention it to those below them that he expects them to do the same thing. They led by example in this manner and I could see them using parental leave the same way. So, OP, I agree with your mom that you should set the example of being comfortable in taking your full benefit, not because you are female but because you are management.

    10. Beckie*

      Absolutely — this is definitely an issue where I think men should consider how they can set an example for other men when deciding how much parental leave to take. If both genders are taking the maximum allotted time for leave, it helps normalize it for everyone. (And, it encourages the company to really make it part of the culture, and look on the bright side of needing coverage for employees on leave: opportunity to give other employees new duties, room for growth, etc.)

    11. Story Nurse*

      My male partner was livid at his male manager for only taking a week of parental leave because it set such a bad example. (When we had our baby, my partner took the maximum allowed leave plus banked vacation, which still wasn’t much.) He still occasionally talks about it years later as a reason he’s glad he’s no longer in that job and that work culture. Men do notice and care about these things, quite a lot.

    12. anon here*

      Did encourage my husband to take max FMLA for baby, and he really did — and did it as a new manager. I definitely think it set an example. He spaced it out over the full year.

    13. Media Monkey*

      I totally agree. I’m in the UK (and i know how some commenters feel about people pointing out the better maternity/ paternity benefits in other countries over the US – not my intention) and the law has recently changed to allow both parents to share parental leave as they want. the then-CEO of my company made a very big and visible deal about the fact that he was taking a long period of leave (as in constantly tweeting, interviewed in trade press, emails sent internally) and for me, although I am not a man or planning to have another baby, it made me think that the company really cares and is progressive about working parents. so it had benefits outside of the people directly affected.

    14. Van Wilder*

      At my company, we get 16 weeks paid parental leave. At the management level, we think it’s important for both men and women to take the maximum allowed time to set an example. Note: the men taking the maximum parental leave actually makes the workplace fairer to women, because they’re not being penalized for having a uterus.
      All that said, paid disability is not the same as paid and I wouldn’t take it just to set an example if I was not getting my full salary.

  2. Soz*

    I think what Alison says in the second half of her answer is key – it’s the message you give and show.

    For instance my current boss (the highest ranking person in the uk part of our company) comes in on his days off and weekends, but it’s very clear we should use all our leave and we are ever made to feel bad. (He makes jokes about himself not having a life/wife kicking him out). I don’t feel like I have to copy him to get ahead.

    Good luck OP. Being a woman in business is hard!

    1. Soz*

      Oh, but for the optics of it you do need to take some leave -especially the paid stuff otherwise you’re turning down free money and that’s weird!

    2. CM*

      +1. I also have a workaholic boss who makes it clear that that’s his choice, but not what he expects from us. He’s emphatic about saying that we don’t need to respond to emails when we’re out, and will make sure to schedule meetings and deadlines in a way that takes into account people’s schedules. If he emails something on a weekend, he’ll say, “On Monday, can you…” Having that message frequently reinforced helps a lot. If he didn’t do that, I would assume I needed to follow his lead and work all the time.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        +1 I’m in a small department – my boss just has me and one other direct report. BOTH my boss and the other report are workaholics! I do not feel pressured to do the same.

        I totally felt weird about it starting out!

        But my manager made a big point of emphasizing that they were not the company “norm,” I was not expected to be checking my email at all hours, and if there was anything she REALLY needed outside normal hours, she could and would call my cell phone.

      2. Triumphant Fox*

        YES! when I first started, I was used to an “always on call” mentality and my boss, who worked remotely in a very different time zone was like “seriously, I’m not emailing you for a response, please don’t pay attention to work in your off hours.” It took several times, from a few different people, for me to process that it’s enough for me to be a rockstar in my on hours – this job just isn’t the kind where I need to think about it at all when I’m not here. If he hadn’t said anything, though, I would have felt pressured (even though he wasn’t available until noon my time many days, so it’s not like he was a workaholic) to always respond.

      3. Lil Fidget*

        This is so hard though, because it’s LITERALLY “do what I say, not what I do.” He may say you don’t need to do these things, but if I aspire to become a senior leader like he is, I would still feel like I should be following suit. In my office there’s a sense that “the little people” shouldn’t need to work long hours, but that is what it takes to get ahead – which is demonstrated by the senior leaderships fanaticism. It sends mixed signals.

    3. Anonymous Ampersand*

      Our director has said that he’s set himself an objective to ensure his wife is not annoyed with him for working too much. Don’t know if he’s entirely serious (how would you measure that? Would the chief executive have to call his wife?!), but I appreciate him saying it.

      1. Chinook*

        “Don’t know if he’s entirely serious (how would you measure that? Would the chief executive have to call his wife?!), but I appreciate him saying it.”

        I think it surrounds having open communication and the wife having the right to tell him when to work less. It is an unusual concept, but I know that the bishop back home
        told the wives of the (volunteer) deacons that they not had the right to tell their husbands when they were spending too much time on church stuff and to give him (the bishop) a call if the husbands weren’t willing to cut back their hours.

        1. Anonymous Ampersand*

          Wow, that’s impressive! Maybe she has the chief exec’s email address for this reason :)

  3. Anon to me*

    One of my questions would be is what are other women regularly doing in regards to maternity leave? If it’s common place for women to take the maximum amount then I don’t think it matters how much the OP takes. However, if my boss or senior level executive took a short leave, and I didn’t see other women taking the max, then I’d assume that short leaves were all that were culturally acceptable in the organization.

    The same would be true for men and paternity leave.

    1. AMPG*

      This is a good point. It’s slightly less important to set an example if there are lots of other good examples out there already. The only concern is that it might be worthwhile for her to emphasize the available flexibility to her own team, since in large companies it’s easy for managers to cultivate a team culture that’s at odds with the rest of the organization.

  4. LBK*

    Yeah, I agree with Alison’s advice – do what’s right for you and, when announcing your leave, make it clear that *that’s* the example you’re setting. If you really want to argue that you need to set the best example, purposely taking the max leave could also put pressure on other women who do want to come back to work sooner but feel like they need to stay out so that they aren’t judged as being a bad mother (there was a comment on a recent letter to this effect, I believe on the one about pumping in the office).

    Frankly, our culture is such that people who want to judge a woman for her maternal choices are always going to find some way to do it. I think making it clear that doing what’s right for each individual woman is the priority here, and you can certain insert information about what the policies are in your announcement if you think education is the critical piece of letting other women know what they can take if they choose to.

    1. Tardigrade*

      Fully agree with everything in this comment, but especially about how the example you set for others can be doing what’s best for you in your circumstance.

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    I get where you are coming from. You should do what is right for you, your family, your baby and your career. Full stop.

    At the same time, if your company doesn’t have a history of treating employees well, especially women, then it might be worth considering. I’m not saying do it but given your level of influence, consider it. If you don’t take the full leave then absolutely be up front about your plans like Alison suggested.

    Especially if you don’t go the full time, make sure you go radio silent while on leave. I think that’s probably something that people see even more than how long you take leave. If you were my boss and I knew you were on MAT leave but still answering emails, I’d wonder if that was expected of me on leave as well.

    I was due on Dec 11th-ish but went out the Monday before Thanksgiving. I took two weeks (or so) of vacation time and then MAT leave for 12 weeks and then asked for another week. I’d spent a full week in the hospital with an infection and was very, very sick. Plus, I’d banked leave like some kind of hibernating animal and had it. I was completely off email the entire time.

    As an alternative, if you don’t want to take the full leave consider going out early. I think many women feel compelled to work right up until the water breaks. There are lots of ways to set a good example in this kind of situation. Do what’s right for you first.

    1. Specialk9*

      As an FYI, I was told by HR that I was decidedly not allowed to do any work while on maternity leave, that it was a violation and could get us all in big trouble.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yeah. But I think we can all think of people who have done just that. I’m not supposed to work on a furlough day but I know it happens.

  6. Susan Sto Helit*

    The best thing to do is always to do what’s right for you – and then follow up on that to make sure you’re not judging people for doing what’s right for them.

    By which I mean you shouldn’t feel pressured into taking more or less maternity leave than you want to take, but you should never use that as a stick to beat someone else either. As long as the words “Well when I had MY baby I took xx maternity leave” never come out of your mouth, you’re fine whatever you decide.

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      Exactly. We all read the letter a couple of weeks ago from the manager who was upset her employee didn’t appreciate all the Mat leave perks she had secured.

  7. Naptime Enthusiast*

    I think the fairly high level makes it very different. If you were a manager with one level of reports, then yes I would think you’d be setting a good example. However, as a higher level executive, you sometimes have to come back early from vacation or work weekends or give up your “you” time in other ways, because that is the nature of the position for both men and women. Of course if you were medically incapable of returning to work early that is a different story, but taking it on principle is less likely to help employees and more likely to hurt you in the long term.

    One of our high level execs just had her first child, but I could honestly not tell you how much maternity time she took off, so if she took the entire allotted time on principle then I would have no idea. A manager in our department, however, took her fully allotted time for both pregnancies, and I think most people in the area noticed and commented positively on it.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Of course, it is your time to do what is best for you and your family, and nobody should tell you to come back early if you are not ready to do so, or stay out longer to prove a point for other employees.

  8. PM*

    I’m a senior director at my tech company, but I was done having kids before I started here (my youngest was 2 when I started). I took 10-11 weeks of maternity leave both times and was going slightly nuts by the end of it.

    Whenever a man talks about his family expecting a child, I make a point of asking him about paternity leave plans and encouraging him to take as much time off as he can. Lots of men, especially first-time fathers, don’t get enough encouragement in this area. I sometimes use “I was out for ten weeks and everyone survived” to encourage them to take 4-6 weeks off.

    We’ve had way fewer women having babies (because tech demographics) but in those conversations I aim to be super supportive around taking the time you need and also returning to work confidently and being able to balance things and make it work.

    Everyone’s family situation is different and the best thing you can do as a leader is be open about how you benefit from flexibility and encourage everyone else to do what works for them.

    1. J.B.*

      Yes, please do this OP. Also, is your husband planning on taking any leave? If you’re comfortable talking with your employees about your decision and why, that would be a good thing to emphasize, and encourage them to take care of their own lives generally.

      I also wonder if there’s any opportunity to stretch some of your employees a bit. Are there responsibilities you could legitimately pass around that they would benefit from learning?

    2. motosubatsu*

      I’ll second what J.B. said – good on you PM!

      I’m in the UK (which I appreciate is a whole different maternity/paternity kettle of fish from the US) and while I’ve seen nothing but encouragement for female colleagues around taking as much leave as they need it’s a very different story for the men. Taking more than a couple of days is frowned upon and taking the full 2 weeks allowed by law is practically career suicide!

      1. Chinook*

        In Canada, the use of paternity leave was rare until recently because both parents were pulling out of the same 365 day pool (meaning any time they took off together equaled the child being that much younger when the leave ran out). They changed the law to give paternity leave that was use or lose it, which should help with the financial implications of taking that time off. Now we are just working on the cultural shift that allows for longer paternity leave to not be career suicide as well as the acceptance of men being staying at-home parents without strange looks and comments. I think that can only come with those in higher power and/or in the public eye taking the paternity leave even if they are not keen on it at first (so they can set the public example).

        Heck, there was nothing but praise for a couple of NHL players who missed a game or two when their wive’s gave birth. Considering that, in the past, they would have stayed on the road and played instead of flying home, that is a huge cultural shift in itself.

        1. Chinook*

          I just googled to see if I could name the players but can’t find them and it turns out some reporters look down on pro-athletes who do this but, frankly, that doesn’t stop the athletes, even though it can cost them money.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            I’m all for people doing what works for them but I always find it a little sad when watching NFL or MLB and the announcers say how dedicated or special it is that so and so player is here today playing instead of at home with wife/new baby; parent/deceased parent; major family illness; accident etc.

            1. Nox*

              Daniel Murphy when he was on the Mets was DESTROYED in ny sports news for taking paternity leave during opening week.

              I love baseball but I wish these sports writers would get this level of angry for important shit like domestic violence .

              1. mugsy523*

                I remember that. Like there’s not 161 other games for him to participate in for the rest of the season. Fortunately the noise was mostly all from Mike Francesca, who is a loudmouth radio host who worked the day his wife birthed twins and thinks that’s the norm. Great guy. From what I remember, many others in the media were appalled by Francesca’s comments. (It’s all for the ratings!)

        2. curly sue*

          My brother’s wife just had a baby (Canada), and they took six weeks off together, then he’s going back to work. She’ll be off for the next four (five?) months, then she goes back and he’ll take the last six months. He’s a higher-level manager and I do think part of their choice is pushing the notion that the split leave options are viable. He’s not the first man at his office to take paternity leave, but it’s definitely not common enough yet.

          We did the same when our kids were born, but my partner’s in a short-term contract based industry and just timed his contracts to have a five-month chunk off in between. He didn’t get much flack at all, but that may be an industry difference.

      2. Media Monkey*

        wow – really? What industry are you in? I have never heard of anyone’s maternity or paternity leave being commented on negatively and I’m in the UK too!

        1. motosubatsu*

          I’m in IT so have worked in various industries, I appreciate that my sample size is rather small (I’ve seen this sort of attitude in 4 out of 7 companies so far) so it may not be representative of the country as a whole.

  9. Jessie the First (or second)*

    It is so, so, so (so!) painfully common for the benefits a company offers to its employees to be not the benefits it wants its employees to take, at least when it comes to PTO and leave, and so sure, only take the leave you want. But please just be very aware of your messaging and even more important, the actual practice of your company.
    Really do emphasize – and in practice, actually approve and support – longer leave times for your employees.

    I worked at a place that offered 16 weeks of paid parental leave, and they said All the Right Things about how people can take it all. But those of us who took the firm at its word found that – surprise! – we were the ones whose bonuses were smaller at the end of the year. (It was a law firm and we attorneys had hourly billing goals; when we went on leave, rather than pro-rate our annual hours target, the firm gave us credit for 40 hours per week while on leave – except that normally, when not on leave we all worked well over 40 hours a week. So people on leave would end up with lower year-end hours and therefore lower year-end bonuses unless they went *all out* and billed hours like crazy after.)

    So no, don’t take more time than you want just to make a statement. But please, be very aware that you promote the available leave, and then *don’t punish* people who take it.

    1. Academic Addie*

      I agree. I am gearing up for leave now, and I’ve been very honest with my reports about what I’m taking, and why. But in my field, it’s also more common for women to have tenure denials, then it is for men. And there are studies that show that men often use their leave for productivity (which boosts tenure odds), while women need to sew our bodies back together and recooperate.

      Take whatever time you want and need. But keep your eyes open – this is a learning experience for you to see how difficult these transitional periods can be for your employees.

  10. Genny*

    LW, this is one action among many that you take as a boss that demonstrates your and your company’s priorities. If all your actions show that you care about work/life balance (i.e. not nickel and diming leave, protecting off-hours, being flexible where you can, etc.), then your staff will feel comfortable taking longer maternity leave even if you don’t. If your actions don’t show you care about work/life balance, then it doesn’t matter how long your maternity leave is, your staff will feel like different rules apply to them.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, my favorite thing about my boss is that he’s usually out the door by five or five thirty. I know he emails off the clock, but if he stayed late I would feel like I needed to do so too, even if he told me otherwise.

      1. Empty Sky*

        My first project manager (senior member of a two-person team of which I was the other) was something of a workaholic and would routinely stay late every day. It took the best part of a year for me to be comfortable leaving work earlier than he did, and even longer to accept that he wasn’t going to hold it against me. This was in spite of my actual manager consistently encouraging me to do so every time I brought it up.

        He eventually cut his own hours back to match, which I later realized was a relief to my employer (he was detail-oriented to the point of excess, so he had been using the extra hours to spend more time than was necessary on project tasks and blowing the budget as a result).

    2. Person of Interest*

      I came to say the same thing. Think of your maternity leave as one piece of your overall health and work/life balance benefits. If you are consistently demonstrating to your employees that their benefits are “real” you don’t need to make a special case of your maternity leave. Consider your employees who will never need the maternity leave – you want them to feel just as comfortable maximizing their available benefits.

  11. Tertia*

    I think there’s a certain amount of sense to taking the full leave on the grounds that doing so will normalize it in the minds of corporate leadership. But your mom’s suggestion that it’s your “duty to set a positive example for the women under [you]” is condescending and maternalistic to the point of being insulting. Yeesh. If the subject comes up again, I hope you’ll be able to convey that your actual duty to your female employees is to facilitate smooth implementation of the decisions that they make for themselves.

  12. Hal*

    “Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men? It’s only women — already dealing with sexism in all its manifestations — who are told they also have this additional burden of setting an example for other women. It’s exhausting.”

    5 Reasons Dads Should Take Paternity Leave (

    The Google search for men should take paternity leave has almost 775k hits, and plenty make the case that an individual should take paternity leave for concerns beyond his own personal preferences.

    1. Katniss*

      None of the reasons in that article are “because you’ll set a good example for other men”.

      1. Hal*

        This one does: “Paternity leave is also not another millennial excuse not to work. Prior to my leave, I was the top-billing associate in my law firm. This is about redefining societal norms and gender roles, not millennial apathy.”

        And so do plenty of others.

        Sorry, there’s plenty of stuff on the internet telling men what to do about this. Alison opened with a pointlessly broad statement here that doesn’t help anything.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s a difference between “some articles on the internet suggest this in one very specific context for men” and “women are constantly bombarded by messages about their obligations to other women in dozens of different contexts.”

          1. LBK*

            The most common example I can think of is people who insist that women just need to stick it out in STEM in order to make it better for the women after them. It’s put on women to fight the sexism themselves rather than on men to stop being sexist (and/or hold their fellow men accountable for their sexism).

            1. Lara*

              Yep. A female comedian was discussing the other day that she’d been told “if you can make it as a stand up in LA, you can handle anything!” But that eventually she was just like, eh, my career’s taking off elsewhere, i’ll skip the sexual harassment and verbal abuse thanks.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              So true. My company implemented some parental leave changes this year. These changes were one outcome of a grassroots effort some of my female colleagues and I started, which corporate HR later got involved with and were able to push through to get the result.

              I’m not even talking about facing sexism, but just getting some policies in place that make the STEM field a little more manageable for us (not “us” literally because our uteruses are retired, but future women). The women involved have worked in STEM for 20-30 years each, so we have spent our careers going with the flow and blending in with the men, but now we have decided we want to make the change, and we had to fight this fight, on top of our normal jobs. Men don’t have to do that. It IS exhausting. Why not just go work for some 50/50 demographic type industry where I could have probably been more successful anyway?

              1. Chinook*

                “but now we have decided we want to make the change, and we had to fight this fight, on top of our normal jobs. Men don’t have to do that. It IS exhausting.”

                As someone who is only part way through her career, let me thank your cohort for doing this and acknowledge that you are the ones who can because you have built up the political capital and positions that can only come from 20-30 years in a field. New people or even those with 10-15 years experience just don’t have ability to be heard on these issues because we don’t have voices in the higher echelon yet. You also have the experience to back up your words by saying that X doesn’t work because of this reason but Y would be a good compromise for that reason because you have seen, in hindsight, what worked and what didn’t.

                I acknowledge that it is frustrating to keep having to fight, but sometimes it is only those at the top that can knock down those last few barriers.

            3. Anon for this thought*

              I have had multiple disagreement with a friend who think all women should work no matter what. Her basic thought is that even if a woman prefers staying home with their kids and are willing to make the sacrifices if necessary (no cable, one or no car, etc.) this makes them A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING. They SHOULD be working to pave the way for other women that they should be working and not playing house.

              I might be a horrible feminist, but I believe that everyone (male or female) should have a choice in what they do – stay home, work, volunteer, some combination of the above… And I feel like people who make them feel bad about making a choice based on their needs and the needs of their family instead of the needs of all women everywhere just adds to the problem, it doesn’t help it.

              1. Specialk9*

                If you’re using hyperbole, that’s not really fair to your friend. If your friend truly think like that, without hyperbole, why are you friends with her? !

                1. Anon for this thought*

                  Well, unfortunately I’m not using hyperbole. She really dislikes women who chose to stay home: they don’t care about their duty to society or their fellow woman, they are the “kind of people who will always hold other women back”, they don’t understand how their actions affect others…….those are the ones that stick out most to me if you’d like specific examples.

                  TBH, I don’t know why I am still friends with her. Probably because we have known each other for a very long time and outside of this subject we can have civil conversations and I care about her on a core level, even if if she seems ridiculously misguided here (to me).

              2. Penny Lane*

                Well, to some extent that’s silly though – unless you are independently wealthy, both partners can’t just “choose to stay home.”

          2. Hal*

            Then don’t use a word like “never” to dismiss what is clearly a widespread line of argument: that men should take paternity leave if only to normalize the practice for other men (and to help diminish sanctions against maternity leave).

            1. Katniss*

              Or you could choose to understand the point a woman is making instead of feeling the need to pedantically correct her on her own experience.

              1. Hal*

                I understand the point fine. But part of it is just not true: men are clearly encouraged by some to take paternity leave for concerns beyond their own individual motivations.

                And a broad claim about what men and women are expected to do isn’t reflective of any single person’s experience.

                1. Just Sarah*

                  This line of response is beginning to smack of “not all men.” A point can be made without invalidating an unrelated point, i.e. This isn’t about paternity leave in general, so let’s allow the validity of women feeling forces to set an example stand on its own.

            2. Observer*

              It’s also not true that it’s all that widespread that men are expected to be an example for all men. You have managed to find ONE example where men are being encouraged to do something as an example – and despite your google search, even that is not as widespread as you would have us believe.

              For the purposes of this discussion, “never” doesn’t come close to being hyperbole.

          3. Us, Too*

            FWIW, I think in some fields this may be (very) gradually shifting. I work for a very large tech company on the west coast and our (male) executives openly talk about taking paternity leave because they want to make it clear that they think it’s important for all employees to take advantage of fully and that the organization needs to be able to function without them for a few months or they have failed in setting up appropriate leadership backups. It’s SUPER common here for dads in the executive team to take paternity leave – some up front, some later, all up front, all later, depending on their preferences. In fact, when one takes less than the maximum, it’s a significant topic of discussion because we explicitly talk about how it can serve as a way to affirm that people need to work too much.

            1. Us, Too*

              I should also point out that diversity is a HUGE issue in my company – trying to achieve it that is – and this is one of the reasons for this type of behavior. (So we may put more emphasis on this than the average company)

            2. Grapey*

              +1. Also in a techish environment where almost all of the dads take enthusiastic extended leave and almost all of the women are either older and done raising very young children or are “child bearing age” and are openly uninterested in having kids.

              It’s quite a flipped demographic for a business than I was expecting when I was in college.

          4. Tammy*

            I recently encountered a rather nice phrase for this kind of behavior: “forced ambassadorship”. Essentially, this is where a member of a marginalized group is given the expectation that they alter their behavior in order to “represent” or “give a good impression of” the marginalized group rather than because they’re making the right choice for them. As an autistic transgender woman, I’ve experienced this in my own life and career, and it’s very exhausting and othering. For example, when I transitioned years ago, I was counseled by a more senior coworker that I should refrain from pushing back against sexist and misogynistic behavior from coworkers because “you want to give people a good impression of how transgender people are.”

            I feel like the advice that OP received falls into that category, and it’s problematic for the same reason. The OP should make the right choices for themself and their family, without being forced to be an “ambassador” for pregnant people in the organization.

            1. curly sue*

              Ugh, yes. I’ve been “the Jewish Answer Girl” and “I Don’t Speak For All Bisexuals” too many times, in too many contexts. I like the ‘forced ambassadorship’ phrase; I may borrow that for future use.

            2. Specialk9*

              That is a great term for a corrosive thought pattern.

              A coworker transitioned, and my only thought was worry about how she was being treated, and to try to help her be supported.

              I can’t imagine worrying more about the cis people being trans’ed at (/s), instead of the hugely disadvantaged person transitioning. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

        2. Katniss*

          You seem to have taken that broad (and true) statement personally for some reason. The fact is, men do not face the same pressure to be “good examples” in all their actions as women do. Women are expected to both bear the burden of living in a patriarchal society and of fixing it. Men do not face that same expectation in every personal decision they make.

          1. Hal*

            I didn’t say that men did.

            And of course women don’t face the same expectation in every one of their personal decisions either.

            1. LBK*

              I actually do think women face that expectation with pretty much any publicly visible decision. And that concern is often borne out, especially with social media being the way it is these days in terms of how one example can easily be made viral by bad faith actors with large platforms and positioned as a microcosm of the gender as a whole.

              1. Jules the Third*


                Children or not; breastfeeding or not; Not enough clothes; Too many clothes (headscarves); Tight clothes; Short hair (yes, really, I get that still); Driving; Eating too much; Eating too little; Drinking alcohol; Smiling/not smiling… pretty much every public-facing action, yep.

                About the only thing that men get the same level of judgement on are smoking and driving while drunk, things that actually cause harm. My non-smile and short hair don’t hurt anyone.

            2. Specialk9*

              Of course women DO face the same expectation in every one of their personal decisions.

          2. LBK*

            FWIW I do think this is more applicable for straight men – there is definitely pressure in the gay community to present a palatable public appearance so that you don’t make gay men “look bad” to the straight world. It was especially heavy when the HRC was really ramping up their marriage equality push, which was obviously an admirable goal and one that worked out in the end, but it was still frustrating to have an ostensible leader in the pro-gay rights movement pushing heteronormative standards.

            1. Delphine*

              I’d amend the point overall to mean in terms of gender, men are not expected to be good examples for other men, while women are forced to deal with the burden of their actions being representative of their gender. Because men in all minority groups certainly have a similar burden.

  13. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Of course everyone should do what is right for them and their families.

    However. I do think managers, in general, have a responsibility to model healthy relationships to work. It is incredibly hard for employees to push the boundaries beyond with their bosses do. So I would absolutely consider the value in taking additional time off, as an act of leadership.

    And while this is absolutely gendered, I actually think it’s even more important for male managers to take as much as time as possible when they have new babies — that not only sets the stage for new parents of all genders that report to them, but also helps change the societal culture that makes all of this more difficult for women in the first place.

    1. Double A*

      I mostly agree with this comment, but I disagree that women taking maternity leave sets the example for all employees. Considering that men have received messages their whole lives that girl stuff=weak/bad/icky/undesireable, women’s actions (especially around something so inherently female as giving birth) are unlikely to set examples for male culture much at all.

      It really is on men to set examples regarding things like parental leave for both genders, and I think there’s starting to be a tiny whisper of a conversation around that starting up in some corners of society.

  14. MLB*

    I agree with most of what Alison recommended. Definitely make the decision on how much to take based on what’s best for you and your family. And make the effort to “encourage people to take time away from work, that you protect their off-hours time from work interruptions as best as you can, and that you don’t nickel and dime people on leave.” But I don’t think it’s necessary to tell your team about CA law and the company’s support of it. To me, that should be encouraged as needed, and a reminder when the time comes as others need to take the time.

    1. Triplestep*

      I interpreted Alison’s advice to mean that bringing up California law would be a generic way to encourage people to avail themselves of the leave they are afforded. I agree that more “general encouragement” rather than “specific encouragement” is what’s called for here.

      Similarly, a side note to the LW and to anyone else who manages people, please make sure when you encourage people to use their time off you do it in a way that acknowledges a.) the value of their work and b.) that they are adults who can make decisions about how to use their time. I cannot stand when I’m spontaneously told to “knock off early” before a long weekend, or asked “why are you still here?” if I’ve stayed late on a regular work day. “Don’t stay too late” is a favorite of my current boss (but that’s because I get in before she does and she can’t stand leaving before I do when it happens now and then. She’s petty though, so probably not a great example.)

      I’m a grown woman, and a Project Manager so others might be waiting for information from me. I think I can decide when I’m done with a task, or when it’s something I can pick up the next day, or when to knock off early, thank you very much. This is why I like Alison’s advice to speak in general terms; what I describe above always seems more like the manager saying “look at how nice I am!”

      1. CMart*

        The messaging around these things can certainly be tricky. Parental leave policies and work/life balance were high on my priority list while last job seeking (8 months pregnant with who I hoped would be my first of several kids), and one of the red flags was watered down, strictly “legal” language.

        Leagally you are entitled to 12 weeks of FMLA and the company provides 6-8 weeks of short term disability depending on birth circumstances” and that being all that was said was seemingly always an indication that practically you were looked down upon for taking those full 12 weeks, once I was able to chit chat with actual employees about things. But more detailed language about being encouraged to take X time or anecdotes about how Becky in Accounting came back 10 weeks after having twins and how crazy that was etc… gave a much friendlier picture of the actual culture surrounding parental leave.

  15. Future Homesteader*

    OP, as a more junior woman who is on her way to taking maternity leave, I agree with Alison wholeheartedly. You do what’s best for you and your family! I think it’s wise to consider ramifications, but ultimately, the bottom line for women (and all people trying to balance having a life with work, parents or not) is that each person needs to decide for herself what’s best.

    As a manager, you have a chance to make a really big impact with your reports. My boss took her maternity leave long before I was with the school, but her unwavering support and insistence that I do what’s best for me and the office will find a way to survive makes me absolutely sure that I am welcome to take my (shocking for the midwest) paid leave, and that when I come back they’ll work with me to make it as easy as possible to be a new mom who works. And in turn, I feel that much more committed to my job. It really is win-win!

    1. Nita*

      Yeah. Leading by example is great, but I can’t really imagine anyone being pressured into taking more leave than is right for them just to be an example. There are many other ways to lead. The senior VPs in my office have never taken parental leave to my knowledge, either because their kids were grown before they even came here, or because they don’t have kids. Well, no one else here feels pressure to be in the office every single day. It’s well known that others who have needed leave, have taken it and were encouraged to do that by management. It’s well known that management has gone out of their way to help those who get sick and need to work from home, or need to rearrange their schedule for whatever reason, or are getting hit really hard by weird hours that sometimes come with the job.

      Of course, if things are different at OP’s company and leave is quietly discouraged, the picture does look different. But it’s hard to tell from the letter if the company is doing OK in that regard, or has a toxic culture that needs shaking up.

  16. Isobel*

    What a smart answer.

    As always, of course, but this question is so layered and tricky and you cut to the heart of it.

  17. animaniactoo*

    Personally, I would straddle the fence. Take generously more than the minimum allowed amount, but don’t max yourself out.

    And then you put around a strong message that “This is what worked for me and the arrangements I’ve been able to make, and I wanted to leave myself some wiggle room for whatever time I might need for the rest of the year.”

    I would do that because despite what Alison says about making sure to enforce the message about what California laws make available, there is a real culture of “do as I do, not as I say” when it comes to expectations in many companies with real or imagined subtext and implicit disapproval if you do as said. Demonstration goes a lot further than words for Monkey See Monkey Do.

    So, I wouldn’t box yourself into taking the max. Because if that’s really not what you want, you shouldn’t do that. And on the flip side, it would be good to not box people into any kind of disapproval over *not* taking the max allowed. But don’t take the minimum or just barely over it. Take a good chunk of extra and be seen to do so – hopefully without repercussions within the company, because THAT is really where it will matter to have been seen to do it and that it is possible.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I admit that personally I would likely plan to take all the paid leave, rather than leaving any on the table out of dedication to the job. I wouldn’t feel obligated to take any leave unpaid though, and certainly not as an example to others.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, I’m thinking about applying *some* of the banked PTO – maybe a week if that leaves 1-2 weeks still available.

        1. Jules the Third*

          A lot of that depends on the ‘sick child care’ plan… If the child’s going to a multi-child care situation, then OP is going to need that banked PTO, even if OP splits sick child care with OP’s partner.

          Increased immune response is good later in life and all, but it’s rough the first year, and the first two weeks after every break.

      2. Safetykats*

        I’m going to point out again – although I said it above – that the state leave (in California and in Washington where I live) is paid as disability, and so is only partial pay. It looks like CA is 55% of salary; WA is a sliding scale but would work out to about 65% of salary for me. Whether your disability pay is taxed depends entirely on whether you pay for your disability insurance with pre or post tax money, so that’s important too. The whole thing is important because whether or not you can reasonably take the extra time (if not a medical necessity) depends entirely on whether the income hit is something you can live with. I’ve had staff assume that the state guaranteed leave came at full salary, which meant in the end that they weren’t able to take it. I see us talking about taking the maximum leave on some kind of principle, but it’s important to recognize that there may be very real financial reasons people are not able to do that.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          That is a good point. I guess I’m just saying I wouldn’t decide up front to skip any leave that was fully paid (in my office, that’s your sick leave balance and 12 weeks – after that we get into the partial paid stuff). It’s part of your compensation just like vacation time in my mind.

      3. CMart*

        It certainly depends on what the paid leave situation is I think. In OP’s shoes (~16w paid between ST disability and paid family leave) I think that’s likely enough to not need to feel angst about not using up PTO for additional time off. I probably would keep my PTO for unforeseen things that pop up later.

        In my very personal actual shoes (will be having my second later this year) I’ll have 6 weeks paid through ST disability and… well, I’ll probably use my accrued PTO because it’ll be at the end of the year and it’s use it or lose it. And then I’ll take a month off unpaid because from experience, 8 weeks is too little. If my husband was able to take time off to keep taking care of the new baby then sure, I’d go back. But not with both of us out full time. Not since we’re fortunate enough to be able to handle a month unpaid.

  18. EddieSherbert*

    I have a friend who moved pretty quickly into the upper ranks at her company at a young age – the company allow 12 weeks maternity leave but she only took 6 weeks for both her kids. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad and she goes stir-crazy kind of quickly if she feels stuck in the house. I know she made a point of mentioning several times at work both before and after her maternity leave that she was able to return so quickly because her spouse is able to take more time at home with the kids, and she thinks that helped with her staff.

    She also really focuses on a case-by-case basis when people have needed parental leave and encourages individuals to take their time off (she tries to do a lot of presenting it as “this is a great opportunity for so-and-so to learn X to cover if needed/add to their resume/for continuous improvement! etc.)

    1. Em Too*

      Yes, if you are comfortable sharing at least one reason, that presentation of ‘I’m taking less because of x’ can be really powerful in suggesting you see a shorter leave as a personal choice, not a default.

    2. Specialk9*

      I have two guy friends who are primary caregivers to their kids to give their wives career flexibility. (Both are pretty traditionally dudely-dude boxers/hunters/farmers and politically conservative, which is a good reminder to me not to lean too hard into stereotypes.) I’m glad these options are opening up for men and women and everyone in between to make choices that fit them and their situation best.

  19. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Heartily agree with AAM!

    Just a random thought I had when reading about Mom’s suggestion: Read between the lines. Mom might actually want the OP to take a longer maternity leave because that’s what Mom prefers to see for her daughter and grandbaby’s well-being, not because of the stated reason of being a good female role model. Moms can be very clever in their arguments. ;o)

    1. Chinook*

      Yes and no. It could also be Mom having experienced a world where she had management who didn’t allow people to take maternity leave (which did hamper he well-being, so OP should take advantage of something Mom never had available) or had one of the bad bosses mentioned who would say they didn’t need X amount of time, so why should you.

    2. OP*

      OP here. I don’t think that’s it. My mom is an Old Guarde Feminist, and she really, really wants me to be the best woman I can be as far as the uplifting of other women and etc. I am one of five kids, and the third to have children, (this isn’t a first grandchild situation either). My mom was a midlevel corporate employee before she retired, and I think that her experience as a mom of 5 in the working world in the 80s colors her opinions on this stuff pretty significantly.
      To answer some other questions my husband would probably drop to part time and stay home with the baby more after I return from leave; we are still working out specifics.

      1. Specialk9*

        Oh gosh yes working women in that age went through the wringer! I get frustrated by where we are now, but it’s so much better than it was.

  20. Jules the Third*

    “It had never occurred to me that I would be watched in this way”

    And now you know – you are watched in that way. Ideally, it would be because you’re an exec, but in reality, it’s still mostly because you’re a woman. Not only will they be watching what you do, but they will also be watching how you’re treated for doing it – do your peers grumble at your unavailability? Is it a Big Deal that you’re out?

    So, yes, you need to do what’s best for you, your family, your career (I was bored stiff at 6 weeks, tbh), but this scrutiny should be a factor in that – because it is part of your career.

    Tactical comment: I don’t recommend taking banked PTO – there’s every chance you’ll need that. Save it for a morning / day off after kiddo’s earache, or to take a regular weekday off for a few months. Flexibility is a huge plus when parenting, and even if you and your partner take turns staying home with a sick kid, you’ll still be using 1.5 – 2x as many sick days as you have in the past.

    Congratulations on all of it – career and family!

  21. Trout 'Waver*

    There’s two sides to this one. Women are expected to shoulder the burden of setting an example for other women in ways that men aren’t. That’s a very real thing, but I think it’s a false flag on this particular case.

    Managers of either/any gender have the burden of setting an example for their team members when it comes to usage of benefits. I’m not going to get into the sexist and/or gendered ways people view maternity and paternity leave. But any time there is a benefit that the managers don’t use, some lower level employees will feel weird or awkward about using that benefit. You see it all the time with sick leave, vacations, and perks like a gym or free coffee.

    1. Lara*

      I don’t think it’s a false flag at all. Reproductive decisions are so personal and it’s intensely irritating that OP is being expected to consider sacrificing her financial and emotional wellbeing on the altar of other people’s perceptions.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Yeah, but the expectations are coming from her mother, not from anyone inside the company.

    2. CM*

      Both are true in this case.

      Managers and executives set examples for their reports through their actions.

      Women, and members of other groups who are not well-represented at high levels, look for examples of people who are like them and have succeeded, so they can get an idea of what it takes for them to succeed.

      I’m assuming the OP’s workplace doesn’t have lots of women are at high levels. If there are plenty of women execs, the OP’s maternity leave doesn’t matter. It’s one example in a range of acceptable choices. On the other hand, if it’s not that common for women to get to her level in her organization, her choices will definitely be noted and the women who work under her will assume they need to do something similar.

      I agree, it’s not fair to the OP. But it happens, and it’s understandable, so OP needs to be aware of that and act accordingly. She doesn’t necessarily need to change her personal choices, but she should certainly communicate to other people that she’ll support them in taking parental leave and that her choice doesn’t reflect on what’s considered acceptable at the company.

  22. MicroManagered*

    Don’t do something you wouldn’t/don’t want to do just to set an example for other women, but I *would* consider scheduling the maximum leave… You might feel like you don’t want the maximum now, but you might feel differently when the time comes. It seems like it’d be less of a burden to decide to return early from an already-scheduled maximum leave, than to extend it?

    1. Indie*

      I think this is important. LW may not know how much she needs until in the thick of it. She could leave with the parting message “I’m out for as long as I need, up to a maximum of x” and come back as early as she likes. That way she’s spreading the message “Do whatever your circumstances need; who knows what that is likely to be” and not modelling an inflexible example of “Copy exactly how much time I took for my circumstances”.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Oooooh I hadn’t even really thought about it that way! I meant it just for giving herself the option–but I think you’re right that doing it that way could even *be* the “example to other women” that it’s totally fine to use as much as they want (including like, if you don’t take the max, it doesn’t make you a less-interested mother or whatever nonsense people might cook up from that angle).

    2. Thlayli*

      I absolutely agree. This is what I clicked into the comments to say. Don’t take the max leave to set an example, take the max leave because you will most likely wish you did otherwise.

      It’s a lot easier and less hassle for others if you come back earlier than planned, than if you want to extend it later.

      Also, another good point someone mentioned above: if you can afford it, take your max leave and keep some of your banked PTO to use later in the year – you will probably need it. Also ask your spouse to take some time off when baby is young and to keep some of their bankrd PTO as well – so you can each have a turn minding sick baby.

      If you haven’t already decided on your childcare plan, decide that before you make your decision on the PTO. Some childcare providers will mind a sick kid; others won’t.

  23. B*

    This may not necessarily be relevant to the OP, but I think earlier generations of people who had to fight for access/representation/respect (in US workplaces) are more sensitive to the “example setting” pressure. My mom, when I was first working, would often push me to take off time for non-Christian religious holidays, so that the management would “see that it was important” to their staff, and remind them to think about who their workforce was. I think that the culture around workforce diversity and responsibility for it has changed, but it’s a useful frame for considering the different perspective.

    Would also love to know Alison’s take on this.

    1. Nox*

      I married a Jewish man and also make a point to take off on non Christian holidays for the reasons described above. Representation matters.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, I’m Jewish and I make a big deal about some of the more fun holidays, bringing in treats and such. It’s a good way to remind people that people they know (and hopefully like) are this religion that’s not the norm. Cheesecake as ambassadorship.

        1. Lissa*

          Not gonna lie, cheesecake as ambassadorship would totally work on me. :D (any kind of cake really. Or pie. I’m not picky.)

  24. martini*

    I definitely would encourage a man to take parental leave since I think that actually makes a much bigger difference in terms of companies viewing men and women as more equal ‘risks’ in terms of needing time off to care for families. It also makes a huge difference in terms of changing societal norms in a way that I think is best for all of us, including men who probably want to spend time with their children! (I hope)

    I think that executives should model taking some time off, since they set the tone for those who work under them. But I don’t think that mandates taking the maximum allowable leave, just taking some leave and showing that you can actually unplug when you need to.

    I think that expecting a woman to take unpaid leave in order to set an example is unreasonable. And I would agree that the situation for women around parental leave is very different from men. I think you can make just as much of a positive contribution to the culture by having your spouse take some parental leave when you’re transitioning back to work, by using pumping rooms and other accommodations for new mothers, and by having an actually balancing ‘work life balance’ when you get back to work, even if that means shorter hours for a period of time. And as an executive, supporting staff in the decisions that make the most sense for themselves and their families is a huge impact that you can have.

  25. Rookie Manager*

    I think Alison’s wider point is really important here. My director level manager said to me recently “I’m going to be abroad next week, I will not have my work phone, I will not check emails. If there is an urgent work problem do x, if there is a personal matter I will have my own mobile.” This makes me feel confident I can give my reports a similar message when I am on leave. Similarly, she will be going on her 2nd maternity leave later this year. I know that if I go down that route I can comfortably take off as much time as I want within the organisational limits because of her example.

  26. Sue Wilson*

    I mean, I think the best example is a lot of execs, regardless of gender, taking various and varying amounts of parent leave and everyone else being obviously supportive. Like, this “role modeling” is a lot more natural when there’s more people with different choices to model, because it becomes unnecessary to think about. That’s my plug for diversity!

    That said feel free to take the leave you want, and if you want to say something, talk about how glad you are the CA gives so much leave time, and how that’s good for the company too.

  27. Hiring Mgr*

    This might be a good occasion to debate parental leave policies in the US vs other countries–do you think there are major differences? /s

    1. Specialk9*

      Hahahaha ok that was well done. And thanks for the /s or people would have done just that!

  28. Evil HR Person*

    I’m sorry, Alison: I have to disagree. It’s a culture thing that starts at the top. EVERYBODY should exercise their right to parental leave (male, female, or otherwise) and set the (inside the business) cultural example. If she wants to take less leave than she’s allowed, then she can discuss that choice with her team in terms that explicitly say, and in no way imply, that anybody else would be held to a different standard. But, to lead by example and to establish a cultural norm in which everyone is welcome to use their parental leave in whatever way suits them best, then the LW’s mom is actually… very right! I’m not making it up, here’s a good article from the Harvard Business Review:

    1. Evil HR Person*

      Ha! I think I chomped at the bit a little. I think Alison and I are in agreement when it comes to culture…

      1. Lara*

        What if OP doesn’t want to stay at home with a newborn for six months? I’m really tired of the way women have to tie themselves in knots to please everyone else.

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          Right. I really didn’t do well cooped up with a newborn all day. Staying at home for 18 weeks to “set an example” would have been terrible, and also WAY beyond the call of duty to promote work/life balance by example or whatever.

  29. Perfectly Particular*

    I work at a BIG company that recently increased paid parental leave benefits. 17 weeks for a birth parent, 8 weeks for a non-birth parent. At my location, for Moms, generally this is viewed as something that was a long time coming, of course you’ll take the entire leave, don’t rush back to work, etc. We are midwestern, & there is still a bit of “moms should be home with their young children” vibe. For Dads though, I hear employees and managers saying how ridiculous it is to have 8 weeks, no wife would want her husband home that long anyway, and, most worryingly, that there could be career implications for any man who takes the whole 8 weeks. Lots of jokes about adopting a 17 year old kid once a year to get 2 months “vacation” too. Additionally, since the guys are not on disability, as women often are, they are not really getting time off. They are expected to answer emails, come in for key meetings, etc. In this type of situation, I think it is really important for ALL execs to take as much paid leave as they are allotted, and demonstrate how to do this responsibly (i.e. a number of weeks after the birth/adoption that you are completely out of touch, and then working part time either from home or in the office until you are ready to fully return).

    1. CM*

      I used to work at a big law firm and I remember hearing the senior partners scoffing about paternity leave and how your wife can get along just fine and will be happier without you around getting in her way. Then they would compare stories, “I was back at work the day after my child was born!” “I was back later the same day!” “I missed the birth of my child because I was closing a deal!” (<– SO MANY stories about men missing the actual BIRTH of their own child because of a client emergency)

      I can tell you, those comments did not make me feel like this was a place that shared my values or would allow me to have a life outside of work despite the firm's "family-friendly" reputation. They actually had no problem allowing me to take maternity leave for the maximum allowed time. They were very nice about it. But I could see what the people in power at the firm thought about taking time out for your family.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m curious how many of them are still married to the woman who they abandoned at home with a baby while they scuttled back to work.

  30. dddd*

    OP, to answer your question as to whether your subordinates are going to notice what leave you take and draw conclusions from it – absolutely yes. Because of that, even though you certainly don’t have to take a full leave, I think it’s more than reasonable to consider the example you set as part of your decision-making process. (Note, if there are other managers/senior people who are taking full advantage of your company’s/state’s maternity leave policy there is much less pressure on you to be a good example in this regard.)

    Just adding a specific example of how this sort of thing works out. I have a friend who was the first woman in her department to use maternity leave (either ever, or in memory of any non-manager working there) and she took significantly less than was allotted because she had no example of anyone taking maternity leave and was concerned there would be negative consequences for taking all of it. She really regrets that decision. Having someone actually taking full leave (and returning without consequences) is really important. Maybe that someone doesn’t need to be you, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

    1. Specialk9*

      Yeah, I researched how long to take by asking my friends and googling. I thought 12 weeks (half paid) would hurt my career. My male manager talked me into it, and thank heavens. (My Canadian coworkers were aghast at only 3 months, and I had to remind them that I was incredibly lucky to get that!) All to say, yes, people struggle with what is reasonable and won’t hurt their careers, especially if they don’t know yet firsthand how flipping hard babies are.

  31. VerySleepyNewMom*

    I’d also be upfront that you’re planning to do X but circumstances may change, so you’ll be out for something between (min weeks) and (maxweeks).

    My kiddo is 13 weeks and I’m just now getting back to work… and I would have loved to be back sooner. Childcare options meant that. I sorta knew I wouldn’t want a long leave when I was pregnant. When he was 6 weeks, I couldn’t imagine going back yet… but the time he was 8 or 9 I was ready. I am not cut out to be a SAHM and there’s nothing wrong with that. And my feelings have been different at different phases.

    However, I would have LOVED to be out at 36 weeks pregnant. The end of pregnancy sucked so hard.

    1. mf*

      “I’d also be upfront that you’re planning to do X but circumstances may change, so you’ll be out for something between (min weeks) and (maxweeks).”

      I like this approach a lot. It allows the OP to communicate to her reports that while she may not need to take the max amount of leave, she understands that the need for parental leave can vary a lot based the personal circumstances of the mother/father and that she supports her employees’ choice to take the amount of they leave that they need.

      1. VerySleepyNewMom*

        “the need for parental leave can vary a lot based the personal circumstances of the mother/father”

        And the baby. One woman I know burned through all of her maternity leave/PTO/FMLA before her due date when she was hospitalized at 27 weeks and then delivered at 30 weeks. She was ultimately fired for failing to return when the baby was still just like 6lbs (and much too fragile for daycare).

    2. Jules the Third*

      When they diagnosed the gestational diabetes, I was almost happy – it meant that this whole painful / nauseating ordeal was *almost over*. I love my kid, and he’s great and I’m glad I had him, but I went in thinking ‘1 or 2 kids’. I came out with ‘1 is plenty. Nope, don’t need more. Nope!’

    3. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, OP, I think planning flexibly is the best option here. You don’t have to take the minimum and get back in the saddle ASAP, but neither do you have to max out your leave strictly for the optics. But making it clear that you will be flexible with yourself (and, by implication, with your reports), you will be culture-setting at the top.

      Whatever your choice, your vocal support to those that report to you to do -whatever is best for their family- will make just as much of an impact as your actual decisions.

    4. ket*

      Fun fact: extending maternity leave (after birth) beyond 6 months has no impact on maternal or infant mortality. Adding in two weeks of pre-partum leave (immediately before the due date) has a statistically significant mortality benefit. Not something we think a lot about in the US!

  32. Goya de la Mancha*

    This doesn’t really apply I guess, but it’s the only situation I can think of as far as one’s actions being set as an example for those who follow and it happens quite frequently in my own company. It takes gender/maternity/etc debates out of the question and shows just how the actions of one really do impact others in the company or even those who may be hired later on.

    Bob and Larry are both hourly workers at the Widget company. They do the same type of work (widget tracking) but in different departments. Bob struggles to get his volume of work done in the scheduled work day. Larry does as well, but he regularly stays to work after hours to complete his tasks, as he has to wait for his ride to pick him up at a later time. He does not receive overtime for this work as it’s not really “known” that he’s staying after hours to complete the tasks. Bob’s superiors question if Bob is capable of doing said job and Larry is touted as a star employee and example for all other widget trackers in the company to look up to. Because Larry is so “efficient” at his job, the company decides to place more tasks onto the plates of Larry, Bob and all other widget trackers in the company. Now all the widget trackers have a volume of work that is unattainable during their scheduled shifts.

  33. KaiTee*

    While I agree you should do what is right for you, I would still encourage to take a good chunk of the leave. And when explaining why you came back early/plan to come back early please be careful of your wording. As someone who recently had a baby, what stuck out to me was this phrase: but I also think that part of that would naturally be doing what is best for me, my family, and my career. The fear of what having a child and taking leave will do to our careers is very real, and if an exec at my company took a shorter leave and cited that as a reason, I would be very concerned, even if she was encouraging everyone else to take the maximum time.

  34. RG2*

    I know many people on this site have no control over their benefits, but if anyone else reading this does set company policy: This is one of the big reasons we have equal leave policies (12 weeks paid, not counting short term disability for mothers if needed). 1) It makes female and male employees cost closer to the same amount and 2) it makes parental leave a less gendered conversation. We’ve had more than one male employee take their full leave, which we’re very proud of and which creates more space for male and female employees.

  35. Lara*

    I think it’s important to tie this back to a previous post, where a manager felt aggrieved because her employee didn’t want the maternity ‘perks’ she had negotiated for her (without asking). While I think setting a good example is important, what if OP doesn’t *want* to stay home for the maximum time? Plenty of women don’t (which is fine).

    I think it’s more important to make it clear that her employees are more than entitled to take the max leave. And it’s totally doable. My boss makes it very clear that while he checks emails at weekends, we do not, and he’s equally clear that that is because neither our job roles or pay equate to handling ‘everything’s on fire’ type queries.

  36. Also anon*

    I think the key here is the messaging, to your point. It’s fine that she structured it that way–I’ve seen other high-level execs do this simply because their job demands can make it hard to balance both at that level. It risks not setting a great example, but I think you can mitigate that if you set the right tone. In my case, I wouldn’t at all feel guilted or bad if I took the full leave. Time off is encouraged here and I realize that the folks several rungs above me were doing what worked best for them.

  37. Delta Delta*

    I think it’s also helpful to examine how the company is with other benefits. Do people take sick time or feel compelled to work through? Do people take their allotted vacation, or do they skimp or feel compelled to work while away? These might help in shining a light on how a maternity leave will be viewed.

    That said (and I don’t have children so I’m not coming from a place of experience), it seems like what OP envisions right now may change once the child is born. It’s probably good to keep an open mind and be flexible.

  38. nonymous*

    I agree with the mom’s sentiment, but I’m wondering if she’s focusing on the wrong detail. From the comments it’s pretty clear that there’s a range of preferences for MAT leave, due to individual constellations of job duties, medical need, financial resources, familial support, personalities, etc.

    OP is fortunate to be in the position that the MAT leave available exceeds her perceived need, and she can definitely show leadership by sharing she is navigating the decision process, and ideally other execs do the same so staff can see the range of choices that are being made.

  39. Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate*

    Obviously n=1, but when my husband was working for a SV tech giant he got a lot of pressure to take his whole paternity leave pour encourager les autres. (Six weeks, IIRC.) I thought that was nice.

  40. Jake*

    Pretty sure that when mark Zuckerberg took his paternity leave he was lauded as setting a great example for other men and even said he did it because itwas suggested to him.

    1. Observer*

      This is such an outlier that it’s THE example everyone who wants to argue gives. Especially since men do NOT get criticized for not taking off. I’m not going to claim that it never, ever, ever happened. But it’s really not a thing.

      1. Jake*

        I don’t want to argue.

        We’ll just agree to disagree. My employer falls in line with what you’re saying, but my previous employer basically begged a male coworker you take more paternity leave. My best friend’s employer gives 6 weeks to all fathers, and upon announcing it aVP explicitly said he expects it to be used.

        2 examples isn’t much in terms of data, but your insistence that it isn’t “a thing” is unnecessarily dismissive.

        1. Observer*


          The data is pretty solid. Paternity leave is the only area where this comes up, even there, it’s very much the exception rather than the rule. If all you have to offer is two employers who are good about THIS ONE THING, that’s not much of an answer.

  41. What's with today, today?*

    I feel like women, executive level or not, should do what is best for them. I had a c-section and was given 8 weeks of paid maternity leave, and I was beyond ready to get back to work. I tried to go back at 6 weeks, but my company said no. Taking 18 weeks (!!!) would have been hellacious and would have made me crazy.

  42. Crystal*

    Actions speak far, far louder than words. As others have mentioned, I’d look at corporate culture and other factors. If the company has a history of saying one thing but meaning another, or if perks and time off are looked down on when used and rarely given that influences my answer. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s quite as simple as we’d hope.

  43. designbot*

    I just want to point out that this is a totally normal dynamic—our moms are (likely) of an age to be 2nd wave feminists, while modern (3rd wave) feminism is sometimes characterized as ‘choice feminism.’ The prime tenant of choice feminism is that women should get to make the choices for themselves the same way that men get to make the choices for themselves, instead of having to represent the whole movement. So your disagreement with your mom is such a perfect encapsulation of this difference.

  44. Cafe au Lait*

    I want to chime in that Mark Zuckenburg took his full paternity leave offered at Facebook to set an example. His philosophy was that “I need to take it to show others it will be ok.”

  45. AAM Poster*

    Actually, my male boss took paternity leave explicitly because he wanted to set an example for other men at the company. We work at a large publicly held international company, and the family leave is not consistent across the company, the policy varies depending on your location.

  46. Liz T*

    There’s no mention here of why OP might not take all the paid leave. That’s her business of course; I just hope SHE isn’t feeling pressured to take less leave than she’s entitled to.

    (I know plenty of people get totally stir-crazy if they’re on leave too long, but since there’s no mention of that in the letter I wanted to point that out.)

  47. Andy*

    I’m going to take a bit of an issue with the “men are never told …” comment. It’s a bit disingenuous to make such a sweeping blanket statement about all of the experiences of an entire gender.

    Advocating for broad-based support for medical leave, parental leave and family friendly work policies is hampered, not enhanced by making an assumption that no man has ever, faced gender-based work pressure.

    1. Lara*

      But it’s pretty telling that a lot of the people voicing your opinion are using Mark Zuckerberg as an example. There are several huge differences between Zuckerberg and OP. No one is going to penalise Z for taking full paternity leave. I extremely doubt Z’s paternity leave will be him and baby stuck in the house together for six months. And if Z gets bored of the monotony and sleep deprivation, the guy.can afford staff.

  48. OP*

    Clarity item based on some comments I am reading:
    – I work at a male dominated company (at my level and above) and most of the women I do work with are beyond child bearing age.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      But does your company offer parental leave generally, or just maternity leave?

      I mean, I still think you should take whatever leave you want to take that works best for you and your family.

      But it’s important to remember that just because your company is male-dominated and most of the women are beyond child-bearing age doesn’t mean that the culture of allowing and encouraging (and not punishing!) leave isn’t still an issue. For one, men of course can become fathers and hopefully, your company allows them to take leave too. And two, most women is not all women – if there are few examples of women taking maternity leave, the ones who do take it are more visible. So, if you take less leave than you could, make sure you sound the drum that fathers and mothers are free to take more, can take more, are welcome to take more, and won’t find that they are “mommy” tracked (or “daddy” tracked) if they do.

      1. OP*

        It’s state mandated, so leave is offered to both men and women. Men get 6 weeks of paid family leave, but can take additional time based on PTO or unpaid.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          So if you’re envisioning being encouraging about leave, just remember it’s not just women of child-bearing years that are your target audience. It’s men too.

          And take only the leave you want – I get your mom’s impulse, but you don’t owe it to all womankind to take an extended maternity leave. Just do what works for you, and be sure to emphasize to staff (men and women both) that parental leave is encouraged and new moms and dads should take as long as feels right to them. If, for you, that’s less than the full amount, do it and don’t feel like you are letting anyone down.

        2. Lara*

          Do what’s best for you and ignore the chatter. Especially the ‘but whatabouttehmenz’ chatter. The best example I could get from a boss is her doing the right thing for herself and not twisting herself into a pretzel to appease the multitude.

      2. einahpets*

        My husband’s company (tech field) technically didn’t need to give him any paid time off for paternity leave when we had our first child after he’d been there 9 months (literally started the new job and a month later we found out I was pregnant, heh), but the fact that they did encourage him to take 4 weeks / offered paid leave helped immensely to confirm that he was working for a company he wants to stay working at.

        We are considering at adoption in a few years, and both our companies offer paid leave time there, as well, which would definitely be a huge help.

        I do want to say that we should be careful to distinguish maternity leave from other family leave in one sense — not to sound dramatic / foreboding, but until you’ve actually delivered you don’t know how hard (or not hard) it is going to be heal. There is a reason that there is a six/eight week time set aside before getting clearance to go back to work. In all the family leave discussions I see, there is sometimes a brushing aside of how much healing a body might need.

        I’ve been exceedingly lucky in ‘easy’ deliveries with both of my daughters, but I know of other moms who were in serious pain for at least a few weeks and/or had emergency hospitalizations afterwards for postpartum conditions.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yes, maternity leave to physically heal is crucial. But paternity leave matters (to the baby and to the family as a whole and to the dad himself) and I don’t see how recognizing that negates or trivializes the need to heal from birth? (And hey, paternity leave can help with healing. My last birth was rough, rough, rough, but my husband’s company had no paternity leave, so I am tetchy about this – my recovery was more difficult because he couldn’t take leave beyond the 5 days vacation he had.)

          1. einahpets*

            Oh I agree that paternity leave can help. I am sorry if my initial comment sounded like I was saying otherwise.

            I’ve just seen some suggestions here in the comments to split the 12-14 week leave with a spouse (so mom goes back at 10 or 12 weeks, partner then takes his/her time off) but honestly, that could mean not providing help when a new mom is actually maybe needing it?

          2. ket*

            I don’t think einahpets negated or trivialized anything.

            I agree with you very strongly that paternity leave helps with healing. A week or so after birth I tried to get my husband to go to Target to buy me a nursing bra. He said he didn’t know anything about bras so I should just run in and get one. He dropped me off at the front door and I got as far as the novelty candies in the entrance before bursting into tears and turning around for the car, shuffling very slowly back and calling him on the cell phone to return to the front door immediately. I didn’t have a terrible birth experience or anything, but I was definitely not in shape to walk through Target. After that, husband didn’t suggest I walk anywhere for two more weeks and I started taking my ibuprofen on a schedule.

            1. einahpets*

              Yeah, what I was trying to say is that paternity leave should run concurrently to maternity leave, because maternity leave is not just about bonding with a baby.

              I’m sorry again to Jessie and whoever else might think I was saying anything else. (I’ll be honest that I am not sure how much more I’ll comment here, as lately half my comments are taken out of context and as more antagonistic than intended.)

  49. The German Chick*

    Can you share the parental leave with your husband? This might make you happy and would send an even stronger message to employees that family and work are important components of a happy life for both men and women.

  50. Koala dreams*

    Even if you value setting an example, the example will be received differently among different employees. One employee might feel confident when you take a shorter leave, because they also want a short leave, while another employee feels worried since they want a longer leave. If you take a long leave, the first employee might see pressure and be upset, and the second one feels happy to see you as a good role model. You just can’t win! That’s why it’s better to do what’s best for you and support your employees in doing what’s best for them. We all are different, and that’s a good thing.

  51. HRTripp*

    OP do what best works for you and your family… Honestly, who is going to be tracking the number of weeks you took off other the HR? I doubt your co-workers are going to count the number of weeks from the exact date you gave birth to the date you returned. I’m in CA and I just came back from my maternity leave. I took 2.5 weeks off pre-birth which really ended up being 4 weeks because baby was late and then I took 15 off post birth. I was ready to go back after 15 weeks and if I would have waited any longer I would have lost his spot in daycare. So just do what works for you

  52. Noah*

    “Isn’t it interesting how men are never told they need to alter their own decisions for themselves and their families because of the example it will set for other men? ”

    This is interesting and a legitimate Thing. I would just not that “never” is not correct. I’ma a man and my EMPLOYER is encouraging me to use all my allotted paternity leave (including the unpaid portion) for exactly this reason. (I think they should pay me if they’re so insistent on my taking the whole thing, but I was going to take it anyway…) But my employer is surely an outlier.

    1. Lara*

      I think this is the bit that’s really getting to me – the implication that OP should take *unpaid* leave to set an example.

  53. Harper the Other One*

    I think Alison’s advice is spot on. The OP shouldn’t be pressured to take more leave than she wants (although I’d caution against deciding before you’re into the leave how much you want) but if she takes less than the maximum, she should definitely make it clear to all that it was her choice to do so and that others can absolutely take the full amount.

    I’d draw the parallel to any other form of medical leave. If you’re entitled to six weeks of medical leave, and you feel well enough to come back after four, nobody would be saying “you should stay out the additional two weeks or you’ll be setting a bad example.” As long as it was clear that you were ready (and well enough) to come back, people would just accept that. Maternity/paternity/parental leave should be no different.

    OP, perhaps it would help if you set up/sent out the details of the state/company policy on parental leave ahead of time, unconnected to your own leave, making it clear that the company is fully supportive of taking the full amount of leave people are entitled to, and highlighting what procedures you follow to do so? Then if anybody does happen to notice you’re back sooner than you have to be (although I doubt anyone will really be that alert to it) you can always say, “Oh, of course I could have stayed out longer. I was just ready to come back to work.”

  54. Umvue*

    As a female employee, I would absolutely take your truncated leave as an indication that I shouldn’t take the leave available to me. (I might not follow your example, but the anxiety it would give me would mean I always had one eye on the exit.) However, I agree with Alison that frequent, public reinforcement from you might help set my mind at ease.

  55. Former Employee*

    I’ve read a lot of the comments and I just don’t understand why anyone would recommend that this woman do something she doesn’t want to do.

    Remember “Free To Be You and Me”?

    She should feel free to do whatever is best for her and her family.

    I don’t have children and I was never a manager/director, but I got tired of being some sort of example when I was one of the few women in a particular position in an area of the financial services industry. Luckily, that lasted a fairly short time and then there were a lot more women in similar jobs.

    1. Wintermute*

      All managers are examples, not just women in leadership. But because there’s less women IN high positions it’s harder for a junior woman to calibrate. If a man is looking at a question about work norms, he can go “well, how late should I usually work? Well Director Bob goes home at 5:00 every day unless there’s a big release upcoming, Director Joe always stays late but he tells people not to emulate him, Director Jane works from home sometimes but generally leaves on time…” if a man wonders “how do people dress if they want to get ahead?” they can go “Well Director Bob wears jeans and vendor T-shirts, Director Joe makes fun of the fact he wears suits and says it’s because he worked 20 years in banking so I know that’s an outlier, Director Ron wears polo shirts and khakis…”

      But if Director Jane is the only woman in leadership then she, by default, sets the norm. When a woman wonders “how do people dress if they want to get ahead” they’ve got no one else to judge from, or a much smaller pool, if they got a “joe” that was an outlier, they wouldn’t necessarily know that.

  56. Wintermute*

    I don’t think it’s accurate men aren’t told they need to set a good example, when you’re talking about senior management.

    When you’re a director, everything you do is going to be assumed to be a norm. If you don’t want employees staying late, staying at your own desk until the sun has long gone down sets the example “work until the work is done”. Your underlings will never want to work less hard than the boss, so they work long hours. The Senior managers don’t want to be seen doing less hours than their boss so they come in early and stay late. And the managers don’t want to do less than THEIR boss and thus they make sure they do the same. And suddenly you hear a senior technician turn down a promotion saying that he’d never work more hours for less money by going salaried and you’re puzzled, what happened? Well what happened was you set the example and everyone echoed it. Your 9.5-hour days turned into managers working 12-hour days.

    So when you’re a director, if you intend people to use their benefits and have a work-life balance, you need to, basically, be the most punctilious person in the office about taking your benefit time. If you let vacation expire because you don’t use it, people will assume that’s how you get ahead. If you work long hours and work through lunches, people will assume that’s how you get ahead. In many places no one dares work less hard than the ones at the top, so you need to make sure that you don’t accidentally imply that long hours, unused benefit time and personal sacrifice is how you get ahead.

    If you’re not going to do that, then at the very least you need to say “hey, I’m a workaholic, do as I say, not as I do. I will never hold it against you if you use all the time you’re given, legally or as benefit time.”

    1. Wintermute*

      As an aside I would say the exact same for a male director– if you want people to feel un-self-conscious using their paternity leave, then you should take the full benefit time.

    2. Lara*

      But none of those examples include weeks off unpaid, the unnecessary use of PTO or staying home alone with a newborn for six months. OP could find the experience isolating and mind numbing. Maternity leave isn’t always fun time; it’s can be a time of physical recovery, repetitive tasks and isolation. She shouldn’t have to risk PPD for the sake of workplace optics.

  57. Erin*

    Actually, I do know some men who were asked about their time off when the baby came. Not in the US, but still.
    It’s even funny, my husband worked in a mostly male environment (not the whole company, but their department), and suddenly his boss found himself handling a few paternity leave requests (cannot be denied by law) in a very short time.
    It always makes me sad to see other countries moving closer to the US in this respect, instead of the other way around, everything becoming more family friendly.

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