Updated: May 16
It is no surprise that women face certain obstacles and challenges in the workforce. One of these is having a family and balancing work. Finding out you are pregnant can be such an exciting time in your life, although many women also struggle with how this will impact their employer expectations and career, and how to best navigate this. A very real, and sadly not uncommon scenario that women are also faced with, is the heart break of losing a baby due to suffering a miscarriage, and having to balance this unimaginable grief with employer expectations.
Last month New Zealand made progress in supporting women at work. New Zealand's parliament unanimously approved legislation giving working women and their partners the right to paid leave after suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth. The three days paid leave will be for anyone that loses a pregnancy at any stage, where as previously there had been no support for women who lost a baby less than 20 weeks into their pregnancy. New Zealand is one of the first countries to offer paid leave to workers who have suffered miscarriages, and I truly hope this step will set an example for other countries including Australia, to provide this vital support at such a raw and difficult time.
"The passing of this bill shows that once again New Zealand is leading the way for progressive and compassionate legislation, becoming only the second country in the world to provide leave for miscarriage and stillbirth," said the Labour member of parliament who drafted the bill, Ginny Andersen. "The bill will give women and their partners time to come to terms with their loss without having to tap into sick leave. Because their grief is not a sickness, it is a loss. And loss takes time." I couldn't agree more Ginny Andersen.
I was first alerted to this progressive legislation when reading an article about it on LinkedIn. I felt thankful to New Zealand for once again leading the way with compassion and forward thinking, and the impact this step may have on more countries. Then I made the dreaded mistake of looking at comments on the post. Why do I do this to myself? The first comment I had the displeasure of reading was, "Why should an employer have to pay for this?" (Cue my blood starting to boil a little.) Well let me tell you why I believe employers should have an obligation to pay this bereavement leave. If you want the privilege of employing human beings, then you need to treat them like human beings. If you are more concerned about financial implications rather than showing compassion to your employees, I highly doubt you would be an employer of choice. Whilst miscarriage might be a taboo subject, it is very real, very common, and an awful experience for couples to go through.
Here is some food for thought for those with the opinion that this legislation is unfair for employers. When a woman finds out she is pregnant, not much else in life compares to that feeling, and life as you know it has changed. In the days after finding out about that pregnancy, plans are made. You have a good idea of when that baby will be entering the world, you mentally start preparing for the changes in your life that will be required, and you are generally elated about what the future is going to hold for your family.
Then in a cruel twist of fate, all of this can disappear without you having any control over it. You suffer physical discomfort, but more importantly, you suffer mental anguish knowing life had other plans for you than bringing this baby into the world, and that is an unbearable reality. You need to grieve, and you should grieve, because you have lost something that's indescribable. You have lost something that was a part of you, your family, and your future. That really hurts. That also takes time to deal with, physically and mentally, no matter how early into the pregnancy this loss may occur.
“I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief," said Anderson. This really resonated with me, because whilst some women might know they have very supportive and understanding employers, other women know they may not. This can result in them having no choice but to be stoic, which can result in future negative implications for all involved.
I understand that paid leave can put strain on organisations, particularly small business, but what I will never understand is why some employers still don't recognise the link between treating employees with respect, compassion and dignity, and the rewards that they gain from this in employee loyalty and productivity. Women need to be supported in the workplace, and employers must get better at implementing measures for achieving this.
Thank you New Zealand, I really hope more countries follow your lead.