The fact that Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, is pregnant with her fifth child speaks volumes about the ability to balance a high-level career with motherhood — when you’re the boss, that is. It is inspiring to hear that Wojcicki, an early employee of the tech giant that bought YouTube, has so completely integrated work and parenting that she pairs each child with a key Google milestone.
Wojcicki told Fast Company: "I joined Google [as employee #16] when I was pregnant, so my oldest I’ve associated with Google. Then I worked with the team and together we created AdSense after I came back from maternity leave (with my second). My third one, I associate with [the acquisition of] YouTube. The last one is DoubleClick."
In direct contrast to the pervasive belief that children destroy a woman’s ambition at work, each of Wojcicki's children appears to have strengthened her resolve to elevate the company (and her career along with it) — her fifth will come as she works to expand the biggest online video platform on the planet.
Knowing that can be done, however, doesn’t help every woman get there. Wojcicki has resources at her disposal that most American mothers couldn’t dream of — namely, the complete trust of the founders of Google. She has been allowed to adjust her maternity leave and work practices based on each child and the demands of the job at the time she gave birth. But Google’s maternity leave policy in general is already far more generous than most. The company offers up to 22 weeks of paid leave, 12 of which are for "bonding" with the baby, and this applies to both new fathers and mothers. Google even offers the ability to accrue a bonus or other rewards during this time off.
The vast majority of working mothers in the U.S. are not so fortunate, however. Americans have the right under the Family and Medical Leave Act to take 12 weeks of leave to care for a new baby at home, but that time is granted without pay. Not only does this fact render the law useless for those dual-income households who cannot afford to lose 100 percent of the second earner's income, the unpaid policy can also be counterproductive to the health of the company that employs the mother-to-be. After all, if a family can figure out how to survive without pay for three months, the postpartum mother may end up not returning at all.
We don’t know how long Wojcicki will take off. However, we do know she's in a small minority when it comes to earning pay during parental leave. In fact, the U.S. is one of only three countries out of the 185 surveyed by the U.N.’s labor agency that do not — federally — insure some kind of cash benefit to women during maternity leave.
Over the next six months, the mainstream press will no doubt be watching Wojcicki closely to see how long she takes off to bond with her new baby, whether she builds a posh nursery next to her office and how the fifth child affects her so-far stellar work-life dynamic. In the meantime, the conversation needs to trickle down to include every other woman struggling to maintain her place in the U.S. workforce against obstacles that every other developed country in the world has already addressed.