(JTA) — The United States is the only industrialized country in the world not to mandate paid maternity leave, and only 11 percent of private-sector American employees have access to it.
But a growing list of Jewish nonprofits are now offering or expanding paid maternity leave, the result of a push by Advancing Women Professionals, a communal advocacy group.
Persuading scores of Jewish organizations to add paid benefits during a recession was no easy feat. Leaders of many organizations debated the matter for years before opting in.
“Almost no one said, ‘Let me sign up right away, what a great opportunity,’” said Shifra Bronznick, AWP’s founder and president. “They all felt ‘we can’t afford this.’ America has taught us we can’t afford it.”
Through its Better Work/Better Life campaign, launched in 2010, AWP aims to “enlist 100 Jewish organizations as a catalyst for making healthy work-life policy the norm in our community,” according to the group’s website.
An AWP survey conducted shortly before the campaign’s launch found that 65 percent of responding Jewish organizations — a mix of 227 groups that included national and religious institutions, local federations, JCCs and service agencies — offered no paid maternity leave and that only 7 percent provided 12 weeks or more. Ten percent did not provide even unpaid maternity leave; the Family Medical Leave Act requires employers provide 12 weeks unpaid, but organizations with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the requirement.
So far 82 groups — ranging from large national organizations such as the Union for Reform Judaism and Birthright Israel to foundations, local federations and a handful of large synagogues — have earned a place on the AWP’s Better Work/Better Life list. To qualify for the list, an organization must offer at least four weeks of paid maternity leave or have formal flexible-scheduling policies to enable caring for children. Another 17 groups are “in the pipeline,” according to AWP.
Twenty of the groups on the list — including the Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — earned AWP’s “gold standard” by offering at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, six weeks of paid parental leave (for fathers, partners and adoptive parents) and prorated parental leave for part-time employees.
Organizations aiming to make the Better Work/Better Life list must provide their written employment policies to AWP, but the group doesn’t police them. “It is kind of an honor code, but it has teeth in it because the Jewish community is essentially a small world,” Bronznick said, noting that if an organization were not complying with its own policies, word would get out relatively quickly.
Founded in 2001, AWP, through a combination of research, advocacy and leadership development and mentoring programs, has worked to get more women into top professional positions at Jewish organizations and have more women represented on conference panels.