By Simonetta Lein, CEO of Ausonia Partners LLC

I’m at that stage of my life when motherhood seems to be the next milestone for me. As a social activist, I strongly feel that every mother deserves a safe and stress-free pregnancy and reentry into the workplace (for those who choose to work).

Working mothers often face challenges in the workplace. Some may struggle to maintain work-life balance during or after pregnancy. Paid parental leave is often inadequate, and working mothers may face discrimination and toxic workplace cultures. This needs to change.

The world has grown more aware of supporting women and mothers in the workplace, and it is high time that we show it. The responsibility falls upon us all, from large conglomerates to small businesses alike. We need to stop talking and start taking action. 

Here’s my take on the current disparity in maternity benefits offered to moms-to-be, and how organizations across the U.S. can shrink the gap.

1. Craft a comprehensive parental leave policy.

Let’s start by taking a look at the laws governing parental leave in the U.S. today. Businesses that employ 50 employees or less are not legally required to provide parental leave to new parents, be it paid or unpaid. Small businesses of this size do not fall under the purview of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Small businesses should craft their own comprehensive parental leave programs that are advantageous to both the company and working mothers. In my opinion, small businesses should offer at least two to four weeks of paid leave, followed by 8-10 weeks of unpaid leave. 

I recognize that small businesses with fewer employees may be more impacted than larger companies when an employee is on leave for several months. However, small businesses can take steps to help ensure that work continues unhindered. While working mothers are on leave, their work responsibilities can be split among existing employees.

In the case that work redistribution isn’t an option, hiring a temporary employee can help ease the pressure. Small businesses can also train junior or entry-level employees to take on additional responsibilities when one team member is absent.

2. Advocate for broad insurance coverage.

Two of the biggest insurance providers in the U.S., Aetna and United Healthcare, limit noninvasive prenatal screening for average-risk pregnancies to women above the age of 35. These companies are insurers to some of the largest U.S. employers, and thus employees younger than 35 are often left with older, less accurate tests.

In 2020, as reported by MarketWatch, leading companies such as Cisco and Google are pushing to extend noninvasive prenatal screening under their insurance plans for pregnant employees under the age of 35.

While the actions taken by Cisco and Google are positive, it will be even more encouraging if other large companies and small businesses follow suit and seek to work out fully comprehensive maternity packages with their insurance partners. 

3. Offer flexibility.

I believe small businesses should offer increased flexibility to expecting and working mothers. This can be achieved in several ways. With new parents juggling doctor’s appointments and finding childcare, offer the option of reduced or flexible work hours, making it easier for them to balance their personal and professional responsibilities.

If the nature of work permits it, you can also allow them the option to work from home. In case it isn’t feasible to work from home for the entire week, certain days in the week can be allotted. This would allow a helpful degree of flexibility without hampering work efficiency.

4. Support new mothers transitioning back to the workplace.

Small businesses can help ease the transition back into the workplace. Consider setting up an on-site daycare facility, if you have the space and resources. If not, establish a partnership with a reliable daycare center close by to offer childcare services at a reduced rate for your employees.

Another much-needed facility is a private and comfortable area for nursing. (The restroom doesn’t count.) Most importantly, small businesses should be cooperative, understanding and empathetic toward new mothers who have returned to work. Listen to what your employees need from you. 

What’s the way forward?

In a world where talk is cheap, it is refreshing to see companies that are willing to walk the walk, put their money where their mouth is and prioritize employee welfare before profits.

With the voice of women advocates, I sincerely hope that more organizations will prioritize the rights of working mothers. The time is now for greater advocacy and action.

Simonetta Lein is CEO of Ausonia Partners LLC, a social media entrepreneur, 100 top fashion influencer, brand ambassador and author.