I knew from the day I started at Facebook that I would have to make a choice. I was five months pregnant and raising two young boys. Balancing motherhood with my work as a data scientist was exciting and strenuous. It meant working during my commute, coming home to feed the kids and put them to sleep, then falling into bed. I worked until the day my daughter was born. Then I had to make the hardest decision of my life. I had to choose between my dream job and my baby girl.
Eliza Khuner is a data scientist who worked at Facebook from November 2017 to July 2018.
During my four months’ maternity leave—standard policy at Facebook—I envisioned caring for a baby alongside a full-time job. I pictured driving into the office with her and a nanny, and meeting them for lunch. I could work a few days from home, taking breaks to nurse, video conferencing while she napped, making up the extra hours after I put all three kids to sleep. Maybe I could get by with 6 hours of sleep. I had always put caring for my babies first, but I contemplated whether it would feel ok to let someone else take that job. I looked into my tiny girl’s trusting eyes and tried to convince myself to leave her all day.
I love my job, but I love my baby even more. When I told Facebook I wanted to work from home part-time, HR was firm: You can’t work from home, you can’t work part-time, and you can’t take extra unpaid leave. In mid-July, with the heartache of a break-up, I sent my resignation letter. I also wrote another note describing my agonizing choice, saying that Facebook could and should do better for families. I posted it internally, in a group for Facebook employees worldwide. I wondered if anyone would read it.
My phone started buzzing. More than 5,500 Facebook employees reacted in support. Hundreds commented, telling me I wasn’t alone. Mothers shared how they struggled to perform at work and be there for their kids, and how sad they were to miss the special moments. Fathers said they felt the strain of not being with their children. People with no kids chimed in with their support.
“Thank you for sharing, as I literally tear up at my desk. This captured so many of my fears and anxieties as a new female employee,” wrote one woman.
“I finally feel like I'm not the only one facing this problem,” wrote a mother of a 7-week-old baby.
“I'm getting my eggs frozen, for the sole reason to delay children, because I fear having to make this decision,” wrote more than one woman.
These were just the voices of people still working there. How many mothers silently left when they couldn’t get the flexibility they needed? How many parents would leave their jobs to be with their babies, but can’t afford to?
Sheryl Sandberg commented, explaining that while management wanted to move in that direction at some point in the future, they couldn’t right now. Allowing part-time options to all parents would strain the rest of the team, she said. My colleagues didn’t settle for that and I didn’t either. Facebook has solved harder problems than this. That Friday at the weekly Q&A for Facebook staff, I stood before Mark Zuckerberg, my baby sleeping on my chest, and challenged him to do better.
“I see the posters here every day that say ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’" I said. "I want to know: Would you give us part-time, work-from-home, and extended leave options right now, not later; would you lead this company and the US in supporting working parents; would you give us the chance to show you how kick-ass and loyal we can be with fewer hours at the desk, if you weren’t afraid?” Zuckerberg said he was sorry I was leaving, but echoed Sheryl. He said he’d like to offer more options for parents, but the trade-offs in serving the greater community were too great. Maybe later.
I have been privileged to work in tech. I know most parents work harder than I do for much less, and get almost no leave at all. By comparison, my colleagues and I are living the dream. Among its many benefits, Facebook offers four months’ leave to all new mothers and fathers, $4,000 cash just for having a baby, partial reimbursement of childcare expenses, and ample lactation rooms in every building. Even so, thousands of us are hurting because our job leaves us with no energy or time to be there for our children. It’s not revolutionary to ask for extended parental leave or part-time work for parents of babies. The EU mandates 4 months minimum parental leave, and most European countries require companies to offer even more. The United States is the only developed country not to mandate paid maternity leave; American mothers are only eligible for up to 12 weeks unpaid leave.
Companies like Facebook have the imagination and the resources to implement better leave and flexibility in working hours so parents don’t have to choose between their children and careers. It may come at a cost initially, but the return on investment will be more women staying in the workplace, higher employee satisfaction, and the knowledge that we are doing right by our people and our children. I’m calling on them to make a change.
I told Facebook when they make that change, they know where to find me.
WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.
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