Claire Lee, the head of startup banking at Silicon Valley Bank, says the US is way behind in its maternity leave policies and is keeping hoards of women from reaching their professional potential.
Lee is a veteran in the tech space, starting her career with IBM in 1994 before moving through the ranks at Ingram Micro UK to take over its $100 million Compaq UK division at 25 years 0ld.
She also served as a founding team member of Microsoft’s startup-friendly platform, BizSpark, before joining Silicon Valley Bank in January 2014.
Lee believes many women struggle to reach her level of success because of “maternity problems faced by too many mums in America. “
“In the US, women account for nearly 57% of all college students, yet a recent study found that their attrition rate is much higher than men,” Lee says. “Why do women get to a certain level and fall off a cliff? It’s maternity. The US doesn’t have acceptable paid maternity leave.”
Indeed, the US is one of just two countries in the world that doesn’t ensure any paid time off for new mums, according to a report from the International Labour Organisation. (The other is Papua New Guinea.) Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993,
women working at companies with at least 50 employees must be allowed to take 12 weeks off work following the birth of their child, but that time does not have to be paid.
Currently, only 12% of American companies offer paid maternity or paternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
“After my first child was born,” Lee says, “I had six months paid leave at Microsoft UK, and it was full pay. I moved to the US, the center of civilisation, and when I had my son I was offered four weeks. Maternity policy in the US is awful.”
Lee argues that greater flexibility and assistance would help more mums return to the workplace: “I would like to see a pay packet in the US that offers to cover the cost of childcare.”
In the US, that help is often delivered in the form of taxpayer-subsidized government assistance programs. Business Insider reports that “15% of people who were not paid or who received partial pay while on leave turned to public assistance for help.”
“About 60% of workers who took this leave reported it was difficult making ends meet, and almost half reported they would have taken longer leave if more pay had been available,” the same reports says.
Lee says she was excited to join Silicon Valley Bank because they supported her role as a mum and gave her an executive coach and allowed her to take extra time in the morning to bring her kids to daycare and preschool.
“From a policy perspective, the maternity policy and the financial assistance given to women needs to be fixed in the US,” Lee says. “Women are faced with an economic dilemma that can’t be solved. They are not opting out. They are being forced out of the workforce.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.