Promoted on maternity leave: How Salesforce supports working mothers

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After the birth of her son, Emily Fultz took her employer's six-month maternity leave — but it didn't stop her company from promoting her to supervisor in the middle of a global pandemic.

“Before my son was born, I had several career conversations with my manager and different leaders on my team,” Fultz says. “One of them told me ‘The level and quality of the work you’ve contributed to this team up until this point doesn’t go away just because you’re having a baby,’ which really meant a lot.”

Fultz is now the product marketing manager at Salesforce, a San Francisco-based internet company. Prior to this promotion, Fultz helped organize content and webinars for the Marketing Cloud team — now, she’s one of its leaders. She plans to step into this new role full-time at the conclusion of her six-month maternity leave.

Emily Fultz was promoted during her nine-month maternity leave.

Fultz’ promotion is a rarity during a time when record numbers of women are being forced to leave the workforce. In April, 55% of the 20.5 million jobs lost that month belonged to women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The numbers haven’t improved much; in June, 11.2% of women aged 20 and up were unemployed — one percent point higher than men.

COVID-19 hasn’t made it any easier for working mothers. The New York Times has gone so far as to label the economic recession caused by the pandemic a “she-cession” because more women are losing their jobs than men.

Read More: Coronavirus is pushing the gender gap even wider for working moms

But even without the added stressors of the pandemic, women are often faced with the dilemma of how maternity leave may jeopardize their chances of career advancement. Research by Harvard Business Review found that many people judge a woman’s commitment to her job by the amount of time she takes off for maternity leave.

“We find maternity leave length is perceived as a signal of women’s agency and commitment to the job and thus used to gauge their dedication,” according to the HBR report. “In turn, this undermines perceptions of women’s agency, job commitment and perceived suitability for leadership roles.”

Seventy-two percent of working parents in the U.S. agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, according to a report from child care provider Bright Horizons. A study in the Journal of Sociology found women are 37% less likely to get a job and would be offered a salary $11,000 less than other workers if they show any indication they have children.

Some women don’t return to work at all after becoming mothers. A study of 50,000 workers in 18 countries by the University of Michigan found that in STEM careers — an area where women continue to be underrepresented — 43% of new mothers stopped working in the field after the birth of their child, compared to 23% of new fathers.

Even when they’re still employed, women are more likely to switch to part-time work, or stop working altogether, because women still perform the majority of household responsibilities, including child care, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With schools closing in favor of virtual learning during the pandemic, it’s only gotten harder for working mothers. Women are twice as likely as men to take responsibility for homeschooling their children, a study by Catalyst, a nonprofit women’s advocacy group, says.

“Many women are having to choose between staying at home and being both a full-time employee and teacher/nanny or putting our children at risk by sending them to school or daycare. It often feels like a lose-lose situation,” Fultz says.

Salesforce leaders say they developed many of their benefit programs to promote gender equality in the workplace. Both women and men, for example, can take six months of parental leave after the birth of a child.

“As a manager, I've had a number of my team members take advantage of Salesforce's great parental leave benefits,” says Chris Jacob, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce. “It's our responsibility to reward excellence, even when someone is not working — and in Emily's case attending to something much more important like a newborn.”

Even though she just cleared a major hurdle for many working women, Fultz says she’s no stranger to the difficulties facing women in the workplace. Towards the start of her career, Fultz was told by a male colleague that she was lucky to be a woman working in the tech industry.

“My first thought was, ‘It wasn’t luck — I graduated with highest honors from Georgia Tech and worked hard to be where I am,’” Fultz says. “But, as a young woman with only a few years of work under my belt at the time, I just smiled and agreed with him. I would definitely have a different response if I received a similar comment today.”

Despite gaining more confidence in her abilities, Fultz concedes there have been times when she realized she was putting more pressure on herself because of workplace discrimination, which has only intensified since becoming a new mother.

“I think about all of the time I’ve wasted overthinking how I might be interpreted or perceived in the workplace because I’m a woman,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how I will balance pumping and breastfeeding with my busy work schedule when my maternity leave ends, not to mention just figuring out how to have a full time professional career while being a good mom.”

Now three months into her leave, Fultz plans to enjoy the rest of her quality time with her newborn, while knowing her workplace will be there to support her during her transition back to work.

She hopes more employers will follow suit, and make more of an effort to support working mothers.

“My promotion coupled with a generous parental leave policy has given me the time and space to bond with my sweet new baby boy so that I can return to work energized and ready to go,” Fultz says. “More than ever, we need companies to champion women and give them the resources they need to balance their career, family and health.”

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Career advancement Maternity leave Employee retention Employee relations Employee engagement Coronavirus Salesforce