Navy, Marines triple paid maternity leave in effort to attract women

Navy, Marines triple paid maternity leave in effort to attract women

by James Rosen
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Looking for a way to persuade more women to enlist in the Navy and the Marines, the two service branches have expanded a benefit, tripling the amount of time off new mothers will be given after the birth of a child.

Under a policy change announced Thursday, female sailors and Marines will get 18 weeks maternity leave with pay.

That’s far more generous than the standard set by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires that women be allowed 12 weeks off. The law does not require that women be paid during their maternity leave; the United States is the only industrialized country that does not provide compensation for new mothers.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said establishing more liberal leave was intended to help recruit and retain more women in the two services but was also a way of thanking them for their service.

“When the women in our Navy and Marine Corps answer the call to serve, they are making the difficult choice to be away from their children — sometimes for extended periods of time — so that they can do the demanding jobs that we ask them to do,” Mabus said. “With increased maternity leave, we can demonstrate the commitment of the Navy and Marine Corps to the women who are committed to serve.”

The 18 weeks' leave must be taken during the first year of a child’s life, but it does not have to be used in one continuous absence. Women who gave birth earlier this year can use the extended maternity leave, Mabus said.

The extended leave is the most recent in a series of steps the Pentagon has taken to increase support for female servicemembers.

In the most high-profile moves, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his predecessor, Chuck Hagel, created a high-level office to prevent sexual assault and investigate assault claims, beefed up counseling services, increased access to military lawyers and stiffened penalties for superior officers who fail to probe assault allegations or retaliate against those who make them.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a directive in January 2013 allowing women to serve in combat for the first time.

About 53,000 of the Navy’s 317,000 active duty sailors are female, or 16.7 percent. The share of women in the Marine Corps is much smaller: 14,000, or 7 percent, of 195,000 total Marines. Slightly more than 200,000 of the 1.4 million active duty members of all U.S. services, or 14 percent, are women.

Although women make up one in six of all officers, only 7 percent of generals and admirals — one in 14 — are female, prompting another Pentagon initiative to increase the number of women in the military’s highest ranks.

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