What Matters for Women at Work? Family Leave

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Children may be the biggest competition for an organization. Work can mean many things for a women including financial necessity, a juggling act, a choice, social outlet (remember most of us spend more time at work than any other single part of our lives) or personal fulfillment driving her sense of purpose and responsibility. For women, work and personal life are seldom separate entities. However the degree of their overlap is not universal for all women.

According to the Gallup report, Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived, “ Work is an emotionally charged topic for many women. Regardless of their decisions, women face judgement.” Sometimes it is a no-win. If she works outside the home, her children will grow up to be juvenile delinquents; if she is a stay at home mom, she is boring because her primary activities are changing diapers, fixing meals, doing laundry and other domestic duties. Maternity leave for men has another name: paternity leave. This is the time a new dad takes off work for the birth or adoption of a child. For men to take paternity leave requires he can tolerate the challenge of being accused of not providing for his family and letting go of being the “provider.” It is common for women in law firms, public accounting firms to take the “mommy track.” Rather than make partner in 6 years (usually working 50-60 hour workweeks) they choose a longer track; for example, 8 years which delays their career advancement and life time earnings.

The past two years have seen an influx in historic paid leave legislation. This wave of state and federal reform has left many hopeful that the U.S. may finally be on its way to achieving equal pay. Parental leave plays a huge part in this, and The Family and Medical Leave Act now mandates that U.S. employers must provide new moms and dads up to 12 weeks off from work within the child’s first year.  

Many organizations are challenging federal guidelines and attempting to make the workplace not only female friendly but family friendly. In the absence of federal mandates, many high-profile, private sector businesses have announced in recent years that they were expanding parental leave. There seems to be a competition to lure top talent by implementing paid family leave, which is primarily taken by women. Starbucks, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and the Gates Foundation are among the companies that have been trying to one-up each other with new or revised parental leave policies that benefit both parents more equally. These policies range from Spotify’s six months of paid parental leave to Amazon’s Leave Share program where the company provides compensation to employees’ spouses who work at another company that does not offer paid leave.

Among the 42 most developed countries in the world, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, so we may need to look outside our borders for inspiration. Sweden’s model is useful for any HR practitioners looking to build out a more robust parental leave policy. Swedish parents are legally entitled to share 480 days off from work for each child. During this leave period, they are paid 80 percent of their salaries in the first 390 days. To ensure that the responsibility does not fall solely on the mother, Sweden requires at least three months of the 480 days to be taken by fathers. In 2017, Swedish dads took more than 27% of the total leave allowed parents.

According to Ball State University professor Richard Petts:  “The reluctance—or inability—of men to take child-care leave is often considered harmful to women, who miss opportunities for promotion when they are out of the workforce for longer periods than men. When men take longer leave, two things happen: women return to work sooner, and men become more attuned to, and less tolerant of, those opportunity costs. What’s more, dads who take longer leave also tend be more involved in their child’s life and care overall.”

The workforce will continue to evolve and employees will demand company perks that better align with their life style and gender equity. Providing gender-equitable paid parental leave, and actively encouraging fathers to take that leave, will help foster a company culture that encourages overall workplace equity and satisfaction.

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Part 2 For women, work and personal life are seldom separate entities,
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