Working Moms Need More Than Maternity Leave—But It Would Be A Start.
As the Biden administration works on a gender equity strategy, one key initiative has already been lost. Despite being a cornerstone of the American Families Plan, a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program was slashed from the framework of the new Build Back Better plan. A proposal to guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave and medical leave for every U.S. worker was scaled back to four weeks before being cut entirely. This leaves the U.S. as one of eight countries in the world, and the only industrialized country, that offers no paid family or medical leave to its citizens. I had no paid leave after giving birth to my first two children. My oldest was born in March 2004 and, at the time, I was an entry-level employee at a PR agency without maternity leave benefits. I was told I could take up to six weeks of unpaid leave; I could only afford to take four. In January 2006, I gave birth to my second son. That time, I took the full six weeks of unpaid leave. As the COO, I am in a position to establish these much-needed family leave policies at my own agency, but not everyone has the benefits and opportunities Clyde Group provides. Too many parents—especially single, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ parents—have no support system to fall back on when they return to work after welcoming the newest member(s) of their family. Gender-neutral family leave policies for new parents help prevent mothers from single-handedly bearing so much of the stress and exhaustion that a newborn brings. It also offers both parents the chance to bond with and care for their children in those crucial early months which can shape the expected role of each parent in a household for years to come. We can’t continue to have a conversation about gender equity without completely disrupting the norms and traditions seen by our children in homes. As we continue to coach our daughters to aspire to have careers and families, we need to make sure we are also raising future life partners for them who are willing to share the responsibilities that come with having children, regardless of gender—changing diapers, taking time off work for sick days, cooking meals, grocery shopping, meeting with teachers, arranging playdates, doctor appointments...the list goes on. Personally, I owe much of my career success to having a husband willing to take on responsibilities that fall outside antiquated gender roles—but my marriage is the exception. Women often find themselves carrying a much heavier caregiving burden— a recent survey found that 74% of mothers do more to manage their children’s schedules and activities than their spouse or partner, while only 3% say their spouse or partner does more. And another study found that women spend an average of between three and six hours on caretaking, compared to an average of 30 minutes to two hours for men. The pandemic has only worsened these pre-existing inequities. Globally, women took on an additional 173 hours of unpaid childcare last year, compared to 59 additional hours for men. Even as we return to a new normal, mothers are more likely than fathers and people without kids to stay out of work. The longer a person is out of the workforce, the more challenging it is to reenter, as skills and connections lapse—and right now, caring for family is the number one reason women are leaving the workforce. Young women living with kids are six times more likely than men to be out of work because of childcare, and almost 15% of young women with kids are currently not working because of childcare needs. This is exacerbated for women of color with children, who disproportionately work in the service industry which lacks the flexibility needed to raise children. Mothers who don’t completely leave their jobs still miss out on leadership opportunities, promotions, and connecting with co-workers due to their disproportionate share of household responsibilities. And let’s stop pretending that work-from-home is the silver bullet to supporting working parents. Most working parents I know prefer some “separation of church and state” between home and work responsibilities, and the pandemic demonstrated just how impossible it is for us to put our children first at the same time we’re running businesses. Due to the persisting unequal distribution of domestic labor and child care activities, mothers working remotely have yet to find respite from their pre-pandemic responsibilities. Work from home flexibility is nice, but it’s more important that parents are paid enough to engage outside help (daycare, nannies, etc.), that access to early childhood education is affordable (if not free), and that our life partners share in an equitable split of physical, emotional, and mental labor. Since Clyde Group’s inception just six years ago, we’ve made gender equity and supporting working parents a priority for our firm. We have a gender-neutral family leave policy—12 weeks paid for all new parents—and cover the cost of a house cleaner for a full year after the baby arrives. We recently opened a new office and only considered spaces with natural feeding rooms. And we provide our employees with the benefits they need to be working parents, including the option to bring kids to the office when needed, WFH flexibility, and extra PTO to attend school activities and events for their children. It continues to infuriate me that this responsibility is entirely shouldered by small businesses like ours, and the federal government refuses to step up and do the right thing for its working parent citizens. I’ve been a working parent for my entire career and I’ve always believed we need a national, comprehensive paid family and medical leave plan that applies to both parents. But while we wait for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world, the responsibility lies with individuals and private companies to take the lead, do the right thing, and create a better and more equitable world for our children.