Paid Parental Leave for Both Parents: New Research on the Benefits

In a recent conversation, my dear niece, who is about to give birth to her second child, expressed some concern about how she is going to cope once the new baby is born. She has just started a new job as a contract worker and, consequently, is not eligible for paid leave. Her husband is a salaried employee in a new job but has not been employed long enough by his company to be eligible for paid family leave. They must both take leave without pay to care for the new baby, and they cannot afford to go without any income for very long. In addition, because she just started this new job and is a contract worker, she feels she will risk losing her job if she takes leave for more than a short time. And did I mention the high cost of day care for their two-year-old? No wonder she feels worried.

My niece’s situation is a common one for working parents and by itself makes the case for the need for extended parental leave for both parents. New research, however, adds to our understanding of the need for extended parental leave: a new mother’s health and the health of her new baby may depend on the father or other parent being available on a flexible basis to care for both the mother and baby. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports on a new study by researchers Maya Rossin-Slater and Petra Persson, economists at Stanford. Miller notes, “The researchers . . . studied the effects of a 2012 Swedish law that allows fathers to take up to 30 days, as needed, in the year after a birth, while the mother is still on leave.” Miller explains that in the first couple of months after giving birth, often referred to as the fourth trimester, mothers are particularly vulnerable for multiple reasons:

  • Physical and mental recovery from pregnancy and delivery
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Exhaustion from round-the-clock care giving and possibly breast-feeding
  • Potential need to work to earn a living wage during this vulnerable period

The researchers found several positive effects when Sweden changed its law to allow fathers or other parents to take up to thirty paid days on a flexible basis:

  • A 26 percent drop in antianxiety prescriptions
  • A 14 percent reduction in hospitalizations or visits to specialists
  • An 11 percent decrease in antibiotic prescriptions

The key to these changes, according to the researchers, was that “the policy allowed fathers [or other parents] to take intermittent, unplanned days of paid leave” when the mother needed it to sleep, seek preventive care, or get antibiotics early in an infection. In fact, the typical father in Sweden took only an extra couple of days of time off, but his flexibility when it mattered most had a significantly positive impact on the physical and mental health of the mother.

Miller points out that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have mandated paid leave. Shamefully, this leads to some alarming statistics:

  • American maternal mortality—which includes childbirth-related deaths in the year after a birth—has increased 50 percent in a generation.
  • African American infant and maternal mortality is especially high due to the added stress of dealing with racism.
  • Other developed countries have much lower maternal mortality.
  • Sweden offers sixteen months of paid parental leave for parents to divide between them. In the United States, only seven states offer paid leave for between four and twelve weeks but often only for the mother.

We are actually moving backward in the United States. The United States Department of Labor is reviewing the Family and Medical Leave Act with a goal of reducing “the burden on employers” of being required to offer even unpaid leave. We can do better than this, but we will have to put pressure on our lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to pass laws requiring flexible paid leave for both parents for reasonable periods of time—more than four weeks and probably more than twelve weeks. Research such as this new study reported by Miller can go a long way to help make the case. We must all call and write our legislators and vote for candidates that support paid leave.

 

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More Young Single Mothers in the Workforce

In a surprising change, the number of young single mothers in the workforce has been steadily climbing since 2015. Claire Cain Miller and Ernie Tedeschi, writing for the New York Times, report that the increase is being led by single mothers without college degrees, according to an analysis by the New York Times of Current Population Survey data. These single mothers face many barriers to employment, such as the challenge of finding affordable childcare and the lack of predictable work schedules. The authors note that many safety net programs have been shredded and work requirements have increased. The single mothers tend to be poorer and less educated than other working mothers, and no one has developed new federal policies to help them, so what factors account for this increase in their participation?

One obvious answer is that with a shredded safety net, they have to work. The authors note other factors probably at play:

  • Local state and city policy changes like paid leave, sick leave, and minimum wage increases have made it more feasible for single mothers to work and afford childcare. In fact, areas that raised the minimum wage saw the largest rise in the rate of single mothers who work.
  • The rate of participation in the workforce by young single mothers increased four percentage points more in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Five states and the District of Columbia enacted or expanded paid family leave since early 2016.
  • Eight states and thirteen cities enacted or expanded paid sick leave. Some companies have also extended paid leave to hourly workers.
  • State spending on public pre-K has significantly increased since 2015, and many cities have begun offering public pre-K. Since the District of Columbia instituted public pre-K, the rate of single mothers in the workforce has increased four percentage points more than the increase for married mothers.
  • The tight labor market may mean that some employers have made an effort to offer more predictable work schedules.
  • The gig economy, such as driving for Uber, also offers opportunities for single mothers to work with a flexible schedule.

No one factor seems to account for the increase of single mothers in the workforce but rather a patchwork of policies. Yet these single moms remain vulnerable to the whims of employers and the winds of economic change. We need federal policies that ensure living wages, paid leave, and subsidized childcare so parents can provide a healthy start for their children.

 

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Bold New Proposal to Close the Gender Pay Gap

As the 2020 presidential contest heats up, exciting proposals to address our nation’s problems are being offered by individual candidates. Astead W. Herndon of the New York Times reports that Senator Kamala Harris of California recently announced a proposal to close the gender pay gap. Harris’s proposal requires larger companies with one hundred or more employees to certify every two years that women and men are paid equally. While similar laws are being passed on the state level, this proposal would combat the problem on the federal level and put teeth into enforcement not always available on the state level. Harris’s plan would fine companies that do not meet pay certification standards, which is 1 percent of their profits for every 1 percent difference in pay between women and men.

Herndon notes that previous federal legislation required employees to report or sue their employer if pay discrepancies existed—but salary information is generally kept secret by employees, and employees struggle to find out whether they are caught up in a gender pay gap. In a previous article, we wrote about a case where employees at Google had to gather pay data voluntarily from colleagues. When they found a gender pay gap, they published their spreadsheet to put pressure on their company to take action to eliminate the pay gap. Harris’s proposal will take the burden off of employees and create transparency and fairness.

Laura M. Holson of the New York Times writes that the myths surrounding secrecy about sharing salary information justify secrecy as protecting individual privacy. In fact, Holson notes, secrecy benefits companies that save money if employees underestimate their value in salary negotiations. She explains, “Managers want to keep salaries down and pay people less. It is easier if they control the information.”

But secrecy is costing women a lot. Holson cites federal statistics that find “a woman working a full-time job earns 80.7 cents for every dollar a man makes.” Herndon notes that this gap adds up to more than $400,000 in missed wages over the course of a woman’s career. She goes on to point out that the numbers are even worse for women who are racial minorities—about $1 million in missed wages over a career, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.

Holson suggests that pay standards should be set and adhered to if we are to have fair and equitable systems. Herndon cited Senator Harris as saying, “For too long, we’ve put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits. . . . We’ve let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned.”

Let’s support a solution at the federal level for this persistent problem.

 

 

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Black Women Lead the Way to Change: Four Strategies That Work

Black feminists in Chicago have been breaking ground as leaders and we can all learn from their strategies and successes. Salamishah Tillet, writing for the New York Times, reports on some of their recent accomplishments:

  • Lori Lightfoot became the first black woman mayor of Chicago in 2019.
  • In 2016, Kim Foxx, a black woman, became the city’s top prosecutor.
  • In May 2015, black feminist activists pushed Chicago to become the first city to award reparations to people who survived police torture in the 1970s and ’80s.
  • Rahm Emanuel, the previous mayor, decided not to seek a third term as mayor after black women organized a citywide campaign against him.
  • Thanks to black feminist activists, Illinois became the first state in the Midwest to approve a path to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Tillet highlights a four-point model for change used by the black women in Chicago that can be a guide to change for the rest of us:

  1. Blend activism and the academy—Organizers and professors at many universities in Illinois work together to ensure that community activists and young black people work together and listen to each other. Young black people who feel engaged and empowered affect change. Their engagement can make the difference in elections and policy changes.
  2. Work across generations—Older feminists encourage young activists to be at the forefront and utilize their expertise, while older feminist activists provide guidance from the sidelines.
  3. Share power—The black feminists of Chicago encourage many local leaders to emerge rather than allow a single charismatic figure like Louis Farrakhan or Jesse Jackson to set an agenda. People show up for each other’s campaigns rather than align with only one candidate. People show up for each other’s issues as well.
  4. Work on several issues at once—Collaboration that brings focus to the intersection of issues such as low wages, police violence, and the recent murders of black women and girls is a critical strategy. For example, in 2015 after Black Lives Matter of Chicago organized a rally outside of a McDonald’s to stand with food workers striking for a $15 minimum wage, they all marched to a nearby police department to demand the firing of a police officer who shot an unarmed bystander. This last strategy has always been a hallmark of black feminism—a focus on the intersection of sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of oppression.

Potential presidential candidates have a lot of good reasons to court the support and votes of black feminist activists, whose proven track record of successfully organizing for change is formidable.

 

Photo courtesy of Johnny Silvercloud (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gender Bias—Past Is Present

Gender bias in the workplace, defined as forms of discrimination against women that reflect the values and mind-sets of the men who created the settings and practices, is a deeply ingrained part of our culture. While many of these gender-biased mind-sets and practices are changing, Marisa Porges, writing for the New York Times, points out many interesting ways that the legacies of gender bias from the past are still impacting the present:

  • NASA didn’t have enough space suits that fit female astronauts. Only a few days before the much-publicized first all-female spacewalk was to take place in April 2019, it had to be canceled because of the lack of space suits that fit women.
  • Two years after Porges began flying jets for the navy, somebody noticed that the ejection seat on her jet was not designed for her five-foot-two-inch female frame. It had been designed and tested by and for only men, which increased the risk of major injury for a woman if she needed the safety equipment.

The legacies of gender discrimination are also present in small ways that affect the daily lives and careers of women. Porges notes that while women face many systemic barriers, such as wage gaps, family leave policies, and blocked career pipelines for women in underrepresented fields, the small legacies are also significant:

  • Lack of adequate lactation rooms in most office buildings
  • Antiquated office dress codes that require female employees to wear high heels
  • The size of safety gear available for female astronauts
  • Temperature settings in most workplaces, which are calibrated to men’s metabolic rates and are too cold for women

While Porges focuses on legacies of past gender discrimination reverberating in the present, new sources of gender discrimination are also concerning. Megan Specia writes about the broad gender disparities in the technology and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors, noted as problematic in a new Unesco study released in conjunction with the government of Germany and the Equal Skills Coalition. Specia reports that women are grossly underrepresented in AI, making up 12 percent of AI researchers and 6 percent of software developers in the field. The Unesco study states that “a lack of diversity within the industry . . . is reinforcing problematic gender stereotypes.” The report states several alarming examples:

  • Most virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa have female names, female voices, and often a submissive or flirtatious style. They also often have a “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic response” to insults, which provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products.
  • Gender and racial biases have also been built into sexist hiring tools developed by Amazon and facial recognition technology that misidentifies black faces.

The report points out that “the more that [technology-enforced] culture teaches people to equate women with assistants, the more real women will be seen as assistants—and penalized for not being assistant-like.”

The absence of diversity in engineering teams that are overwhelmingly staffed by men means that gender bias continues to be perpetuated. Our whole culture needs to change and confront the multilayered problem.

 

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Fathers Want Parental Leave Too

As a coach and consultant, I have known many men in organizations over the years who wanted to take extended parental leave when their children were born but were discouraged from doing so. They saw the careers of their male colleagues who took parental leave derailed. They heard these colleagues discussed as “not committed to the company” and were afraid to ask for leave. Yet Noam Scheiber of the New York Times reminds us that, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in the 1970s when she founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, women will “not achieve equality in the workplace as long as men [are] discouraged from taking on caregiver roles.”

Recent class-action settlements won by fathers against JPMorgan Chase and Estée Lauder are forcing changes in paid parental leave policies, which previously placed the burden of childrearing on the mother. Before the new class-action suits started to put pressure on company policies, many large organizations had discriminatory policies in place:

  • In the case of JPMorgan Chase, mothers were eligible for sixteen weeks of paid parental leave while fathers were offered only two weeks as secondary caregivers.
  • Estée Lauder had a similar policy that discriminated against the fathers of newborns.
  • In 2015, CNN was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for granting biological fathers only two weeks of paid parental leave compared to ten weeks for mothers.

A small number of companies offer long leaves to all new parents. Scheiber notes that “Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently announced that new mothers and fathers would both receive at least six months of paid leave.” Six months is unusually long in the United States. Only a minority of companies offer paid parental leave at all. In a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 35 percent of respondents offered paid maternity leave, usually for a maximum of six weeks, and just under 30 percent offered paid paternity leave. In addition, only salaried workers have access to any paid parental leave. Low wage and contract workers do not have access to these benefits at all.

While the numbers of companies offering paid parental leave have been rising rapidly in recent years, many men are still reluctant to take advantage of these policies when they do become available because they fear negative repercussions. They need to hear positive stores from other men and encouragement from managers to utilize these policies.

Class-action lawsuits and multimillion-dollar settlements are a great way force change. We are moving in the right direction to support gender-neutral family policies. This is good news for all of us.

 

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Women and the Age Dilemma: When Are We Too Old or Too Young to Be Promoted?

Media coverage and public reaction to the slate of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election offer a window into a core double bind for women—gendered perceptions of age that women face as they compete for advancement. A double bind is a term describing a situation where a person is caught between two irreconcilable demands or expectations. Jill Filipovic of the New York Times describes the age-based double bind for women represented by the excitement generated by the younger men running for president. She notes that in the world of work, research shows that women are promoted once managers see them perform well, while men are promoted if managers believe in their potential or promise. In other words, women have to prove themselves and men don’t. Filipovic observes that these same beliefs and practices are being played out now in politics.

The age range of the 2020 Democratic candidates is quite large: from 37 to 78 years of age. Filipovic notes that being between 37 and 46 years old and relatively unknown seems to be an advantage for the Democratic men who are generating excitement for being fresh faces and young, but for the women, “unfamiliarity and youth end up being tied to incompetence.” As in the workplace, the young men in the race are generating excitement without having accomplished nearly as much as the older women in the race:

  • Pete Buttigieg, at 37, is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Beto O’Rourke, 46, is the Texas congressman who lost a Senate race to Ted Cruz; Andrew Yang, 44, is a corporate lawyer turned entrepreneur; and Tim Ryan, 45, is known as the congressman who challenged Nancy Pelosi for the speaker role.
  • In contrast, the women in the race, who are in their 50s and 60s, had to prove themselves first. They entered politics later in life after spending years building up accomplishments and legislative and executive experience and recognition to be considered credible. But they are no longer considered “fresh” or exciting by the public or media.

In fact, Filipovic points out, age poses an unsolvable problem for women. She notes that “they are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until the time they are branded too old and tedious,” as is the case for Elizabeth Warren. In her late 60s, she is portrayed in the media as old, along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, although she is ten years younger than they are. Men running for president in 2020 who are more or less the same age as Warren—Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), and Jay Inslee (68)—are not lumped in with the white-haired candidates.

Filipovic notes that women in their 40s are seen as in a hurry, too ambitious and unwilling to pay their dues; women in their 50s are seen as old news; and women in their 60s are seen as old. She asks, “When, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?” That is the question that we must keep asking.

 

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Work Has Changed: The Impact on Women

New research, reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, notes that while American women are more educated than ever, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early forties are working today than a decade ago. In fact, the most educated women face the biggest gender gap in seniority and pay. Miller points out that women aren’t only opting out of careers because of discrimination, a lack of childcare, or a dearth of paid family leave policies. While these factors all contribute, research by sociologists and economists has converged on a new understanding of the way the nature of work has changed and how this change disproportionately impacts women’s careers. Researchers Youngjoo Cha at Indiana University, Kim Weeden at Cornell, and Mauricio Bucca at the European University Institute explain that “new ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.” Their findings include multiple alarming statistics:

  • In the last two decades, salaried workers have earned more by working long hours. Four decades ago, people who worked fifty hours a week made less per hour than did those who worked forty hours per week. Today, people who overwork—working sixty hours a week or more—are paid a premium and those with round-the-clock availability earn disproportionally more.
  • Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, notes that overwork is most extreme in managerial jobs and in the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting. These professions demand long, inflexible hours—which has canceled out the effects of women’s educational gains.
  • Goldin explains, “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more, you make like 100 percent more.” Goldin notes that financial rewards for working extra long hours don’t’ have a gender gap, but far fewer women seek such rewards, particularly mothers. Someone has to take care of the children, and usually that person is the mother. She cuts back on her hours, diminishes her future earning potential, flatlines her career, and underutilizes her education so that her spouse can maximize his earning potential for the family by overworking.
  • Men are much more likely to have a spouse who is on call at home. Cha reports that three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just one-quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do. In dual-earner households in which a man worked sixty or more hours, women were three times as likely to quit their jobs.

Miller points out that highly educated women aren’t the only ones impacted by the changing nature of work. Unpredictable and inflexible hours pose a challenge to family life and careers for same-sex parents, middle-class families, and low-income workers. She notes that researchers have focused on college-educated women because they are most prepared to have big careers, but their careers tend to flatline. In dual-career families with children, when one career takes priority, it is generally the man’s.

Several factors have contributed to the overwork trend affecting women. Technology makes people more accessible at all hours; business has become more global and people are now expected to work across time zones; the wealth gap in society makes people feel less secure; employment is increasingly unstable; work has become more competitive; and working long hours is a status symbol and a way to stand out.

What can be done to change the nature of work? Goldin states that most solutions for how to close the gender gap are merely band-aids because the problem is systemic. She suggests that the very nature of work needs to change, which will only happen if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even begin to notice that they are losing out on women’s talents and training by requiring and rewarding only long and inflexible hours.

We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Everyone will benefit if work is predictable and flexible and rewards reflect quality instead of quantity of hours, and employers will gain access to talent pools that are not available to them now.

 

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How We Can Elect a Woman President in 2020

It’s happening again. We were told that Hillary Clinton did not win in 2016 because she was “unlikeable.” Now six amazing women are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and none of them seem “likable” either. What is going on? Claire Bond Potter, writing for the New York Times highlights the discrepancies in women candidate coverage:

  • None of the exciting female presidential candidates has yet led in the polls.
  • Men keep joining the race and receiving glowing press coverage while the women are described in the press as follows:
    • Kamala Harris is “hard to define.”
    • Amy Klobuchar is “mean.”
    • Elizabeth Warren is “not likeable enough” as a “wonky professor.”
  • The press overlooks the fact that Harris raised the most money at the opening of her campaign while they exclaim over the lesser amounts raised by male candidates.

Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar writes that while “four very nice white men”—Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders—are all on covers of magazines, women and men of color are also running but are hardly visible. Instead, she notes several differences in news coverage:

  • Vanity Fair gushes over how much O’Rourke likes to read but ignores that Warren has written eleven books.
  • The press exclaims that Buttigieg speaks Norwegian but doesn’t mention that Kirsten Gillibrand speaks fluent Mandarin.
  • While Warren and Gillibrand have never lost an election, O’Rourke is best known for losing to Ted Cruz and Biden lost in 1988 and 2008, yet the media keeps discussing whether the women are “electable.”
  • Women running in the campaign have solid national leadership experience and policy plans but are discussed as standing no chance against less-qualified men.

Let’s be clear, both women and men have internalized the notion that women can’t be leaders and judge women harshly for aspiring to executive office. In a previous article, we cited Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.” This is an example of unconscious bias. In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man.

Perhaps because we have never had a woman as president of the United States, both women and men in this country cannot imagine or feel comfortable with women in the role of president. It does not help that the women candidates get very little coverage in the media and we do not get to know them. We also all need to examine our unconscious bias about women leaders and the “likability” factor. Potter challenges us to stop focusing on likability, a “nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless” standard, and instead vote for candidates who you trust to do the work of leading our country and our world. She notes, “If Americans can learn to like and trust women in Congress in record numbers, maybe they can learn to trust women as presidential candidates too—and maybe even like them.”

It’s really time to dismiss and eradicate the likability factor as relevant and focus instead on ability and experience.

 

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Sexual Harassment in the Military: It’s Getting Worse for Women

The American military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last ten years in sexual harassment prevention and education, but the problem is getting worse for women. Dave Philipps of the New York Times reports several alarming statistics:

  • Sexual assaults in the military have increased by 50 percent in the last two years against women in uniform.
  • The Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimates 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2018, based on a survey of women and men across all branches of the military.
  • Assaults on men remained flat while assaults on women recorded the biggest increase in years.
  • Women make up 20 percent of the military but are the targets of 63 percent of the assaults.
  • Active military personnel are experiencing more assaults, but despite significant increases in the availability of sexual assault specialists and victim advocates, they are less likely than before to report the assaults.
  • Philipps notes that a separate report in January 2019 showed that the number of sexual assaults at the service academies has also risen by 50 percent for women since 2016, showing that the problem is just as rampant among the military’s future leaders as for the current ones.

Representative Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are each leading two different concerted efforts to pass legislation that would create an independent prosecutor for sexual harassment cases in the military, but the military has lobbied against this legislation. Under the current system, only military commanders have the authority to determine whether an assault has occurred and to impose punishment. The commanders do not want to relinquish any of their authority. Even Senator Martha McSally, who came forward last year to reveal that she had been raped by a superior officer and suffered numerous other sexual assaults, opposes shifting authority over assault cases away from commanding officers. McSally even admits that she never reported her assaults for fear of retaliation.

The current system is not working. While the survey found that more assaults are occurring, fewer are being reported: fewer than 30 percent were reported in 2018, down from 32 percent in 2016. Philipps notes, “A large majority of victims do not trust the system” to handle the cases well or protect them from retaliation. Structural change is needed.

Please encourage your congressional representatives to support legislation that protects women in the military.

 

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