Family and Medical Leave for Freelance Workers: Update

Charlotte Cowles, writing for the New York Times and who is about to take maternity leave as a freelance worker, asks “how to take family leave if you’re a freelance worker.” This question is of particular interest to me as a self-employed worker for more than thirty years (also known as an independent worker, contract worker, or gig worker). Cowles points out that this question is more important than ever because

  • About 35 percent of American workers freelanced in some capacity in 2019.
  • One-third of them freelanced full-time.
  • Research, yet to be conducted, will probably show that the pandemic reshaped the American workforce, resulting in much higher numbers of permanent independent and freelance workers in the population.
  • Freelancing is seen as a viable long-term career in a study conducted by the Freelance Union.

Cowles points out that freelancing has a lot of advantages, including more flexibility, fewer annoying meetings, and arguably better job security because one is not dependent on one employer for all of one’s income. But the downsides include a lack of employee benefits and job protections. Because I and my spouse are both self-employed, we have struggled over the years to pay 100 percent of expensive healthcare premiums for two people. Because the federal Family and Medical Leave Act does not cover freelance workers, we have lost income and clients when we needed to take care of ill and dying parents.

Do freelance workers have any options? Cowles says yes, but they are limited. It seems that a few states do have some limited family and medical leave insurance policies for freelancers that self-employed people can pay into. The benefits are limited, but it’s better than no benefits at all.

  • In some states, like New York, you may have to pay premiums for two years on a family and medical leave policy before you have access to benefits, while other states have shorter waits or none at all.
  • Some states require that you pay for a separate disability policy in addition to the family and medical leave policy.
  • Several states will be phasing in similar policies over the next few years.
  • These programs also cover a varying degree of non-child-related family and medical leave.
  • None of them provide job protection.

It does seem that support for freelance workers may soon improve, thanks to the pandemic and President Biden’s American Families Plan. Cowles notes that the United States is notoriously at the bottom of the pile as the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have a national program for paid parental leave. While the Biden plan is focused on making paid family leave available to all workers, paid for by tax increases on high earners, it does not specify whether it would cover freelancers. It seems that a door to that possibility may have been opened, however, by the inclusion of freelancers in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits program. Because of this recognition of freelancers as essential workers, it seems possible that independent workers might be eligible for coverage by federal family leave policies in the future. Cowles points out that a 2020 poll by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that 75 percent of voters were in favor of a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all workers. These numbers include 87 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans.

Maybe the time has come for self-employed people who contribute so much to the economic well-being of our country have some federal support to deal with life’s challenges.


Photo courtesy of Andrew Scheer (CC0 1.0)

The New Global Plan for Gender Equality

I remember the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995 when Hillary Clinton created a global scandal by declaring, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Her speech was considered so outrageous that the Chinese government cut off her microphone in the middle of her speech. Clinton was the first lady at the time, and the United States government asked her to “soften” her speech, which she refused to do. There had never been a global summit on women’s rights before, and I remember hanging on every word reported about the proceedings and wishing I could be there too. As noted by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Emma Goldberg of the New York Times, by the end of that summit, “Almost every country in the world had committed to the ‘full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.’” This commitment was considered a big deal but also toothless and unfunded. That was the last time, twenty-six years ago, that a global summit on women’s rights was convened—until now.

At the end of June 2021, the Generation Equality Forum was convened by UN Women, political leaders, corporate executives, and grassroots activists in Paris. Gupta and Goldberg note that organizers of this forum created a system designed to avoid the mistakes of the 1995 convening that produced a platform with no concrete plans and no funding. For the 2021 forum, the organizers required that in advance, “all participants—whether U.N. member states or grass-roots activist organizations—would be required to submit clear, measurable proposals that fell under any of the six main policy areas:

  • Eliminating gender-based violence
  • Advancing women’s economic empowerment
  • Enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care
  • Increasing gender parity in private and political spheres
  • Investing in gender-focused climate change solutions
  • Narrowing the gender digital divide”

Because countries have different starting places, each country was encouraged to develop measurable proposals to commit to. If the proposals were not measurable, the organizers sent them back to be improved before the event.

President Emmanuel Macron of France pointed out that COVID-19 turned out to be “’an anti-feminist virus’ that pushed more women around the world into poverty, nudged more girls out of school and locked women in with their abusers.” Because of the pandemic and these negative impacts for women and girls, a sense of urgency prevailed that resulted not only in creative and ambitious gender-focused policy proposals and program plans but also pledges of $40 billion to fund these policies and programs. These pledges include $2.1 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, cementing the longtime commitment of Melinda French Gates to gender equality. Also included is $420 million from the Ford Foundation.

We have a long way to go to reach gender equality globally. As noted by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, “Women are just one-quarter of those who are managers, they are one-quarter of parliamentarians around the world, they are one-quarter of those who negotiate climate change, less than one-quarter of those who negotiate peace agreements. One-quarter isn’t equality. Equality is one-half.”

Some surprise commitments came forward during the proceedings. Kenya produced an innovative plan to counter gender-based violence that other African nations adopted as a template for their plans. The United States came in with a strong set of commitments at the last minute. The United States had not signed up to participate under President Trump, and the Biden administration only finalized the US commitments a few days before the forum convened.

Hillary Clinton was in Paris. How exciting that must have been for her. I wish I could have been there too.


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Women-Led Fortune 500 Companies and Social Justice Promises: Update

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among other Black Americans killed by police or white citizens in 2020 and captured on video, triggered an outpouring of public support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the summer of 2020. The obvious injustice of the killing of unarmed Black people like Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, witnessed over and over again on the daily newscasts from the video recordings of their deaths, tipped the scales of outrage in the American public. Mariel Padilla, writing for the 19th, reports, “Corporate America responded on an unprecedented scale.” One-third of Fortune 1000 companies made public statements about the need for racial equity, which is itself unusual for corporate America. Hundreds of companies made financial pledges to support the BLM movement that totaled close to $200 billion, according to McKinsey, to combat systemic inequity and racism in our society. Padilla and the 19th asked, “Where did the money go?” and did women-led companies perform any differently in the actual payout of financial commitments to the BLM movement? This is what they found.

The 19th conducted research in 2021 on the forty-one women-led Fortune 500 companies in the United States. They found research showing that half of women-led companies made a profit during the pandemic despite the economic fallout, which is supported by earlier research showing that women-led companies perform better financially. Nonetheless, Padilla notes that no research had been done on whether women-led companies behave differently regarding their social impact performance. The 19th found that thirty of the forty-one women-led companies released statements supporting racial equity after the Floyd murder and identified nearly $2 billion in pledges from these women-led companies. One dozen of these companies responded to research requests from the 19th about the actual payouts of their $22.5 million pledges. Here are some highlights:

  • Citigroup, now headed by Jane Fraser, made the largest pledge of $1 billion to “help close the racial wealth gap and increase economic mobility” over the course of three years. No figures are available as to how much has been spent to date.
  • UPS, led by Carol Tomé, pledged $4.2 million and one million employee volunteer hours of service. Padilla reports that UPS overshot its $4.2 million commitment, giving more than $6.3 million to Black initiatives and communities in 2020.
  • Clorox pledged $2.5 million in 2020 and delivered.
  • Edward Jones met its $1.2 million pledge.
  • Northrop Grumman met its $1 million pledge and matched $728,000 in employee contributions.
  • PG&E made donations totaling $1 million.
  • Thrivent made $2.8 million of its $3 million commitment so far.
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals disbursed $3.4 million of its $4 million pledge as of June 2021.
  • Rite Aid has distributed $1.2 million of its $2 million pledge as of June, with the rest to be distributed by the end of 2021.

The data is too incomplete to be able to say that women-led companies are walking their talk on paying out their pledges to the BLM movement at a rate higher than companies led by men, but a new Fortune initiative that ranks companies based on fourteen diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) metrics found that five women-led companies were ranked in the top twenty for DEI performance. This is a significantly higher proportion (25 percent) of women-led companies, which represents only 8 percent of the Fortune 500. This bodes well for women-led companies, according to new research showing that companies dedicated to social goals have a better financial performance.

Padilla shares three actions that companies can take to move beyond just making performative statements (statements that acknowledge inequity but take no substantive actions to address the cause of the inequity):

  1. Assess the situation, the climate, their employees and stakeholders and their culture.
  2. Increase the knowledge and understanding of their employees on the issues.
  3. Take action by setting goals and implementing them.

It is important for us as consumers, investors, and stakeholders to hold companies accountable for living up to the promises they make about addressing social issues. Otherwise, they may be all talk and no action.


Photo courtesy of Palácio do Planalto (CC BY 2.0)

More Sounds of the Glass Ceiling Breaking for Womxn

Let’s take this time to mark another moment of “firsts” for women, adding to the others we have recently acknowledged. We should not take these breakthroughs for granted because as Claire Cain Miller points out,

  • They are a long time coming.
  • Representation in positions of influence can break down stereotypes about who can be a leader.
  • Research from around the world has demonstrated that the role model effect, summarized as “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” is especially strong for young girls.
  • The identities of leaders shape which issues they pay attention to and how they do their job.

Here are a few recent cracks in the glass ceiling:

Sally Buzbee has been named as the first woman to serve as the Washington Post’s editor since the paper started publishing in 1877. Rachel Abrams and Katie Robertson, writing for the New York Times, report that Buzbee has been a reporter, executive editor, and senior vice president of the Associated Press, where she spent her entire career until being tapped by the Post for the top job. It is often true that women do not get the top job in an organization until the organization is in crisis, but this is not the case at the Washington Post. For once, Buzbee is being promoted into the top job of an organization restored to health under the ownership of Jeff Bezos, who bought the newspaper in 2013. The Post is now a digitally savvy news operation second only in subscribers to the New York Times.

Min Jung Kim will become the first woman and the first person of color hired to be the director of the acclaimed Saint Louis Art Museum, founded in 1879. Jane Henderson, writing for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, reports that Min Jung Kim, age fifty-one, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and earned her master’s degree in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, England. She previously worked at a number of art institutions, including for more than a decade with the Guggenheim Foundation in New York.

Gina Chua, promoted recently to the new executive editor role at Reuters, became the most senior transgender journalist in the country when she came out as transgender to her colleagues in December 2020. Katie Robertson of the New York Times quotes Chua, age sixty, as explaining that she took time away from the office during the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare to live and present “as what I know to be my true self 100 percent of the time.” In another first, Robertson explains that Chua reports to Alessandra Galloni, “who was named editor in chief of Reuters in April and is the first woman to hold that role in the news agency’s 170-year history.”

These are some of the sounds of the glass ceiling breaking. Let’s mark them and celebrate them.


Photo courtesy of Oh Paris (CC BY 2.0)

Why We Need More Women in Elected Leadership

In previous posts, I wrote about women leaders who have made a difference because they are women. In one post, seven women heads of state around the world demonstrated clear and measurable differences in effectiveness compared to men leaders at the beginning of the pandemic by

  • Telling the truth to their people (Angela Merkel of Germany and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand)
  • Being decisive (Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan)
  • Using technology (Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland)
  • Showing empathy and compassion (Mette Frederiksen of Denmark and Erna Solberg of Norway)

In another post, I wrote about calls by feminist lawmakers for a feminist domestic and foreign policy agenda that would include the following on the domestic front:

  • Fifteen-dollar minimum wage for economic security
  • Hazard pay for essential workers during public health crises
  • Universal paid family and medical leave
  • A robust safety net
  • Subsidized childcare
  • Domestic violence prevention funding

A feminist foreign policy would do the following:

  • Prioritize the care economy and the health and well-being of the most marginalized
  • Shift priorities from military security and business profits to health and personal safety
  • Emphasize international cooperation in health family planning, gender-based violence, and climate change
  • Invest in female farmers and indigenous women who organize to salvage ecosystems and foster resilience

A post about Christine Legarde, the first female president of the European Central Bank (ECB), noted her feminist vision for the ECB, which represents a significant departure from the visions of previous presidents. Her vision aims to

  • Fight climate change
  • Encourage global cooperation
  • Strengthen the credibility of international institutions

In Argentina, the new president, Alberto Fernandez, inaugurated in December 2019, has implemented a feminist agenda, led by three strong feminists he appointed, to

  • Legalize abortion
  • Build more preschools to help mothers get back to work after the pandemic
  • Fight gender violence
  • Pay a family income to recognize unpaid care work in the home
  • Professionalize care work through higher pay and respect

Liuba Grechen Shirley, writing for Ms. magazine, points out that while we need more working mothers in elective office to bring voice to the issues and interests of families, the US electoral system is not set up for mothers who want to run. Running for office is time consuming, and affordable childcare is not available. We need more mothers in elected office to push for policies that support working families, such as

  • Affordable childcare
  • Paid family leave
  • Social acceptance of working mothers

Shirley notes that women, especially single mothers who want to run for office cannot afford to do so without childcare. Until recently using campaign funds to pay for childcare while campaigning was illegal. It is now possible to do so at the federal level but not for state and local campaigns. Representative Katie Porter is the first single mother to serve in Congress, and she has been able to fight for a living wage for all Americans and propose legislation to double the pretax amount families can set aside for childcare and eldercare. Representative Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American to serve in the House, has advocated for bills supporting affordable housing, lowering student debt, and much more.

We need more women like Porter and Omar in Congress. While approval has been recently granted for candidates for federal office to use campaign funds to pay for childcare, this decision does not apply to state and local offices. Being able to use campaign funds for childcare would change everything for mothers, according to Shirley, and would benefit families in the long run.

Find out whether your state legislature is addressing this issue. The Vote Mama Foundation has succeeded in getting fifteen states to enact this legislation at the state and local levels and is hoping to get approval for campaign funds to be used for childcare during campaigns in all fifty states by 2023. Contact them to find out what you can do in your state. Women’s voices are needed at every level of government.


Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Long-Term Effects of the Shecession: A Case Study

A recent article written by Kweilin Ellingrud for the McKinsey & Company COVID Response Center provides valuable insight into some long-term effects for women who left the workforce during the pandemic and some influences of culture and diversity on the women who left. For this case study, Ellingrud interviewed two Latina mothers who left the workforce. Farida Mercedes was a human resources executive for seventeen years at a global company and Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto was a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin when they left their jobs to care for their children during the pandemic.

Ellingrud notes that many Black and brown mothers did not have the option of leaving the workforce during the pandemic because they are the primary or sole breadwinners of their families. Prior to the pandemic women were the primary or sole breadwinners in 68 percent of Black families and 41 percent of Latino families. Nonetheless, Black and brown women had the highest unemployment rate as of January 2021.

The role of culture in the decisions of Mercedes and Soto to leave the workforce to care for children during the pandemic is clear. Mercedes explained that in her culture, “Women have never really had the support that men have had in the workforce.” She goes on to explain that in her marriage, she is always the one to take care of the children and that it was just assumed that if someone needed to stay home with the children during the pandemic, it would be her. Soto notes, “In Latin American culture, there are stricter kinds of gender norms. Combine the fact that Latinas are the ones who have been hardest hit by the shecession with the fact that you have these gender norms, and it’s really a recipe for disaster for women and women of color.”

This situation has many implications for women of color:

  • Women who cut back their paid-work hours to accommodate family responsibility risk losing wages, benefits, and opportunities for advancement,
  • The women who are eventually able to go back to work are not going to be able to advance to the degree they would have before because of the gap in their employment,
  • Women who work in service industries as low-wage workers may not be able to regain employment at all. A lot of their jobs were planned for automation before the pandemic, and the pandemic accelerated that timeline.
  • In addition to lost paychecks, lost contributions to retirement savings and Social Security will result in long-term hardship.

Ellingrud quotes Soto, coauthor of the report “America’s Recovery from the 2020 ‘Shecession’: Building a Female Future of Childcare and Work,” as saying that to get women, and especially women of color, back to work, we need

  • A robust reskilling and retooling program to enable lower socioeconomic women to find stable employment
  • Fixes to our broken childcare system
  • Maternity leave

The pandemic has laid bare the disparities that women of color face and highlighted many of our broken systems. The shecession is not going to magically disappear as the country comes out of the pandemic. We need to make investments in people and systems—such as childcare—now.


Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

How to Bring about Racial Equity: New Research

What will it take to bring about real change in racial equity in the United States? Decades of efforts to close the wealth, health, and other gaps for Black and brown Americans have not made much of a difference. In an article written by Earl Fitzhugh, J. P. Julien, Nick Noel, and Shelley Stewart for McKinsey Quarterly, the authors suggest a strategy based on new research that could bring about lasting change.

We are at a particular moment in time when ending racial inequality might be possible. The year 2020 was full of losses for Black lives that the whole world noticed:

  • Murders by police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other people of color in the United States and other countries brought people into the streets in sixty countries and more than two thousand US towns and cities to support Black lives.
  • COVID-19 deaths for Black Americans was at least double compared to white Americans.
  • The economic burden of the pandemic fell significantly more heavily on Black and brown workers and business owners.

Since George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, organizations and businesses have committed more than $200 billion to address racial inequality. But, the authors note, the events above are rooted in long-standing inequities and a long history of systemic discrimination. They point out that decades of efforts to close the wealth, health, and other gaps for Black Americans have not worked:

  • The racial wealth gap has persisted and grown. One study cited by the authors found that since 1950, there has been no progress toward income or wealth equality between Black and white households in the United States.
  • Public, private, and social sector efforts to combat racial inequality have not had the intended impact. Each sector has systemic barriers for Black Americans built into it, and no one sector can address these barriers alone. For example, social sector organizations, such as nonprofits, cannot get adequate funding for racial justice initiatives.

The authors declare that “single-sector solutions cannot fully address the barriers to Black advancement.”

They also argue that commitments by individual organizations to combat racism will not be enough. They point out “the best hope lies with a sector-spanning coalition.” The researchers studied coalitions that successfully addressed similar complex challenges, such as discrimination against LBGTQ+ Americans and youth unemployment. Through in-depth interviews and wide-ranging conversations, which took into account the expertise, insights, and lived experiences of the leaders of these successful coalitions, they found five attributes that could be the foundation of an intervention that eliminates structural racism in the United States. The five attributes of successful coalitions from this research are

  1. Unite around one clear mission—The authors note that “racial inequalities exist in nearly every area of society—housing, politics, finance, labor, criminal justice, and more.” It can be difficult for different sectors to all agree on one mission, but that is essential. For example, the LGBTQ+ organizations agreed on Freedom to Marry, which aimed to win the right for same-sex couples to marry, as the goal they would unite around, even though many organizations had other agendas. They were able to organize a critical mass of people, supporters, resources, and momentum to accomplish their goal.
  2. Coordinate and collaborate via a central backbone—Successful coalitions rely on a backbone structure—a core group that provides national coordination to convene stakeholders, build consensus, coordinate action, collect and disseminate data, track overall progress, and publicize the results.
  3. Secure adequate and appropriate funding—The authors note that “Black-led and Black-focused organizations are disproportionately underfunded.” Smaller grants, restricted grants, and unconscious bias in funding decisions limit the ability of Black-led organizations to accomplish their goals. Successful coalitions have a large group of funders willing to pool resources and leave allocation decisions to a strong leader.
  4. Ensure accountability—Successful coalitions have systems in place to collect, analyze, and share data on outputs and outcomes of their initiatives and agree on measures of success.
  5. Win and maintain support from a broad set of stakeholders—They encourage active engagement from institutions and individuals beyond those directly affected.

These five attributes of successful coalitions make so much sense as components of a strategy to eliminate racial inequality for Black and brown people as well as for other complex social issues. Stacey Abrams implemented a similar strategy for turning Georgia into a blue state. Fragmentation is the killer of dreams, but coalitions can make big change happen.


Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue (CC BY 2.0)

Redefining Childcare as a Business Problem

Much has been written about the lasting negative impact of the pandemic on women’s employment. In a previous post, I summarized several studies on the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on working mothers. Alisha Haridasani Gupta, writing for the New York Times, notes that “by February [2021], almost two million women had dropped out of the work force, bringing the female labor participation rate to its lowest level since the 1980s.” She goes on to note that the reason for the decreased participation was the increased caregiving burden on women due to the COVID-19 shutdown, when schools and childcare centers closed.

The sudden shift in childcare and eldercare burdens, which fell largely on women when the lockdown happened in spring 2020, changed the focus for many businesses from seeing childcare as a private matter to a business concern as they lost critical employees. Gupta writes that when Tina Tchen, the chief executive of Time’s Up, an advocacy organization, reached out to businesses to ask if they were interested in starting a new coalition called the Care Economy Business Council, almost two hundred small, medium, and large organizations became founding members with a focus on pushing for sweeping reforms to the caregiving infrastructure in the United States (). They note “that crumbling child and elder care systems ultimately affect business productivity and bottom lines.” The Care Economy Business Council released this groundbreaking statement:

“Our economy cannot reach its full potential without women, and women cannot reach their full potential without a reimagining of care.”

This statement from the council represents a radical shift in perspective for the business community, which acknowledges that the care infrastructure problem is bigger than they can solve on their own and that the federal government needs to play a role. The council will both look for ways they can improve workplace policies and advocate for federally funded

  • Family and medical leave
  • Affordable childcare and eldercare
  • Elevated wages for caregiving workers

There is bipartisan support in Washington, DC, for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which includes investment in our national care infrastructure. It’s important to lend our support to this new proposed legislation. The health of our economy and the future careers of women depend on us.


Photo courtesy of Savanna Smiles (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Argentina Leads the Way for Women: The Feminists behind the President

I was truly surprised to read about efforts by the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, to expand the rights of women in his country. Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Daniel Politi, writing for the New York Times, explain that President Fernández fulfilled a campaign promise by legalizing abortion at the end of 2020 and vows to “help mothers get back to work [after the pandemic] by building more preschools” and to fight against gender violence. Fernández deserves credit for putting the structures in place in his government to implement this feminist agenda, and he has put three strong feminists in charge of driving these changes:

  • Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the country’s first minister of Women, Genders and Diversity
  • Vilma Ibarra, the president’s top legal adviser who wrote the country’s landmark abortion bill
  • Mercedes D’Alessandro, the country’s first national director of economy, equity, and gender within the Economy Ministry

These three leaders sprang into action when the COVID pandemic hit just after the new president was inaugurated in December 2019. In fact, the United Nations ranked Argentina number one for gender-sensitive COVID-19 responses in the world. Gómez Alcorta, Ibarra, and D’Alessandro explain that the gender-sensitive responses fall into four categories:

  1. Gender-based violence—The three leaders created enhanced communication channels through WhatsApp and email to enable women to reach out for help during the pandemic lockdown and declared services related to gender-based violence essential services.
  2. Food emergencies services—Food delivery and protection from eviction were implemented, especially with regards to the trans community, which is particularly vulnerable in Argentina.
  3. Emergency family income—An emergency family allowance, which reached nine million people, was implemented to acknowledge that many women work in the informal sector and often do unpaid care work. The authors cite studies published by the Economy Ministry showing that unpaid care and domestic work are the largest sector of Argentina’s economy and that 75 percent of that work is carried out by women.
  4. Professionalizing care work—Gómez Alcorta notes that, postpandemic, the administration plans to create eight hundred kindergartens, nurseries, and day-care centers around the county and will revise parental leave policies to create more equality in the workplace. The eight hundred childcare programs will not only help mothers go back and stay in the workforce, they will also professionalize care work and recognize the value of that work.

D’Alessandro explains that many gender-based problems still exist in the country. There are large gender gaps in the judiciary, trade unions, and the business sector, and the society is “still a male-dominated patriarchal, unequal structure with clear discrimination against women.” She goes on to state, “We’re not against men. All we want to do is take apart a system that has abused and hurt women.” I believe their attention to structural changes will help society for the better.


Photo courtesy of Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why Mothers Worry More: New Research

I remember how disappointed my good friend was when her daughter was born about the lack of parenting equity in her marriage. She felt sure that she had chosen a man as her spouse who would truly be an equal partner in parenting. And he did express a commitment to the idea of equity. But once her first child arrived, she would marvel to me that while he did a lot of tasks around the house, he still did not carry an equal load. The lack of equality showed up in intangible ways that required a lot of her attention to details or tasks he did not notice or think about. She felt frustrated, but he could not understand her complaints. That is why new research reported by Jessica Grose of the New York Times is so helpful—this research gives language to previously hard-to-describe “work” that women tend to do more of that researcher Allison Daminger calls “cognitive labor.”

Grose notes that while she has been writing about the gender gap in housework and childcare among heterosexual couples for almost a decade, the gap in the mental load, “an invisible combination of anxiety and planning that is part of parenting, . . . remains frustratingly uneven.” Grose points out that the work of Daminger, a doctoral candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University, breaks down “cognitive labor” into four parts: anticipate, identify, decide, and monitor. Using planning for summer camp as an example, the four parts are described as

  • Anticipate—thinking ahead about something, like the need to find a summer camp placement
  • Identify—researching possible summer camps
  • Deciding—choosing a camp to sign up for
  • Monitoring—making sure that all the steps for enrollment, such as turning in the application and medical forms, are complete by the due date

Through interviews with thirty-five heterosexual couples, published in a paper in the American Sociological Review, Daminger found gender differences in the four parts as follows:

  • Women do the vast majority of anticipating. Women are the ones who carry the awareness that steps need to be taken to enroll in a program or camp, and women are the ones who have to bring it up and start a planning process.
  • In her research, Daminger found that men and women jointly handled identifying and deciding which camp is best.
  • But women do a lot more than men on the back end of following up on the details such as turning in required forms on time.

This is exactly what my friend complained about in her partnership. She had to hold space in her brain to anticipate or follow up on details that her husband did not do, which felt unfair to her. Daminger suggests that it is not that men are not capable of executive function. They demonstrate this capacity at work, “and yet,” she notes, “those same traits are not activated at home.”

While Grose and Daminger agree that the reason for this difference probably lies in the societal expectations for “good mothering,” which are still different for “good fathering,” there are some steps that couples can take to level this playing field. For example, get granular about how you define “fair.” If one partner is in charge of laundry, define the whole area of responsibility as including being responsible for monitoring the supply of detergent. In other words, agree on whole areas of responsibility and spell out all the tasks involved so that everyone agrees and is clear.

Daminger recommends a new book by Eve Rodsky called Fair Play that talks about how to define household and childcare tasks. We are making progress, but we are not there yet.


Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash