Hopeful News on Paid Family Leave Policies: Change Is in the Air

I have written previously about the poor representation and inhospitable climate for women in the technology sector. Only 17 percent of technology positions in the United States are filled by women. In addition to facing unconscious bias that makes it difficult to succeed, the lack of family-friendly policies also discourages women from being attracted to jobs in the technology sector. But suddenly, change is in the air. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports the following:

  • Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook recently announced that he will take two months of paternity leave when his daughter is born (his company now provides four months of paid parental leave).
  • Spotify just announced they will provide six months of paid parental leave.
  • Microsoft recently doubled paid leave to twenty weeks for new mothers.
  • Netflix recently announced they will provide fully paid leave for one year for new mothers and fathers.
  • IBM, on the Working Mother’s list of family-friendly companies for thirty years, recently expanded benefits to include fertility treatments, backup childcare, and shipments of breast milk home from business trips.

Why Are These Changes Coming Now?

Several social factors are converging to create pressure for companies to change, though Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania, cautions that it will take another 15–20 years for this movement to be complete. Here are some factors currently having a positive impact on company policies:
  • The founders of many technology companies, such as Mark Zuckerberg, are becoming parents.
  • Pressures to diversify the workforce have been intensifying. As it becomes more difficult to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market, technology companies are competing for talent by trying to offer the best benefits.
  • Millennial men and women, the largest generation in the workforce, are more likely than their predecessors to rank family obligations ahead of work.
  • Educated women are demanding paid family leave.
And most interesting of all—men are filing gender discrimination lawsuits. Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law explains, “suddenly men feel entitled to take time off for family. It’s revolutionary.” These lawsuits by men for the right to take parental leave without retaliation are also starting to take place beyond the technology sector.

Continuing Challenges

The implementation of paid family leave for some employees in some companies is a welcome change, and I am hopeful that this change will eventually spread to cover everyone. There are still a number of challenges to support for families that we need to be aware of:
  • Workplaces are still structured based on the model employee who has no other demands on their time (and someone at home to provide unpaid family support).
  • The number of workplace hours have increased and there is still an expectation of 24/7 availability.
  • In many companies and sectors, fathers are discouraged from adjusting their schedules or taking full paternity leave, and retaliation does occur.
  • Overall, parenthood still affects women’s careers more than men’s. Men’s decisions to take family leave are scrutinized for signals about commitment, while women are quickly written off as uncommitted as soon as they have a child.
  • Overall, the number of companies providing flexible work options or other family-friendly benefits has remained stagnant for the last five years.
  • Only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave.
  • There is a significant income divide in the United States. Only 5 percent of the workers in the bottom earnings quartile get paid family leave compared to 21 percent of those in the top earnings quartile.

Next Steps

Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the research firm New America and author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, notes that while some organizations are starting to offer paid family leave and other family-friendly benefits to some of their workers, “we are not going to be able to do this (make sufficient change) one woman at a time or one company at a time, without actual legislation, policy, political action.” We need to keep the pressure on our own organizations and on our politicians as they run for office to institute policies and pass laws that value both work and family life. What is the status of paid family leave in your organization? What changes are you seeing in support for families?   Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Leave a Comment