New Lawsuit for Parental Leave: Forcing Change

In a recent article, I wrote about class-action settlements won by fathers against a handful of large companies that have brought about change. While only a minority of companies offer paid parental leave, a new federal lawsuit filed against Jones Day, one of the nation’s largest law firms, promises more change. This new lawsuit, filed by a couple previously employed at Jones Day, charges discrimination against fathers in parental leave policies, along with other gender-based discrimination. Noam Scheiber of the New York Times writes that this lawsuit joins another suit filed against Jones Day earlier this year by six female lawyers for gender and pregnancy discrimination. Scheiber explains all the charges in the complaint filed by the couple Julia Sheketoff and Mark C. Savignac:

  • The firm unlawfully denied Savignac the full leave he was entitled to.
  • The firm’s policy gives biological mothers eighteen weeks of leave but gives fathers only ten weeks. The plaintiffs submit that this policy “enables [fathers] to prioritize their careers over childcare.” They go on to state that this policy “reflects and reinforces archaic gender roles and sex-based stereotypes.”
  • The firm unlawfully fired Savignac when he complained about the unfair policy. He was, in fact, on approved parental leave when the firm emailed to say he was fired.
  • The couple also contends that the firm paid Sheketoff less than a man because of her gender. She was given a smaller raise in 2017 after a male partner scolded her in her evaluation for being insufficiently deferential to him. This same partner did not scold male associates who failed to defer to him.

The class-action suit filed by the six female lawyers in the firm charges that women who give birth face obstacles to advancement in the firm, and those who have a second child are often fired within a few months of returning to work.

We have made some progress in the United States with offering working women paid parental leave. Some men also have paid leave but usually very little. But clearly, many organizations are still operating in the dark ages of gender discrimination. And most workers do not have access to any paid parental leave at all. We have a long way to go. Let’s hope that the lawsuits keep coming to force much-needed change.

 

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Tips for Creating Equitable Workplaces from the New Rules Summit

On June 12 and 13, 2019, the New York Times sponsored the New Rules Summit on women and leadership. Here are some of the tips for how to create an equitable workplace generated during the summit by participants and reported by the New York Times:

  1. Encourage men to be allies—Companies need to build cultures that bring white men into the conversation about diversity and inclusion. Men should become partners in the conversation about inclusion, and the reward system should incentivize behavior change. “What gets measured gets done,” noted Michael Chamberlain of Catalyst.
  2. Create immersion experiences—By asking men to walk a mile in women’s shoes, men can begin to understand the challenges women face. For example, have men take only 80 percent of their salaries for six months and donate the other 20 percent to women’s advocacy organizations. Another example of an immersion experience is for teams to identify one man whose ideas will be ignored or talked over for three meetings. Then have the team members create agreements for how they will engage in ensuring all team members are heard and included. As noted by Damien Hooper-Campbell, “Policies alone will only get us so far.”
  3. Listen to both women and men—Ask men and women what benefits they want from their employers. Here are some of the ones mentioned at the New Rules Summit:
  4. Make paid family leave truly universal and available for employees at all levels.
  5. Subsidize childcare and let parents choose what works best for them: a stipend, access to backup childcare memberships, or bulk discounts on care.
  6. Make sure parental leave does not set off a financial penalty in hidden costs like lost bonuses, stock vestings, billable hours, and commissions.
  7. Close the gap on the “only” experience—Hire more women at every level, not just a few token women. This can be done by setting targets, mandating diverse slates of candidates for promotion, training to better notice biases, and closely scrutinizing the performance review processes. We have written about recent research on the costs of being an “only” in a previous article.
  8. Recognize the double outsider—Dalana Brand, vice president of people experience at Twitter, reminds us that the impact of unconscious bias is more pronounced for women of color than for white women. Diversity efforts should not be “one size fits all,” and leaders need training to understand how to be a better ally to women of color and others.
  9. Women need to build strategic networks differently—Daisy Auger-Dominguez, president and founder of Auger-Dominguez Ventures, points out that men’s networking practices don’t work for women. She advises that women should build an intentional and diverse network of other women, and develop deep connections to each other so they can effectively advocate for and support each other.
  10. Create an anti-harassment culture—Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, notes that “sexual harassment is about the abuse of power, it’s not about sexual desire.” To prevent sexual harassment, organizations need to create cultures where people feel empowered to come forward to report it and are rewarded for doing the right thing. Those accused of sexual harassment need to be consistently held accountable.

What types of strategies are working in your organization to create more inclusive cultures?

 

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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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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.

 

Photo by César Abner Martínez Aguilar on Unsplash

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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Joblessness and the “Care Chasm”: Why Women Drop Out of the Workforce

There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States? While the decline in workforce participation for working-class men began in the 1960s, the slide for women’s participation did not begin until the early 2000s. Patricia Cohen of the New York Times explains that the drop in women’s workforce participation occurred for different reasons than it did for men. During this period, women have been earning college degrees in greater numbers; also, service sector jobs, where women are traditionally concentrated, have been growing. So why have women been dropping out of the workforce? Cohen notes that we do not have the family support policies in the United States that other industrialized countries have. In fact, here “women are still the primary caregivers—for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives.” Women often cite caregiving responsibility as the reason they are unable to hold on to unstable and inflexible jobs. Cohen cites economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who reports, “Hardly any men who have dropped out say it is because they are helping with children or other family members.” Eberstadt goes on to note that a “care chasm” explains the stark contrast between women’s workforce participation in the United States and their participation rate in Europe. He explains that European countries with comprehensive family support policies have seen women’s labor force participation go up since 2000, while ours has plummeted. We need to demand that our legislators support policies for affordable child care, paid family leave, elder care support, and a living wage in the United States. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Univ. of Salford. CC by 2.0    ]]>

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]]>