The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t mandate any kind of paid family leave, and only 12 percent of private-sector employees in this country have access to it. This is despite the increasing number of elite employers who offer generous perks designed to improve work-life balance. What will it take for paid family leave to truly gain traction in the U.S.? Beyond a law requiring it, we’d need nothing less than a complete cultural shift. Even if paid leave were to be granted tomorrow to every employee nationwide, there’s one problem that would still remain: an unsupportive corporate culture that makes it hard to take time away from work to take care of family.
(Photo Credit: David J. Laporte/Flickr)
Long gone are the days when women (working mothers, especially) were considered novelties in the workplace. Back in the day, women were expected to care for their children and keep a house and home while their husbands earned a paycheck, so there was no need for paid family leave. However, women fought for equality, which resulted in many leaving the household to pursue college degrees and careers of their own. As of 2014, 72.7 percent had full-time jobs.
Aside from the right to vote, one of the greatest victories for women has to be their entry into the workforce, but this also brought on new challenges for women. With both mom and dad working 9-to-5 jobs, who would be covering the many household responsibilities that mom used to handle, namely caring for the children? Just take a wild guess as to who stepped up to the plate, then and now.
Today, women make up half of the American workforce, yet they still get stuck handling a vast majority of the household and childcare responsibilities. When the going gets too tough juggling work and family, someone has to make the decision to stay home with the kids – and, more often than not, it’s the working moms who have to make the sacrifice.
The corporate world still seems to be a bit stuck in the past when it comes to parity for women. PayScale’s latest report on the gender pay gap shows that women still make less than men in every industry, even when we control the data for factors like job title, experience, and education. If women can’t even earn equal pay when they put in the same hours as men, they’re obviously going to meet with resistance when it comes to getting paid time off to have a child.
Even Unpaid Leave Is Tough to Use
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible parents are allowed to take 12 workweeks of job-protected leave over a 12-month period for “the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth,” which is hardly enough time to bond with your baby/babies. During this time, many mothers are riddled with guilt and anxiety because they’re fearful of losing their jobs or encountering criticism from colleagues upon returning to work after their leave (or “vacation,” as some co-workers make it out to be). In fact, one in four mothers will return back to work within two weeks of having a baby. Something’s not right, here.
Thankfully, some big-name brands are looking to “be the change” we all want to see in the world and in this lifetime. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, IBM, Netflix, Adobe, and more have stepped up to the plate and now offer employees attractive paid family leave policies in order to attract and retain top talent in today’s competitive job market. This just goes to show that freedom and flexibility aren’t the only things workers want nowadays – they also want to be the ones in charge of deciding whether they choose to have children or not, rather than having their careers/employers dictate that aspect of life for them.
It’s not just companies that need to adapt their policies and practices to allow for a more family-friendly environment; professionals also need to be more accepting and supportive of paid family leave and those who need/take it. If you think that the time parents take off to care for and bond with their newborns is a vacation, then you’re part of the problem. Any parent will tell you that taking care of a newborn is hardly a vacation, unless, of course your idea of a vacation is dealing with an insatiable baby who cries nonstop and never sleeps.
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and create a more fair work environment that is less about competition and more about teamwork – because when the time comes for you to take a personal leave, you’ll want to know that you have the support of your employer and your co-workers.
Tell Us What You Think
How are you being part of the solution in your everyday life? Share your story with our community on Twitter and tell us how you’re helping to bridge the gap. Feel free to leave your response in the comment section below, too.