Working Parents Day: Why Inclusive Leave Policies are Beneficial for Everyone

September 16th is Working Parents Day, a day where we celebrate all parents who work hard to provide for their families. Balancing childcare and a full-time job is challenging, and one thing that would help ease the burden is offering equal paid family leave to all. 

84 percent of Americans support paid family leave, which is defined as an excused absence from work for taking care of family matters. In the U.S. it's up to the employer to choose whether to offer paid family leave―and as of March 2018, only 17 percent of civilian workers in the U.S.have access to it.      

This negatively affects parents’ ability to fully participate in the labor market as well as fuel U.S. economic growth. According to a 2018 study, the U.S. could add as many as five million more workers to the workforce if paid family leave was government-mandated, cutting the U.S. labor shortage by more than two thirds

Without inclusive paid leave policies, employers could be missing out on rich talent pools. In a 2015 survey, 83 percent of millennials surveyed said they would be more likely to join a company if it offered suitable paid parental leave. This is not to be overlooked as they are expected to make up about 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.

Here are some ways all working parents can benefit from paid family leave:

Gender-neutral policies
By offering different leave policies based on gender, many parental leave policies reinforce the notion that men should work and be the primary breadwinner, while women stay home and care for their children. Apple offers new mothers 18 weeks of paid leave while new fathers are only offered six weeks. 

While this may have worked in the past, times are changing. Just this year, JP Morgan Chase & Co. settled a discrimination case with a new father who was denied taking the full 16 weeks of  family leave policy it offers “primary caregivers,” citing that he didn’t qualify as the “primary caregiver” simply because his wife was able to take care of the child with her own time off. The plaintiffs in a case against Jone’s Day, one of the nation’s largest law firms, recount crude comments from partners when attempting to take advantage of the firm’s paid leave policy, with others claiming wrongful termination when questioning their firm's unequal leave policy for men.

With childcare responsibilities being distributed more equally, men are pushing for the same paid leave that biological mothers get. According to the Department of Labor, fathers taking paid leave can promote child-parent bonding and increase gender equity in the workplace. A Swedish study found that men taking on more of the household and family responsibilities directly correlates with increased women’s participation in the workforce. This not only benefits women, their future wage and likelihood of promotions, it also benefits employers when their female staff are able to keep their jobs and stay productive. 

Adoption, Fostering, and LGBTQ Parents
The focus on biological mothers in paid family leave hinders all parents, such as adoptive parents, from bonding with and taking care of their child, as well as supporting their partner (birth parent or adoptive). Many are forced to either resign or take unpaid leave when they aren’t offered adequate time-off to care for a new child. This disproportionately affects same-sex families as they are four-times more likely to adopt and six-times more likely to foster than different-sex couples.

Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to be low-wage earners and most low-income workers do not have access to paid family leave at all. Starbucks’ policies allow 12-16 weeks for corporate employees but only up to six weeks, or none at all, for retail employees. The Center for American Progress cites the exclusion of LGBTQ families in such policies is correlated to narrow definitions of “family” in local and state law, shaping public perception of what a “family” is.

By offering the same amount of leave to all, and encouraging new parents to take it, paves the way toward breaking down societal gender roles, both in and out of the workplace. If a working father in a heterosexual relationship assumes caregiving duties, his female partner is better positioned to assume leadership roles at work, potentially leading the way towards closing the pay gap, which is largely attributed to time-off taken for childcare duties. Providing equal paid leave to all parents fosters greater acceptance for same-sex couples, single, foster, and adoptive parents, and thus contributing to a more inclusive and diverse workforce.