Corporate America Needs to Step Up and Support Paid Family Leave

By Jonathan Church The Good Men Project

When I first heard my daughter Lincoln cry as she came out of the womb at 6am on a Tuesday morning last September, I was numb, sleep-deprived, and in disbelief. The baby had arrived, and however brave a face I tried to put up, I was not ready. The day before, I had a life of my own that I shared with my pregnant partner Kara. The next, I was responsible not only for myself and an exhausted partner, but also a living, breathing, newborn daughter being handed over to me to claim as my own.

The disorientation was profound. And yet, as a father, I had not endured hours of labor and delivery. Nor did I have to carry a fetus for nine months. Nor did I have months of breastfeeding awaiting me.

I did, however, have three months of paid leave to help the mother of my child recover from delivery and make the transition to newborn care. My employer allows a new father to use paid sick leave to care for a newborn, and I took advantage of the option. I considered myself incredibly fortunate in the ensuing months, as I encountered the challenges of adapting to life with a newborn infant who requires care and attention every hour of the day. Sleep deprivation. Changing diapers. Cleaning breast-feeding equipment. Going to doctor appointments for medical check-ups and vaccines. Shopping. Cleaning. Laundry. It never seemed to end.

But ultimately, other than the challenges of caring for my family, the most anxiety I felt stemmed merely from trying to find time to do things I love, like reading or exercising. Never did I have to worry about such ‘mundane’ concerns as paying the bills. I was exceedingly grateful, but too tired and distracted to recognize and appreciate how paid leave was a rare privilege that currently does not extend to many if not most American parents, who must go back to work within days or weeks, simply because they cannot afford to take time off work (under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees who work for companies with 50 or more employees have the option to take 12 weeks of leave, but it is unpaid).

The U.S. is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that does not mandate paid leave for working mothers, and though paid leave for working fathers is not as widely available (and of shorter duration) among OECD countries, the U.S. is also in the minority of developed nations that have no national policy making paid leave available to fathers. This is unfortunate. Not only is paid leave a boon to working families. It can also improve the bottom line for Corporate America.

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— But it is not just families and children that benefit. Paid leave is good for business as well. This is the message I took away from a conversation with Angela Romei, director of the paid leave program at Panorama.

— In short, offering paid leave attracts talent and boosts the productivity and morale of workers, while helping companies to avoid costs associated with losing employees and having to recruit people to replace them. Nonetheless, it is still true that the cost-benefit analysis is not necessarily the same for every company, as each company differs in size, profitability, workforce composition, and other characteristics. There is no one-size-fits-all policy.

— But according to Ms. Romei, companies are increasingly considering whether and how to implement paid family leave policies. Their reluctance to adopt a policy primarily reflects a lack of data on its efficacy and how it might dovetail with their business given the specific constraints under which they operate. This is why The Paid Leave Project at Panorama has put itself on the front lines, initiating discussions with Corporate America in an attempt to learn how paid leave impacts the bottom line.

— Ultimately, men also have to step up and join the cause. Paid leave often seems to imply maternity leave. This is understandable given norms cited above, as well as the crucial role mothers play in the early months of childrearing. But women should not be the only ones who have to make a choice between work and family. If men step up, both men and women will be fighting for the same cause of work-life balance in the service of raising their child(ren) together.