family act

Coolest parental leave policy yet: The double dip

When it comes to ketchup or hummus in our house, the rule is very firm: NO double-dipping. Especially when there's strep and flu going around (it's been a germy week chez Brody). But that's exactly the brilliant tactic that an Austral-asian company has just come up with for parental leave. My Food Bag, which is similar in concept to Blue Apron here in the U.S. (scheduled deliveries of pre-measured ingredients for at-home meals), will expand upon the New Zealand government's 18 paid weeks in a really cool way: New moms and dads will be allotted an extra 18 weeks—if they want to take them at any point in their child's first two years of life. Should they choose to forgo the additional leave, they will be paid 160% of their salary for that time. How smart is that? (And how loyalty inducing is that?) Because the message sent to employees is three-fold:

1) We get it. You really might need this time. And we don't want you feeling pressure to come back to work before you're ready. And:
2) Your work is so valuable to us that we will pay you significantly more for it. But:
3) This is, essentially, temporary combat pay, to acknowledge that your working right now is a detriment to other parts of your life.

My Food Bag's co-founders, both 30 years old and both pregnant, declined to tell The New Zealand Herald, which reported on the new policy, how much it would end up costing, saying only, "The costs will be significant, but nothing in comparison to the rewards."

Would you spend $2.19 a week to guarantee paid parental leave?

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

That's exactly 0.2% of the average American annual salary of $57,000. And that's how much it would cost to fund paid parental leave for all parents for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a baby. Seriously, two bucks. That's what Rep. Rose DeLauro (D — Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D — N.Y.) proposed as part of their FAMILY Act—so far, to no avail. In the meantime, private companies are doing their best to stay competitive by offering their own versions of paid leave.

The latest and greatest is Etsy, which announced yesterday that it will offer all new moms and dads 26 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken over the first two years of a baby's life—along with lots of new support programs. That is awesome, obviously, and part of a trend of one-upmanship among tech companies that I'm happy to cheer on. But here's what's especially cool: Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at USV, who sits on the board of Etsy, gave his blog readers a glimpse at the thinking behind the new policy. It was fueled, Wilson writes, by the need to stay competitive in recruiting and retention (no surprise there), but also because, he explains:

"Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values."

Makes a ton of sense. But Fred, wisely, also points out that Etsy is able to make this change because it's a large company, with the scale to support these policies. He writes:

"It's easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space."

Or how about a team of one, like the lovely Etsy vendors I buy from when I need a sweet, unique baby gift, or "homemade" Phineas and Ferb Halloween costumes (homemade by some other far-more-fabulously skilled mom than me)? What about those individual entrepreneurs? Where is their leave—paid or unpaid? Non-existant. Which brings me back to two dollars. Because I would happily spend that, many times over, if it meant we could catapult the U.S. into the present and in line with the rest of the civilized world.

Would you crowdfund your maternity leave?

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

Because apparently now that's a thing, according to this excellent BuzzFeed story. Couples and moms-to-be are using sites like GoFundMe and CrowdRise to raise the money they need in order to take unpaid time away from work. (Quick reminder that here in the U.S., FMLA requires companies with more than 50 employees to hold your job for 12 weeks of family leave—but it's up to individual workplaces to determine how much of that time, if any, is paid.)

Leave it to a pregnant, nesting, hyper-goal-driven woman to get things done, right?

The 100 women I interviewed for my book were all over the place in terms of time off—and I have to be honest, I worked hard to ignore my own biases and be open minded. You want to take 12 weeks? Okay. You want to take one week? Also fine. You want to take six months? Fantastic. All good. But the verb in all of those sentences contains the word "want." That implies a choice. The availability of options. It's the women I talked to who took far less leave than they wanted (or frankly, needed, physically and emotionally) that made me so convinced that this FAMILY Act for paid leave needs to happen, and fast. The waitress whose husband lost his job, who was back in her uniform in a week. The small business owner who was placating clients from the NICU. These women are scrappy as hell. But they shouldn't have to be. 

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

So as much as I absolutely hate—hate—to see women and families panhandling, I hope the trend gets a whole lot of attention. I hope it's an embarrassment to this great country that has such a rich history of bootstrap pulling, of people doing everything they can to succeed and move up to give their kids a better life. Because a better life means having choices, not being so up against a wall that you're reduced to only one option: begging. 

Guess where women were fined $300 a day for taking maternity leave

photo by Ryan McGuire

photo by Ryan McGuire

Canada. Yes, Canada, land of one-year maternity leaves, and a prime minister who calls himself a feminist, and a massive uptick in Google searches on how to move there that followed last week's Republican presidential debate. Even Canada didn't have its act together about parental leave just 25 short years ago.

I will go ahead and plead completely ignorant about Canadian politics, but....There's a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Linda Reid, who just celebrated her 25th anniversary in the B.C. legislature. The Richmond News, in British Columbia, did a fantastic interview  with Reid in which she recalled her dogged infiltration of a boys' club as Richmond's first elected woman. Her request for a ladies' restroom was just the beginning. When she had her daughter, she realized there was not only no maternity leave offered, but that she'd be fined $300 per day that she was out. "It was just bizarre," Reid told Richmond News reporter Matthew Hoekstra. "I said to Gordon Campbell, who was then leader of the Opposition [and later went on to become the Premier of British Columbia], 'If we ever get to government that's one of the first things we're changing.' I think he decided you shouldn't argue with a postpartum woman." True that.

Canada actually had had some form of maternity leave since 1921 but it took until 2001 for the Employment Insurance system (maternity leave) to resemble the plan in place today. Along the way, parental leave expanded to include fathers and adoptive mothers. It took time.

I suspect that paid parental leave will also take time in the United States, as much as I would love for the FAMILY Act to catapult us into the modern age in one swift beat. But we'll get there. If every baby step is a victory, then every woman who speaks up, who points out inequities, is like a mother leaning over that baby, holding his hands as he toddles.



How Bethesda might get the whole U.S. paid parental leave

photo by Benji Aird

photo by Benji Aird

Back in September, the United States Department of Labor's Women's Bureau issued $1.55M in grants to eight regions around America to study the viability of local paid family leave programs. The goal? To research, "how paid leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country." Which is awesome. I'm going to be watching those eight regions and reporting back here on how it's all going. 

One of those communities is Montgomery County, Maryland, where, last month, district 16 Del. Ariana Kelly brought a bill forward that looks very, very similar to the federally proposed FAMILY Act: Funded by a payroll tax (to avoid a burden on businesses), the plan would create a state-run insurance fund to give workers 12 weeks off of work, at two-thirds pay, to care for a family member. At the hearing for the bill on Tuesday, Kelly appealed not just to desperate mothers and fathers—but also to the local businesses that she knows her district's economy depends on: "I'm not just a family person. I'm an employer," Kelly said. "I've been both the pregnant employee who needs paid maternity leave and the employer who does not know how she's going to pay for that."

Stay tuned. This goes to committee next week, and Kelly says she plans to reveal some of the findings of the Department of Labor study. And yes, that's a bloggy T5T cliffhanger.