How paid family leave can help close the wage gap [aka Joe Manchin can πŸ–• off]

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I’m not going to lie. I have a full list of topics I want to cover in this newsletter, but something’s been bugging me A LOT this week.

A tech bro, who shall not be linked here because I don’t think he deserves any more attention, tweeted last week:Great for fathers to spend time w their kids and support moms, but any man in an important position who takes 6 months of leave for a newborn is a loser. In the old days men had babies and worked harder to provide for their future – that’s the correct masculine response.

The tweet was in light of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg taking paternity leave and, of course, good old Senator Joe Manchin being the holdout that stripped paid family leave from the U.S. spending bill.

Before I dive in too deep, I want to answer one question I know you’re probably asking right about now:

Why is this important for salary negotiations?

Paid leave is something you should always look for before you say yes to any job offer. Even if you don’t plan to have kids, there could be some time in your life where you may need to help a family member: an ailing parent, an injured sibling, a spouse with a terminal illness, etc.

Many of us gloss over benefits in light of salary. I mean, just last week I told you to focus on money in your pocket before you negotiated total compensation, right? But no amount of money can make up for being able to help those we love when they need it most or take time to ensure we’re physically and emotionally capable of work ourselves.

Fact: If your dream job has shitty leave options, it can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Back to the tweet. Here’s my beef. Women should not be the only ones looking up what their companies offer in terms of paid family leave. The key to advancing the benefit AND advancing pay equity is everyone asking about it and everyone negotiating for it.

Many men often think, “Well, I’m not the one having the baby, so it won’t matter if I go back to work after 1 or 2 weeks.” But it matters a lot.

The physical and emotional toll of bringing a new life into this world is beyond demanding. And that’s if everything goes well, too. It’s made exceptionally harder if a child goes to the NICU, if the birthing partner has complications, or postpartum depression or anxiety sets in.

And it’s not just the person who gave birth that’s recovering:

“A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of men worldwide showed signs of depression from the first trimester of their wife’s pregnancy through six months after the child was born. The number spiked to a whopping 26 percent during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s arrival,” wrote Margery D. Rosen and Diana Kelly for Parents.

When you have a kid, the physical requirements of waking up every 2-3 hours (or more frequently), figuring out how to feed and address the baby’s needs, and taking care of yourself are enough unto themselves. Couple that with anxiety and depression, and anyone would and SHOULD take a break.

We’ve normalized seeking help for mental health, but the undertone of the tweet implies that the “manly” thing to do is to go back to work immediately, leave the “women” things to women, and provide for your family. However, the numbers show us that men are just as emotionally affected by the things paid family leave covers and would benefit from equal leave just as much as the person they’re supporting.

Plus, data from the National Action Network actually shows that 1 in 4 women goes back to work 10 days!!!!!!!! after having a baby. It’s not just men who are forced to forego their physical, emotional, and mental health. The lack of paid leave means women do too.

But the thing that peeves me the most about tech bro’s tweet is the assumption of inequality from the beginning.

Here’s the dealio: One key to pay equity and closing the wage gap is treating men and women as equally valuable in both the workplace and at home. When businesses only give the non-birthing partner 2 weeks, but the person who has the baby 12, we are implicitly saying that one of these people is more important to work and one is more important to the home.

Even if we’re not talking parental leave, it is most often women taking paid (or, let’s get real, unpaid!) family leave to take care of other family members when they need it. Plus, if you’re working multiple part-time jobs, you don’t even get the basics of unpaid family leave coverage in America:

“A majority of workers do have access to unpaid leave, thanks to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. This legislation, however, excludes many part-time workers and smaller employers. Nearly 45% of workers are not eligible for such leave, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities… Private employers can voluntarily give workers paid parental leave. As of March 2021, just 23% of private-sector workers had access to such a benefit, according to federal statisticsOnly nine states and the District of Columbia mandate that employers provide paid family and sick leave. The length of such leaves vary,” wrote Erin B. Logan for the LA Times.

The U.S. had the chance to mandate this opportunity for equality (one that federal employees already have access to — I know because I’m married to one). However, one holdout, 74-year-old Senator Joe Manchin would not get behind it and it was therefore stripped. [I mention his age because I’m sure a LOT has changed since his 3 kids were born ~50+ years ago, but also because it proves how out of touch he is with the needs and wants of not-70-year-old voters in the U.S.]

It’s not only a loss to individual voters and parents (and those taking care of other family members), but it’s a blow to companies when employees have to quit to be with their families and to communities when people suffer at their inability to manage it all.

There’s obviously a lot more nuance to the conversation (I’m not even mentioning the effects the pandemic has had on women in the workplace!) and even further implications with this not being in the U.S. spending bill. Here’s what’s top of mind for me:

We’re nowhere near close to pay equity and closing the wage gap, but negotiating paid family leave is ONE SMALL STEP we can all take to work toward it — especially if our government in America won’t mandate the move toward equality. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Ask what any company offers for paid family leave before you sign an offer. If what they’re offering is abysmal or unequal, try to negotiate for more or equal leave. Make sure you get anything in writing so you have proof when you need it.
  • If you’re already at a company with poor leave offerings, work with your colleagues to address HR and leadership about how you can get better options for everyone. Do your research and come to them as a team. It’s not an ultimatum, but another negotiation where you can advocate for yourselves.
  • Remember that it’s a recruiting benefit for the company too. Find ways to show that paid family leave is mutually beneficial. You can drive top talent. You can improve retention (turnover can cost businesses up to 1/3 of an employee’s total salary). It also ensures more diversity in the workplace, which is proven to help the bottom line. All in all, a win-win for everyone.


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