So, about that Wall Street Journal article…

There is a lot of swirl right now about the recent Wall Street Journal article about companies cutting back on parental leave.  While we’re still digging into the data, what’s most important are the issues it surfaces…and we can’t help but seize this opportunity to jump start a conversation about these challenges. 

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with a dear friend, mentor and renowned public health professor Peter D Jacobson about the work we are doing at Josie, and we talked about how parental leave is not just a workforce problem (which it is), but also a public health problem.  The article (and many that preceded it) support this argument.  At the same time, employers are grappling with workforce labor shortages and high employee turnover rates. For many, extending leave is not an appealing option, but current approaches also do not necessarily resolve mental health issues, workforce culture, and creating a more holistic ecosystem that supports new parents. 

It doesn’t help that there is no guide or consistency in our current policy framework to help put structure around this really complex issue. 

My Takeaways:

  1. Parental leave is inconsistent in the U.S., contributing to disparities across:
    • Professions and Industries.  The point that really caught my attention was this one: “SHRM found that 54% of employers in professional, scientific and technical industries offer paid leave beyond what is legally required…however, only one-third of employers in construction, utilities, agriculture and mining, government and education industries offer paid maternity leave.”  This reminds me of splashy headlines about progressive tech companies who have made investments in extending leave to upwards of 26 weeks, which should be applauded, of course.  But that’s not necessarily available to many other professions and sectors, which has implications on labor force diversity and talent. 
    • Race.  Here’s another one, from the The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan research organization:  “…two-thirds of workers who didn’t take necessary parental leave or medical leave said it was because they couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave. There are racial implications to the disparity in parental leave, as well, with Black, Hispanic, and Native American workers less likely to be able to afford unpaid leave from work than white workers.”  And here’s the most direct tie to the public health argument:  shorter parental leaves have implications on child development, maternal health, and economic security. 
    • Gender.  Paternity leave inconsistencies (and stigma) harm the notion that caregiving responsibilities should be equally distributed.  This Axios chart shows a pretty significant dip in organizations offering Paternity leave pre- vs. post-pandemic.  McKinsey’s 2021 article “A fresh look at paternity leave” highlights that “a father’s increased involvement in baby care can mitigate maternal postpartum-depression outcomes…and also allows fathers to set the foundation for a more equal distribution of responsibilities in the future.  One study showed that paternity leave can influence parents’ decisions about how to allocate resources to childcare, domestic work, and paid work in later years.” 
  2. It also means there is no consistent framework for employers on how to shape their leave strategies.  For many employers, extending leave is not an appealing option, even though there is data to support its many benefits.  At the same time, they recognize leave is just one part of a portfolio of benefits and supports that parents need to have a successful transition back to work.  Making sense of these many challenges and creating the best strategy for each organization is critical…but the playbooks are missing.

Absent a Federal paid leave policy to level the playing field, parental leave will always be inconsistent in this country.  At Josie, we absolutely encourage paid parental leaves and all the benefits it comes with – for the workforce, for children, and for employers.  But we also aren’t waiting around for that change –there are additional ways that employers can support working parents that are more immediately achievable. 

It’s why we created Josie – we partner closely with employers to develop the strategies, playbooks, and policies that will create amazing workplaces for new parents. The help we offer organizations is not limited to adding a line item in the benefits package — it’s about deeply embedding the cultural norms that will make organizations great, inclusive places to work where all employees can thrive.

Does that resonate with you? We want to know. Reach out to [email protected] to learn more!

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