How equal parental leave can help close the gender pay gap

Maternal leave is a big deal. Increasingly, studies are finding that paternal leave is equally important.

Lauren Smith Brody: It's really important for managers to model the kind of openness that they want to foster in their employees. Because if you're working for someone and they hide everything about their parenthood in the workplace, you think that that's the ideal and you don't feel welcome to share it yourself. 

But we all know that people who feel like whole human beings at work bring so much of their personal lives to work in a way that ultimately fuels the work that they do, that makes them more committed, more dedicated.

And to be fair a lot of these managers are from potentially a generation before, even two generations before these current workers, who are primarily millennials. 

And they may have had—they're sort of a self-selected group. So in order for a female partner at a law firm to have made partner and now be the boss, she is one of their survivors. So she's not one of the 45 percent of the class that came in female. She is one of the 13 or 14 percent of female partners, right? So something happened there. She had either more support from her peers, her bosses. Maybe she has a spouse whose home with her kids, whatever it is. 

She had something special that made it work for her, and sometimes it can be hard for a manager in that position to not expect the people underneath her to be able to thrive in that same situation. You feel like "Oh, well I pledged parenthood, you should have to pledge parenthood too." It's a very natural instinct and I don't really blame people for it. 

However what we see, everything we know about millennial workers—who are going to be 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2025, so it's happening—is that they expect to bring their whole lives to work. 

And if you can't manage around that and you can't imagine what that is like, you're going to be outdated really, really quickly—as is your company. 

So the policies that are going to be most effective in helping you retain new parents and support them and grow your company and grow your industry are those that are completely untied to gender, that are fair for everyone, that don't even label – a couple of years ago there was sort of this trend toward "primary parent, secondary parent" until everybody realized oh gosh, well that tends to divide along gender lines, first of all. 

And secondly, isn't what we want actually an even balance or at least the right for parents to make that decision and decide for themselves how they want to split it down? 

And also any mothers who were breastfeeding, I think, kind of automatically felt like they had to be the primary parent, and then the secondary ended up being dad, and then dad didn't take as much leave. 

Anyway, so first and foremost it's about having the same amount of leave for adoptive parents, same sex parents, moms, dads across the board. 

Let individual families make their own decisions about what works in their home and in terms of their income. Because if you have dads in the workplace saying "I'm taking less leave," what they're really saying is "my salary is more important. My work in the workplace counts more and is worth more money." 

And that's a perpetuating problem that ultimately impacts women's paychecks and contributes to the "motherhood penalty".

Furthermore, so this book was really the idea for The Fifth Trimester was born out of the idea that yes, six paid months is an ideal. 

We do not have that in our country right now and if you are expecting a baby you just need someone to tell you how to do it in the meantime, with the hope that you go back to work and you can either move up the ladder and change actual policies from within your workplace using the tools that are given by these hundreds of women in the book, or simply by being transparent about parenthood in the workplace. 

Because if we all sort of go one little tiny step beyond what we're comfortable with in our workplaces that one step is never going to get you fired. 

But if we all did it universally together we would have real dramatic cultural impact on what people think of new parenthood in the workplace. So one thing that managers can do is they can really be supportive of new parents talking about their kids in the workplace.  

They can themselves demonstrate if they have, you know, older children or grown children or even an aging parent who needs care.  Be open about that personal life need in the workplace.  Say that you're leaving because you are going to coach Little League or whatever it is – or you're going to the doctor, whatever it is.  Be open about that because I guarantee you, you also expect your employees to be on email at ten o'clock at night or to check their phone first thing in the morning.

So these things kind of come hand in hand. So it is also about acknowledging that in the United States employees are generally back at work before they're physically and emotionally ready to be there—Being sensitive to that and then really tending to their phase back. 

One really, really useful thing that's been shown to work internationally in terms of retaining women is to offer a phase back program that is full pay for even as little as a month or six weeks, but you have someone working a three day week. That little bit of extra time helps tremendously. 

If new parents have a grandparent close by, or as I said earlier, if dad is able to take intermittent leave, offer intermittent leave if you are an employer. That sort of extends the time that it lets baby get a little bit older before baby's in somebody else's care, and a little bit less vulnerable and potentially healthier. 

So there are all kinds of things that you can do. If you can't necessarily give six months of paid leave to your employees you can do a lot to manage that gap between when they're coming back and when that six or seven months would be up, and just be sensitive to that transition time. And know that it ultimately can set people up for long term satisfaction if it's handled well.

It's no small secret that America is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to maternal leave. But studies are finding that paternal leave shouldn't be overlooked, either. Lauren Smith Brody, former editor of Glamor magazine and now a full-time author and founder of The Fifth Trimester movement, makes the case here that dads need time off, too, to bond with their newborns, and that modern companies need to understand and appreciate that. Lauren's latest book is The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby. This video is brought to you by Amway. Amway believes that ​diversity and inclusion ​are ​essential ​to the ​growth ​and ​prosperity ​of ​today’s ​companies. When woven ​into ​every ​aspect ​of ​the talent ​life ​cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are ​the ​best ​equipped ​to ​innovate, ​improve ​brand image ​and ​drive ​performance.

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