Women are indeed getting screwed at work - but the solution is to change how employers treat men
This is still not enough.
The workplace won't be truly equal until both parents are equally considered primary caregivers, which means giving (and encouraging) equal amounts of leave in two-parent household.
That could be the most important step toward equalizing the workplace. In the past half century or so, the main focus on supporting women in the workplace has been on granting them "family-friendly" benefits in order to incentivize them to stick around after having children. It's a step in the right direction, but it's really only half the battle.
A recent story by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times detailed the economic failures of mom-focused benefits policies, writing that "[family-friendly policies] can end up discouraging employers from hiring women in the first place, because they fear women will leave for long periods or use expensive benefits."
Since the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993, which guarantees workers at larger companies 12 weeks of leave (unpaid), Cain Miller says that the percentage of women who are employed after having a child has gone up by 5%, but the likelihood of a woman getting promoted has gone down by 8%.
The common thread in all of the failed family-friendly policies that Cain Miller mentions, though, is that they focus on women. Employers often bear the costs of these programs, and are aware that the recipients are women. This creates two problems, which can create feedback loop that leads to fewer women at the top.
This is how it works:
- Women cost more because they require more benefits that need to be paid for by their employers
- Because of this, employers are more likely to favor their male employees, giving them an advantage over women when it comes to promotions and raises, particularly in mid-career, which tends to coincide with the peak years for having children
- Men in their 30s start to make more than women who are taking time off to have children, making them the primary breadwinners in their families by default
- Simultaneously, with much more time off than their partners, women who have children become the primary caregivers in their families by default
- This, in turn, encourages men to lean in and women to lean out during those key childbearing years, which gives employers a better reason to favor male employees
There are plenty of women who manage to break out of this mold, but few industries are near equality, particularly when it comes to management positions and pay.
Imagine, instead, that men were given (and encouraged to take) time off when their children arrive. Imagine that employers saw all new parents as equally deserving of weeks off in order to adjust to their family situation. Suddenly, no person is more expensive than the other and every employee bears the cost (and the potentially reaps the benefits) of starting a family.
On the other side, new fathers might have better bonding opportunities with their babies. It's even possible that after some time, society might start seeing fathers as equally capable parents.
Obviously, maternity leave involves a fair amount of physical recovery, usually around 6-8 weeks. But if we really believe that women need that period to recover physically, why do we strand them at home alone with new babies that need constant attention? The best recovery might just be one with a partner around to help with the parenting.
What do you think? Do you hate this idea? Do you love it? If you have any thoughts or questions, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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