As a child of the 1970s and 1980s who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of my friends’ parents were divorced, including mine. The majority of both parents also worked, once again including mine, so my brother and I went to a daycare center until we were old enough to become latchkey kids. While this was considered fine most days, I witnessed firsthand the problems created for our parents and my friends’ parents when one of us got sick or we had a day off from school.
I remember the worried look on all of the adults’ faces, not only because their child was sick, but because of the time off they would have to take. While in most instances my parents had jobs that provided for some time off, I do remember going to my mom’s or my dad’s office armed with books, pads of paper, and markers because there wasn’t alternative care. One time, one of my dad’s colleagues managed to get hold of a very small, black and white television so we could watch TV while we waited. Although it was a nice distraction when cartoons were on, television in the days of no cable, much less color, wasn’t much fun for a 7- and 4-year-old, and I’m sure having two small kids in an office wasn’t ideal, no matter how well behaved we were.
My brother and I were lucky though—many of our friends didn’t have the luxury of being able to go to their parents’ workplace, nor were their parents able to take the time off. Instead, the daycare center staff would set up a cot or mat away from the other kids so the sick child could rest. I don’t know how much rest the kid got, given that she/he was in a room full of at least 30 other healthy and thereby loud children. Nor was this an ideal situation in terms of preventing the spread of cooties to the rest of us.
Unfortunately, time hasn’t made the situation any better.
According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, the United States is one of only two countries out of 170 that does not provide paid family leave (the other country is New Guinea). Yet the need for paid leave has only grown. Most American workers have family caregiving responsibilities, and in 2015, almost 70% of women and over 90% of men in the labor force had children under the age of 18.
The good news is that more and more companies recognize the benefits of paid leave, and have put policies in place. In fact, 2017 Catalyst Award winner 3M is a great example: its I’m in. Accelerating Women’s Leadership initiative positively impacted its people, the work environment, and company culture. The company also adopted an expanded leave policy for moms and dads as well as birth and adoptive parents. Smart companies know well-thought-out policies that benefit all employees end up benefitting the entire organization and its culture.
Another resource for companies is the National Partnership for Women and Families and its #PaidLeaveCheckList that helps to determine what works and how best to design an effective and efficient paid leave policy. Two issues on the checklist that speak to me personally are whether a leave policy is inclusive, i.e., accessible to all workers with diverse caregiving responsibilities, and comprehensive, i.e., available for a full range of family caregiving needs. While I don’t have children, I do have a spouse and parents. Once again, I’m lucky, because Catalyst has a paid leave policy that checks all of the boxes on the list. It’s comforting to know that if something were to happen, Catalyst has me covered.
I’m thankful that I work for an organization that recognizes the value of a comprehensive, well-thought-out leave policy, and hope one day all workers, regardless of whether they’re men or women, who they’re employed by, and the nature of their family situations, will be able to say the same.