During my first pregnancy, people often asked if I planned to stay home with my son after he was born. It wasn’t the type of question I had been expecting. Of course I wasn’t planning to stay home with him. I was the primary breadwinner for my family, and we depended on my job for health insurance. Returning to work was the only option.
I’m not alone. In the US, 40% of households with children rely on breadwinner moms for their economic well-being. And, a full 71% of US families rely on moms’ work to bring in, on average, 40% of household income.
Considering that the US is one of two countries in the world with no guaranteed paid leave for new mothers, it’s no wonder one in four American mothers are back at work within ten days of giving birth.
Yet, as a mom, CEO, and founder of a gender equity SaaS company, I do not advocate for maternity leave. Instead, I support paid caregiver leave. Here’s why.
4 Reasons to Support Paid Caregiver Leave
1. Caregiver leave removes ambiguity between benefits.
Removing maternal, paternal, or parental qualifiers creates a gender-neutral policy and eliminates the chance for bias to emerge between benefits. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons receive the same time and resources to take care of loved ones. It’s a signal to employees that their roles, whether it be on the homefront or in the office—are valued equitably.
2. Caregiver leave recognizes the growing demands of caring for aging parents.
Children are often just one side of the equation. As we are currently witnessing with the sandwich generation (I’m raising my hand), elderly parents need someone to look after them too. In fact, the number of 40-to-60-year-olds who financially, emotionally, or domestically support at least one child and a parent over the age of 65 is increasing. We must acknowledge these growing demands and allow employees space to care for sick family members.
The lack of caregiver leave disproportionality burdens women, and not only because the gender pay gap restrains their financial ability to provide for family members.
A gender-neutral caregiver leave would alleviate this stress and help promote gender equity by encouraging men to take on more responsibilities on the homefront.
3. Caregiver leave removes the stigma associated with paternity or maternity leave.
This is important, especially for the 98% of fathers with children at home who participate in our nation’s labor force. As it stands, most Americans don’t support the idea that fathers can stay home as caretakers of their families: only 1% of Americans say fathers do a better job than mothers at caretaking.
And yet, 48% of fathers aspire to the role of full-time stay-at-home dad. Fathers want to look after and bond with their children, but mainstream narratives around masculinity hold them back.
A Deloitte survey found that nearly two-thirds of men believed that taking time off to spend with children “would be perceived as a lack of commitment to their jobs.”
Offering caregiver over paternity leave is one small nudge that can help change this gendered narrative. Fathers (and all caregivers) should be empowered by the opportunity to play a greater role in their families’ lives—no stigma attached.
4. Caregiver leave promotes equity for all
The main reason I support paid caregiver leave? Because it brings us one step closer to gender equity. By the latest estimates, our world will close the economic gender equity gap in the year 2277. That’s a full 257 years away, and every incremental gain helps.
Gender equity, at its core, is about equity for all. Everyone stands to benefit from the improved physical, mental, and economic health that’s waiting for us on the other side of the gender equity gap.
This article was first published here.