Image by Vitalinko
A recent study revealed that roughly 40% of U.S. companies offer paid parental leave for both parents. Many publications, including the survey itself, highlighted this figure as a positive, citing lower numbers in the past. While any improvement is welcome, these results imply that 60% of organizations in the nation still don’t offer paid paternity leave.
The lack of paid leave for both fathers and mothers can intensify workplace inequality and damage businesses. Here’s a closer look.
Why Companies Don’t Offer Paid Paternity Leave
To understand this issue fully, it helps to look at why so many companies don’t offer paid leave. Perhaps the most significant factor behind this choice is that it’s not a requirement. There is no national legislation that says businesses have to offer paid leave to either parent, much less both.
There are, however, paid parental leave requirements in five states and Washington, D.C., with varying provisions. At least five other states are currently considering paid leave laws, but that leaves most of the U.S. with no such legislation. When businesses don’t have to offer these benefits, many won’t — primarily because of the expense.
At first, paying an employee while they aren’t adding value to the company can seem like a financial risk. While it may seem that not offering paid leave can save a company money, it’s destructive in the long run — both employees and the companies they work for suffer.
How These Policies Impact Different Demographics
Although 40% of U.S. companies offer paid leave to both parents, that doesn’t mean 40% of workers experience those benefits. The businesses that provide these programs don’t employ a proportional amount of the workforce, so surveys show that just 20% of private-sector employees had access to such benefits in 2020.
There is a sharp economic divide between workers who do and do not receive paid parental leave, too. Only 8% of workers in the bottom wage quartile have access to these programs. Low-wage workers, who would suffer tremendously from weeks of unpaid leave, are far less likely to get paid leave.
Years of racial bias and oppression in America mean this divide is a racial one, too. Black and Hispanic workers, coming from historically disenfranchised families and neighborhoods, are less likely to receive paid leave for either parent.
How Businesses Benefit from Paid Paternity Leave
These disparities in paid parental leave programs worsen the economic and racial divides that already plague the nation. The impacts of a lack of paid leave don’t end with creating more division, though; they have economic effects as well. And yet, when businesses offer paid leave for both parents, they often see positive productivity gains.
Caring for a newborn child is stressful, and having to do so without a reliable income exacerbates that stress. Studies show that unexpected absenteeism, which can cost companies $3.5 million a year, is more often than not the result of stress. After all, stressed employees are far more likely to miss work and be less productive in the workplace.
Offering paid leave to only one parent fails to mitigate these issues effectively. The parent at home may feel more stressed from shouldering the burden of childcare alone, potentially harming their productivity when they return. The parent at work may have trouble focusing from spending time away from their newborn, impacting their productivity as well.
Providing both paternity and maternity leave ensures both parents can raise their newborn without economic difficulty. In return, their morale will improve, leading to less stress and higher productivity when they return.
How Paid Paternity Leave Supports Women in the Workforce
It’s impossible to discuss the impacts of parental leave without mentioning gender inequality in the workplace. Lack of paid parental leave for women doesn’t just widen the gender wage gap; it drives women out of the workforce. While it may not seem unrelated at first, paternity leave also impacts women’s work experiences.
When fathers can take time off as well as mothers, it reduces the stress of childcare. Fathers can take over raising children for a time, giving mothers a chance to get back to work. Paid paternity leave means women don’t have to bear the entire burden of raising a newborn, helping them retain their vital place in the workforce.
Past studies have indicated that paid paternity leave also reduces absenteeism among mothers, helping keep women satisfactorily employed. Similarly, countries with mandated paternity leave show higher rates of female employment in private companies. The bottom line: Paid paternity leave improves equality at home, and leads to more equity in the workplace.
Gender Equality: U.S. Companies Still Have a Way to Go
This Women’s History Month, companies should consider how their policies affect their female workers. Even paternity leave can impact women’s involvement in the workplace. Businesses that don’t provide equitable policies hinder gender equality among their employees and in their communities.
For years, women have had to bear most of the burden of child-rearing, limiting their professional careers. Equitable policies like paid leave for all parents lighten this burden, enabling women to achieve their full professional potential. The U.S. has made some tremendous strides in the pursuit of workplace gender equality, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.