Jobs & Unemployment

Why National Paid Parental Leave Would Benefit Investors

By Josh Levs

With early voting underway and midterm elections coming up, both parties are pushing economic messages. But one issue getting virtually no attention is one of the most popular economic policies in the country: paid parental leave.

Across political lines, there is broad support for an insurance system that would allow parents paid time to care for their children. What may be less well known is that savvy investors want it as well -- for the sake not just of families, but also of the economy and corporate bottom lines.

In fact, a year ago, investors representing $1.6 trillion sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to pass a federal paid leave program.

Unfortunately, in order to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats had to omit certain key issues including paid leave, universal pre-K, and other wish list items. Despite that, they have promised to keep pressing for these policies in other ways.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that some Republicans want to support policies that benefit families as well, particularly in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court. But their efforts are “running into the usual buzzsaw of GOP opposition to social spending.” These lawmakers may find that the pressure to drop such opposition is bigger than ever. A survey found that support for paid leave among Republican men jumped to 56%, while opposition fell “drastically” from 51% to 33%, Morning Consult reported.

This speaks to an issue I’ve been addressing for years, in meetings with lawmakers, Congressional testimony and more. All too often, parental leave is presented as a “women’s issue,” which in many ways, it is, but parental leave impacts and benefits men, too. To truly push the needs, men need to raise our voices in greater numbers and join the legions of women who have led the fight and continue to push for policies that work for caregivers. The more we do this, the further this badly-needed legislation will get.

Strengthening gender equality, businesses and families

In research for my book All In, I found the case clear and overwhelming that parental leave benefits everyone -- including businesses. California was the first state to create its own paid leave insurance system, and business profits went up. So did the number of people who stayed in the workforce. Other states including Massachusetts have followed suit.

When paid leave is available, men are more likely to take time off for caregiving, and women are more likely to keep their jobs. This is an essential step toward gender equality. As the pandemic showed, caregiving still falls disproportionately onto women -- and many were forced to drop out of the workforce when presented with the choice between family and career.

Promundo and Dove Men+Care have studied what the biggest factors are holding men back from taking parental leave. One of the biggest barriers is financial -- something that a paid leave program helps to solve. The other, often even bigger problem, is stigma. Men have been fired, demoted, or lost job opportunities for taking leave after the birth or adoption of a child, because of outdated thinking among some executives that only women should do the caregiving at home. (I have a partnership with Dove Men+Care, working on research and projects that support fathers as caregivers, including the Pledge for Paternity Leave.)

During the pandemic, men and women in heterosexual marriages have told me their stories of bosses assuming that the men would continue to be available around the clock, while the women did the caregiving. So along with national parental leave, we also need to tackle the societal messaging that fuels this outdated idea.

The bottom line

Numerous studies show that when companies have their own paid leave programs in place, they do better. One survey of more than 440,000 working parents at 1,200 companies found that those whose employers offer generous paid parental leave and other parental benefits report higher rates of retention, engagement and advocacy, Business Insider reported.

Talent solutions company Hanover reported this year that, “Paid parental leave -- including for adoption, fostering, surrogacy, etc. -- has a tangible effect on not only the mental, physical and financial health of new parents, but also on the productivity, profits and turnover of the business that employs them.”

Shareholders have even been known to put forward their own proposals calling on companies to offer this kind of leave.

But the piecemeal process of getting individual companies to take action doesn’t scale. We need a national program modeled after successful programs at the state level.

The case is clear. It’s time to finally end America’s stance as the only developed nation without any national paid parental leave. It’s a winning issue -- and both parties have reason to finally make it happen.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.