Opinion

Families Can’t Afford to Wait: Congress Must Act Now on Paid Leave

The last year exposed many fault lines in society. There are cracks we knew existed, but so many of us were shocked by the number of people susceptible to falling through them. One of the most astonishing is the vulnerability of working women – and lack of federal paid leave and child care are more than partly to blame.

Last week, President Joe Biden introduced his American Families Plan, offering comprehensive paid family leave among other policies to support working families. As so many of us learned this year, working from home while parenting is hard. Caring for family members is another full-time job, and the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges working parents face. This has set back women’s labor force participation by decades as women have been driven to leave the workforce at highly disproportionate rates.

Companies have begun to step up and offer more inclusive policies, like child care subsidies and tutoring services. However, not all companies prioritize family-supporting benefits, and many choose simply not to offer these benefits at all. In order for our economy — and women — to recover, we need comprehensive federal policies that support working parents.

The issue of paid leave and child care policies is personal. A single mother by choice, I struggled with infertility and lost a child at 24 weeks. After nine years of IVF, I safely gave birth to my daughter (who just turned four in December) and had my son last May. I know firsthand how the pandemic has increased the challenge of parenting and working — and doing both full-time.

My experience as a working single mother has shaped how I lead Thinx. We’re proud to offer both parental leave of 16 weeks and a child-care stipend. I use these policies myself, and I split up my maternity leave into two blocks, taking 8 weeks of maternity last summer and planning to take my last 8 weeks in July.

I use the Thinx child care stipend to help cover some of the cost of my nanny, who has been absolutely essential for me to stay productive over the last year. On average at Fortune 500 companies, expectant mothers have 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and fathers have less than 5 weeks of paid paternity leave. This isn’t good enough, and I hope our success at Thinx — a growing startup — can be a roadmap for other businesses and the government to update policies to benefit families.

Parental leave and child care policies don’t only help employees, but they also make good business sense. Supporting employees through these policies has been proven to boost morale and workplace satisfaction, decrease turnover, recruit talent and promote gender equity. We’ve seen this at Thinx, where 100 percent of employees have participated in the offered 16 weeks of paid leave, and 85 percent use the child care stipend, and we’ve been able to grow the past year, successfully rolling out new lines and expanding our business.

Our director of growth marketing had a baby girl in late December 2019. Obviously, a lot changed while she was out on maternity leave until April 2020, and when she came back, she took the reins once again while working from home with her baby bouncing on her knee. We closed the year with the most efficient marketing spend in our history, she launched and tested a new TV ad campaign, and she recruited several new growth marketeers that will help Thinx scale in 2021. We’re so excited to share that she is now pregnant with a baby boy and will be taking another 16 weeks in August.

With vaccines reaching arms faster than predicted, there is now light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan’s massive expansion of the child tax credit and the American Families Plan’s paid family proposal are big steps forward. But this is just a start. Expanded child care policies would both help stem the “she-cession” and help curb the long-term effects of families delaying having kids or leaving the workforce after being forced to choose between working and child care.

Companies and businesses must continue to do their parts to fill the gaps further exposed by the pandemic while we wait for Congress to act, but families cannot afford to wait much longer. Speaking as a single working mom and a CEO, I urge Congress to take action and establish a more equitable workforce through a comprehensive child care and paid family leave program.

 

Maria Molland is the CEO of Thinx.

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