Gender Pay Equity and Parental Leave

As a woman in HR, gender pay equality is a topic that fascinates me.

George Fox University sociology professor, and researcher, Melanie Hulbert, was gracious enough to allow me to interview her about the subject. With Melanie Hulbert’s interview and my subsequent research, the connection between paid parental leave, and closing the gender pay gap, became extremely clear to me as well as the need for US culture to shift the idea that parental responsibilities automatically fall on the mother.

Through paid paternity leave  and the equal distribution of parental duties between genders, pay equality can be better achieved. While the culture of management is ultimately responsible, HR professionals can help by championing for better parental benefits on behalf of women and all new parents in the workplace.

According to the report, Paid Leave in the States, the US is one of four countries in the world that have no federal law requiring paid time off for new parents. Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland are the other three.

Hulbert discussed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the lone exception to the lack of US paternity leave laws. The FMLA mandated that companies with over fifty employees, were required to provide twelve weeks of unpaid leave to those who need time to take care of a family member. The act was a step forward, but still a failure in the sense that it doesn’t include companies with less than fifty employees and the leave provided isn’t paid.

A 2011 report by Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, Failing its Families, reports that while over fifty nations guarantee paid leave for dads, a mere estimated 10% of non-government workers have paid parental leave in the US.

Hulbert commended countries with paternity leave rights that extend to men as well. When asked about countries leading the way in gender pay equality, Hulbert points to Scandinavia. “You cannot help but look to Scandinavian countries. Sweden and Norway are the trendsetters when it comes to gender equality, in multiple realms,” Hulbert said. “Not just in the workplace, but in politics, religion and other major institutions,” she explained.

Sweden’s paternity-leave policy, instituted in 1974, is one of the best in the world. In Sweden, the government will pay new parents a maximum of 80% of their salary up to approximately $65,000, for thirteen months. Both parents are legally required to contribute, with fathers (or mothers, depending) required to take at least two of those months. As a result, government statistics indicate that almost all Swedish fathers take off the minimum two months, at least. That said, Sweden still has a long way to go, with women still earning less than men, and women taking 76% of the parental leave according to Statistics Sweden (SCB) in 2011.

It appears that in order for gender pay equity to move forward, we must not only be more flexible and accommodating to new parents, but change the cultural narrative that the responsibility of parenting is mostly the mothers. Researchers such as Hulbert and Walsh point to government mandated maternity leave as a step towards gender pay equality.

Pay equality should be a priority for women in HR, and one way to help aid the process is including better paternity leave in the HR discussion about employee benefits.

About the author: Emily Manke is an Outreach Coordinator and blogger for Online Human Resources. She frequently contributes to OHR’s HR blog. Her interests include, writing, HR, gender equality, workplace diversity, social recruiting, music, and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter at @HRDegrees or on LinkedIn. Emily resides in Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend of five years, and her half Red-Heeler, half Pit-Bull Spud.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

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