Last Week Tonight host John Oliver celebrated Mother’s Day by blasting the United States for its lack of a federal paid maternity leave policy.
Oliver slammed politicians for their apparent hypocrisy for appearing to support moms in videos, but not following through by voting to provide paid leave and other benefits to working mothers.
“This is not how it’s supposed to work,” said Oliver, who is British. “Mothers shouldn’t have to stitch together time to recover from child birth the same way that we plan four-day weekends in Atlantic City. … For many women, the current situation forces them to return well before they want to.”
Oliver wasn’t the only celebrity to sound off in support of working moms and providing workplace solutions, like child care, that meet the needs of modern families.
Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe earned a lot of attention after her blog post “Why Opening An Office Nursery Was Rachel Zoe’s Best Business Decision Ever” went viral. Zoe said she made the decision to open a nursery in her West Hollywood office after five of her more than 40 employees became mothers.
“I wanted to create an environment where these new mothers wouldn’t have to make a choice between career and motherhood,” wrote Zoe. “My mission here is to get people talking about it and hope that it makes a difference, and that it makes companies really think about, ‘How many moms and dads do I have in this office?’”
Zoe says her employees are more focused and productive with their children in on-site the nursery, making the investments in the nursery a sound business decision. And Oliver, meanwhile, pointed to the fact in California, where there is a state plan providing paid leave for new parents, 90 percent of businesses said it has had positive or neutral response.
“It seems paid paternity is a bit like having hockey on in the background at a bar – it’s not hurting anyone, and a couple of people are actually really into it,” said Oliver. “Look, in California, it worked, and yet only two other states have followed their lead. And that may be because any legislation that specifically seeks to support women often faces vocal opposition.”
Is public support for working parents the sign of a sea change?
Less than 15 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave of any kind through their employers. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protection for new parents, FMLA only applies to employees of companies with 50 or more employees, and only to those men and women who’ve been with the company for more than a year and work full-time.
Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand reintroduced legislation, known as the FAMILY Act, which would create paid family leave – including maternity and paternity leave – for American workers. And President Obama has made moves to strengthen support for working families, including proposing tripling child care tax credits and instituting family-friendly policies among White House staff.
While Washington wrangles with federal paid leave policies and plans to improve access to quality child care, businesses can do their part to support our working families.
Here’s how Zoe, in her blog post, explained why she believes setting up a nursery for new parent employees was “one of the best business decisions” she ever made:
Seeing how motivated and committed the mothers on my team were after returning from maternity leave and being able to set up their babies in the nursery has only solidified my belief that every company should consider this option. Sure it required us to make additional investments—the physical space, the insurance required to protect everyone, the furnishings—but what we are getting in return is invaluable; the working mothers at our company can improve and grow our business without having to sacrifice spending precious time with their babies at such a crucial stage in their mother-child relationships.
Absenteeism, distractions and stress due to child care breakdowns costs American businesses billions annually. Access to child care benefits, such as help finding care providers or backup care for emergency situations, is proven to help employees work more hours each week, and more days a year, while improving focus and job satisfaction.
Other ways leading employees support new moms and dads at work include:
- New parent coaching programs
- Affinity groups
- Flexible work arrangements
- Parental leave transition plans
For more on the business case for supporting new parents in the workplace, including the correlation between paid parental leave and reducing turnover, download this free whitepaper from the Families and Work Institute and Care.com.