The United States is one of only three nations, and the only first-world country, that does not mandate paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea and Swaziland are the others. In short, new mothers come up short in that they must often choose between keeping their jobs or having babies. How embarrassingly far behind are we? Consider this: 178 other nations around the world offer paid leave for new mothers.
“The U.S. is the only high-income nation not to have paid maternity leave, while almost all middle and low-income countries offer it, too," says Jody Heymann, founding director of McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy and author of “Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can't Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone."
As advanced as our nation is economically and technologically, it remains far behind the times when it comes to supporting families after the birth of a child. Numerous studies show that early bonding with parents sets children up for long-term health and well-being. “All aspects of adult human capital, from workforce skills to cooperative and lawful behavior, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth," according to a 2007 report from the National Scientific Council Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Yet only about half of all first-time mothers in the U.S. are able to take any paid leave after childbirth; and just a fifth of working women, with young children, receive leave with full pay, according to a review of the most recent Census data by the Washington, DC-based advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families. And it's only getting worse.
The Case for Paid Leave
Back in 1993, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted, it was intended as the entry point for parental leave, and not the sum total of our country's efforts. It mandates (FMLA) 12 weeks of job-guaranteed leave for caregivers. That's great if you can actually get it, but many parents cannot because it's unpaid. Furthermore, small companies are exempt, and employees who are in a company for less than a year or work less than 24 hours per week are also out in the cold.
There is also some evidence that parents, both mothers and fathers, benefit from being able to take leave. Mothers who were employed prior to child birth and who delay returning to work after giving birth experience fewer depressive symptoms than those who return to work earlier. Fathers who take longer leaves after a child's birth are more involved in childrearing activities once they return to work. These benefits for parents also contribute to improved child well-being.
In addition, family leave policies have a number of consequences for parental employment, mainly for women. Access to leave, even unpaid leave, increases the likelihood of women's return to work following child birth; it also increases the likelihood of women returning to the same job. Rights to parental leave increased women's rate of employment in Europe. State and federal leave policies, even unpaid leave policies, increase the likelihood of leave-taking as well as the length of leave taken for mothers and fathers. Since family leave policies increase parents' ability to maintain attachment to the labor force, even after they have children, these policies are a crucial way of promoting family economic security.
The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
The FMLA, signed into law in 1993, provides up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave from employment to certain workers for major life events. It was the first piece of federal legislation to address the competing demands of work and family. Under FMLA, covered and eligible workers are guaranteed 12 weeks of leave annually in the event of the worker's own serious illness, or to care for a seriously ill parent, child, or spouse, or for the birth of a baby, or adoption or foster placement of a child.
A key provision of FMLA is that the leave is job-protected, which means that workers who take leave are entitled to the same position, or one that has equivalent pay and seniority, upon return from leave. Employers are required to extend health insurance to workers who take leave, if such benefits are ordinarily offered by the employer.
Much more is needed
Although FMLA represents a significant policy achievement for working families, it has two notable weaknesses: it does not cover all workers, and the leave offered is unpaid. These weaknesses disproportionately affect low-income parents. FMLA does not apply to small businesses, only employers with 50 or more employees have to comply with it. It also excludes some part-time workers and those with less stable employment histories. To be eligible for leave under FMLA, an employee has to have worked for the same employer for at least one year and must have worked for the same employer for at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months (25 hours per week, on average, for 50 weeks).
Workers who are least likely to have access to voluntary leave benefits, through an employer, are also less likely to be covered by FMLA. It is estimated that only half of all workers are both covered (that is, work for an employer with 50 or more employees) and eligible (that is, have been with their employer for the previous year and worked at least 1,250 hours) for FMLA.
Less than half (46 percent) of all women workers are estimated to be covered, and some estimates show that only 20 percent of new mothers are covered and eligible for FMLA.
Yet even workers who are fortunate enough to qualify for FMLA often cannot afford to take leave without pay. One analysis found that 77 percent of employees who needed leave but decided not take it made that decision for "financial reasons," and 88 percent of this group said that they would have taken leave had some wage replacement been available. Salaried workers and those with higher incomes are more likely to take family leave compared to hourly workers.
Low-income workers are more likely to work for employers who do not provide pay during leave: one survey found that 74 percent of workers earning less than $20,000 annually received no pay from their employer while on leave, whereas 24 percent of workers earning between $50,000 and $75,000 received no pay during leave.
India gets it
India's new maternity leave policy puts the U.S. to shame. In India, only 27 percent of women work, and that shortage costs the country approximately 2.5 percentage points of gross domestic product per year. In early March 2017, they made a bold attempt to address the problem by doubling its federally mandated paid maternity leave from three months to six. India's new policy easily outstrips most of the world. If India were an OECD country it would rank sixth, alongside Poland and Israel, for longest paid leave. Only the U.K., Ireland, Greece, Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic offer new mothers more paid time off.
India's new 26 weeks of paid leave surpasses France's 16-week leave and easily bests the 14 weeks available in Japan and Germany. Despite the new law, there are flaws: it only applies to the nation's 1.8 million female workers in organized labor and only if their company employs more than 10 workers, excluding another 16 million women who are deemed self-employed or work-from-home. There's also concern that the new law may serve as a disincentive to hiring women because their potential leave is an additional expense.
Will we get it?
Since Trump won the White House he has referenced paid leave for “parents" during his recent address to a joint session of Congress, and First Daughter Ivanka is reportedly pushing for Congressional support for a paid parental leave measure and child tax benefits. The proposal that Trump voiced, during his campaign, would give moms six weeks of paid leave. That would put the U.S., in last place among OECD nations, tied with Portugal and Australia, which also guarantee six weeks of paid leave.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.