Topics Overheard During Happy HourJuly 03, 2008
Before I started working as an intern this summer at AAUW, I would never have imagined myself bringing up something like the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act as a part of a casual conversation during, say, a lunch date or a happy hour. The bill, which just recently passed a House vote and is now in the Senate, would provide federal workers up to four weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act is certainly a mouthful, and it doesn’t exactly have the ring of a topic that is likely to spark conversation. And yet, despite these obstacles, since first learning about the bill a few weeks ago, I brought it up in just such settings — several times now in fact.
Upon first hearing about the bill, I was surprised to learn that compensation is still not required during maternity leave (why would that be necessary?). In the past, I have understood the difficulties that parents — women in particular — face in balancing work and raising children as a challenge to women’s advancement in society. That said, I have now begun to think about these obstacles in terms of my own future. What will I do if I face this situation? What if the organization I work for doesn’t provide paid parental leave? As a young woman graduating from college in less than a year, facing the imminent reality of these questions is quite alarming. It is this realization that has led me to pepper recent conversations with talk of this legislation.
Some of my peers, both men and women, are surprised that required paid parental leave doesn’t already exist. I scandalized them further by telling them that the United States is one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t have an across-the-board parental leave policy. I tell them that by passing this bill the federal government will be setting an example for the entire country. I say we should be demanding parental leave that applies to everyone everywhere.
What concerns me most is when someone is not shocked by this information, when they are not moved to indignation but are instead disinterested, as though it doesn’t apply to them. How can I best explain to them the impact that the absence of such a law will have on their future? How do we spread the word to women that they should not have to fear financial loss because they want to have a child? How do we let men know that they deserve to spend time with their children and should be able to take that time off without worry? How can we help young women understand that it is fighting for laws like these that will shift the structure of our society into one where they are not limited to lesser jobs and lesser salaries because of their gender?
As I wonder what shape my future will take should I choose to be a parent as well as a professional, I hope through continuing to talk to my peers about my own concerns they will begin to ask themselves these same questions.
This post is by Jackie Hubbell, AAUW Public Policy and Government Relations Fellow.