7 Policies that Women Who Work Need Right Now
By Shilpa Phadke, Katie Hamm, and Jocelyn Frye
This week, Ivanka Trump released a book that she describes as a resource for women in the workplace. She writes that the book grew organically based on her own experiences and her friends’ lives. But this book is largely about the world according to Ivanka, with tips and advice on how to “live with purpose” and “create a life you will love” through working “smarter and not harder.”
These tips, at the surface, sound great. But Ivanka’s vision for the modern working woman is far from the reality faced by millions of working women today.
For most of us, working is an economic necessity. The world that Ivanka Trump imagines for herself and her elite peers — a world where working women can “lead meetings and train for marathons” and manage work and family more easily — is currently out of reach for many working women.
If Ivanka Trump is going to be the point person on women’s issues in the Trump administration, she should push for comprehensive policies that help all women. This means having a clear understanding of the diversity of women’s experiences across race, ethnicity, income status, geography, LGBTQ status, and more.
Here are seven policies that Ivanka Trump should embrace right away:
1. Ensure all workers have paid family and medical leave
Ivanka Trump’s book includes tips on negotiating maternity leave and having children while seeking to advance in the workforce. Yet the majority of working women do not have access to any paid leave whatsoever, including paid maternity leave. Only 13 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers. Comprehensive legislation to provide all workers with 12 weeks paid leave was introduced in Congress earlier this year, but has yet to be considered.
2. Increase access to affordable, high-quality child care
Trump encourages working women to let go of stress, such as worrying about a canceled babysitter. But for millions of women, child care is a real concern — and an expensive one at that. The cost of child care alone can be a significant source of stress: In the United States, a typical family of four earning $40,000 per year will spend 20 percent of their monthly income on child care. The annual cost of care for one child in a center is about $10,000.
If Ms. Trump wanted to make child care more affordable, as she has previously stated, she would advocate increasing child care subsidies to reach those who need it most. But so far, her father’s administration has issued only half-baked plans that would do little to help struggling low-income and middle-class families.
3. Expand access to paid sick days
Ms. Trump touts self-care as a critical strategy for working women. But self-care involves much more than getting a massage or meditating, as the book recommends. The ability to stay home sick or go to the doctor to treat an illness can be an important form of self-care. But without access to any guaranteed paid sick leave, many women have no choice but to work or risk losing a much-needed paycheck — or even their job. Paid sick leave is a commonsense workplace policy that is essential to the economic security of families, productivity of workers, and success of businesses.
4. Increase the minimum wage
While Ms. Trump recognizes that women are underpaid, her solution is for women to simply negotiate for higher salaries and better benefits. But not all workers have the ability or opportunity to simply walk into their bosses’ office and demand a raise — especially minimum wage workers, who have more job insecurity.
Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and the minimum wage in the U.S. is just $7.25 per hour. This means that many families with a full-time worker live in poverty. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour — such as recently introduced legislation in Congress seeks to do — would allow more families to earn a living that meets their basic needs.
5. Institute fair scheduling
Ms. Trump writes that her version of a “well-lived life” includes spending mornings and evenings with her family and keeping weekends free for family time. Yet, for most low-wage workers — 60 percent of whom are women — work schedules are erratic and workers have little control over when they work and for how long. Proposed legislation would require employees to receive their schedule two weeks in advance and require employers to pay when a worker is on call.
6. Promote equal pay
Trump notes that women make less than men, especially mothers. And she’s right: today, women make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. Women of color make even less, a fact that Trump overlooks in her book. African-American women make 63 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar, compared to white men.
But her suggestion to help tackle the wage gap? Women should improve their negotiation skills. Although this could help some women raise their pay, it won’t get to the root of the wage gap problem. Trump could support leading proposals that offer comprehensive strategies to strengthen equal pay protections such as improving workplace pay practices, closing employer loopholes in the law, rooting out discrimination, and strengthening enforcement.
7. Protect and expand access to reproductive health care
Trump spends considerable time in her book discussing timing children early versus later in a woman’s career — which assumes that all women have access to reproductive health care such as birth control. Despite repeated promises that her father would protect and invest in women’s health, President Donald Trump has done the exact opposite, literally denying women access to family planning services and lifesaving health care. Ms. Trump should support ensuring access to women’s health care so women who work can choose when and if to become mothers.
Supporting women who work is not a hobby, it’s a serious and pervasive economic issue that impacts families’ livelihoods. If Ms. Trump really wants to address women who work, she needs to look beyond women like herself and embrace an agenda that helps all women.
Shilpa Phadke is the Senior Director of the Women’s Initiative at American Progress (CAP). Katie Hamm is the Vice President of Early Childhood Policy at CAP. Jocelyn Frye is a Senior Fellow at CAP.