What a Room Full of Rich White Guys Might Not Understand About What Families Need

By: Julie Kashen, Policy Director, Make It Work

Just a hunch, but…Katie, Jasmin, and Amari are probably more familiar with being women who work than these guys are.

On Friday, Donald Trump asked the white male CEOs of Wal-Mart and EY to advise him on women’s issues.

I would imagine he and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon can relate about sexual harassment claims and not paying people who work for them all they are due. At least EY’s Mark Weinberger can talk about the effectiveness of offering working parents 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave and EY’s strategies to support women’s equality and success at work. But the bottom line is, there are a lot of other people I would ask for advice about women in the workforce. For example, I’d start by asking women.

I would ask women in leadership positions and also a wide variety of women from multiple industries and walks of life. I’d ask women like Amari, who moved from Chicago to California to help care for her mom when she was seriously ill and had to use all of her sick time and vacation time and ultimately had to leave her job and rely on her savings alone to get by when her mother went into a coma. I’d ask moms who work in IT at biotech companies like Katie Rock from Iowa. Her son was born two months early and weighed only four pounds. Without paid family leave, she made huge sacrifices at work and home so her family could make it work. I’d ask Jasmin Bryant, a college student in Nevada, who’s thinking twice about having children because she is already anticipating what it means to have unequal pay, no paid leave and unaffordable child care.

While Donald Trump may be asking the wrong people for advice, the women in Congress are legislating based on their own experiences and listening to women like Katie, Jasmin and Amari. That’s why today, Senator Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) took an important step forward in updating our outdated workplace laws. They introduced, with 140 cosponsors, the FAMILY Act to create an affordable, self-sustaining, comprehensive national paid family and medical leave program.

The FAMILY Act would help meet the needs of new mothers and fathers, as well as people with serious personal or family health issues. It would also provide paid leave for military family caregiving needs. It is modeled after paid leave programs that are already working well in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island and would guarantee 12 weeks of leave with pay for the times in your life when you need it most.

Most people don’t realize they don’t have paid leave to care for a new baby, a newly adopted child, a seriously ill family member or their own serious illness until they need it. But since only 14 percent of employees have it through their employers and only four states guarantee any paid leave, the majority of Americans are forced to make impossible choices between earning a living and being there for their families, or taking care of themselves.

While most hard working people have to worry about how they’ll afford a medical emergency or new baby without losing their jobs, not everyone has these concerns. The President and his family, the CEOs of Walmart and EY, and the majority of Trump’s mega-wealthy Cabinet picks, probably had enough savings that it didn’t matter, or worked in jobs covered by leave policies from those few generous employers. But for the rest of us, the situation sucks. That’s why I don’t trust the Trumps — Donald or Ivanka — to create workplace policies that will work for most of us — no one advising them understands what it’s like not to have millions in the bank.

The reality is that most parents in the U.S. are working longer and harder than ever to make sure their kids get the quality care they need. But no amount of hard work is going to overcome some of the obstacles most parents are facing today. People get sick. Babies are born or adopted. Life happens, and our workplace policies need to catch up.

When employers do provide paid leave, it’s often just for new moms, which fails to acknowledge the other types of caregivers out there, like, dads. Not to mention people caring for aging parents or other family members with cancer or Alzheimer’s or other awful diseases. That’s why the FAMILY Act covers all of these needs — and makes sure you can afford to take time to care for yourself when you are seriously ill. It also includes military family caregiving needs so that when a service member is injured a spouse or other relative can afford to take time to care for them.

Paid family leave keeps women in the workforce by making it easier for them to return to their jobs after welcoming a new child to the world. And keeping women in the workforce is good for our country’s economic growth. Paid leave encourages men to take paternity leave and serve as caregivers, which has positive effects for families and increases gender equality at home and at work. Paid family leave leads to better health outcomes for children, including increased birth weight, decreased premature births and decreased infant mortality. We need at least 12 weeks of job protected paid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, sick family member or our own serious illness.

There’s something wrong when the President is only listening to the wealthiest and most well-connected (men) to help solve problems that the majority of hard working families face. Let’s hope that Congress will come together to put families first and make the FAMILY Act law.