Family Leave Helps Women Find Work-Life Balance

Posted on October 22nd, 2015 by Melissa

Elegant business woman with hands foldedWhile many women struggle to find work-life balance, Representative Paul Ryan made news this week when he told his colleagues he would run for speaker of the House IF the job would not interrupt his family time. Known as a “family guy” Ryan makes it a point to fly back to Wisconsin every weekend to be with his wife and three young children. Ryan is fortunate to be in a position where he can set the terms of his likely future employment. Many working parents aren’t so lucky. In fact, countless women struggle with finding time for their families while pursuing a successful career. Yet they either can’t or won’t make their voices heard.

Having It All Isn’t Always Easy

The challenge of juggling careers and family life is a front-burner issue for women nationwide. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, while few Americans want to see a return to traditional roles of women at home and men in the workplace, one reality persists: Women most often are the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide with work.
These findings further substantiate a 2013 Pew survey that found mothers were much more likely than fathers to report experiencing significant career interruptions so they could attend to their families’ needs. Part of this is due to the fact that gender roles are lagging behind labor force trends. While women represent nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they still devote more time than men on average to housework and child care and fewer hours to paid work, although the gap has narrowed significantly over time.

It Is Time For A Family Friendly Workplace

Women in the Workplace 2015, produced by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, finds that the necessity to build family friendly workplaces has become urgent. While there are an abundance of employee programs designed to help balance work and family, participation is low among both genders due to concerns that using them will negatively affect their careers. For these and numerous other reasons, women are less likely than men to advance.
My Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt points out in her book, No Excuses, that many women are opting out of the very career paths that could shift them to the highest clout positions to gender parity within a decade or two. Many of those opt-outs are, in fact, efforts to find a work-life balance and be present for family needs and concerns. When you look at the big picture, this is actually pushing the drive for parity backwards. We simply must create a workplace that is truly woman, man, AND family friendly to move closer to equality.
Lean In and McKinsey & Company suggest in Women in the Workplace that when it comes to employee programs, companies should not inadvertently penalize participants, and management should support the employees’ decisions to utilize programs, such as family leave. The researchers also suggest that companies create a level playing field for women and implement systems to support them.

It’s Time To Change The Organizational Culture

The United States remains the only developed country with no guaranteed paid family leave policy. We need to work together to change that. We can’t leave demands for family time or responsibilities to a select few. We need to make it available for everyone. As a nation, we—women AND men– are bigger and stronger than the sum of our parts and need to seize this opportunity to turn today’s organizational culture on its ear. We need to shake things up across the board and focus on what’s truly important. Ultimately, we need to make our voices – and the voices of our families – heard. It will take all of us to achieve a healthy and sustaining work-life balance.

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