Today, research from the United Nations to the World Economic Forum shows that empowering women is critical to growing economies, creating jobs and advancing inclusive prosperity for all. It’s a 21st century must-do.
That’s good news for everyone – men and women. Why? Making women full economic partners, according to McKinsey, can raise global GDP by $12 trillion. Moreover, in writing the book that I co-authored, FAST FORWARD: HOW WOMEN CAN ACHIEVE POWER AND PURPOSE, we found that when women make progress, they use the power they achieve to redefine success, to serve others and create a better world.
But here comes the ‘but.’ To achieve these goals, we have to see improvements in the workplace and one of the most important is to accommodate the needs of parents – moms and dads – who want to be both good employees and good parents.
As we point out in FAST FORWARD, there is, what you might call, a “design flaw” in the American workplace. We are still operating on an outdated assumption that all families have one stay-at-home parent. Yet today, roughly 60% of married-couple households have two parents in the workforce. Nearly a third of households are headed by single parents, most of whom are mothers.
Or consider this: when working moms have babies, they find it extremely difficult to care for their newborns given the fact that the majority of parents do not have paid parental leave. Working moms are under enormous pressure to return to work as soon as they can.
Parental leave is a real game-changer. Author Jessica Shortall points out in a popular TED talk that 12% of new working mothers in America will be back on the job within two weeks of giving birth. Yet, as she notes, “the shorter a woman’s leave after having a baby, the more likely she will be to suffer from postpartum mood disorders like depression and anxiety.” Paid leave helps families to remain economically stable and reduces employee turnover. It also has a positive impact on a child’s early health and development by enabling parents to stay home longer with their infants. Paid parental leave is a win-win-win – for parents, children and employers.
The United States, unfortunately, is at the bottom in this regard: we are one of only two countries in the world – the other is Papua New Guinea –that offer no government-mandated paid maternity. It should come as no surprise that the US has a lower percentage of women in the labor force than most other developed countries. In a recent 22-nation study, we ranked 17th. Studies show that much of this decline relative to other countries is because they’re expanding family-friendly policies and we are not.
Melinda Gates – speaking about gender parity at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos – pointed out the critical need for “great policies – family leave policies” so that parents can take time off.
Today some companies and millennials – who especially prize work-life balance – are making parent-centric policies a reality. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook announced in November that he would take off two months of paternity leave to stay home with his new baby daughter. Facebook has a paid parental leave policy. Coca-Cola is also leading the way with a new paid parental leave policy that will send a strong signal that the company values its families.
Companies, of course, benefit too. The American Banker carried an article in which Sallie Krawcheck noted that offering parental leave can actually save companies $19 billion annually because finding, hiring and training new employees is costly.
Women’s empowerment cannot happen without the support of men, and men benefit just as much as women from these policies. Wharton Business School professor, Adam Grant, who says that paternity leave is the key to gender equality cites Scandinavia as a model. The region has one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world, and in Sweden, for example, 90% of the fathers take paternity leave.
Parental leave is one of the most important issues for our families and society. Congratulations to the companies– like Coca-Cola – who are adopting new enlightened policies for their employees. They are also sending an important message: that having a career and having a family are not mutually exclusive. It’s good for women… and men, and for the children. It’s good for companies and the economy. It’s good for society.
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