Closing The Gap

How unequal paid parental leave for men and women can reinforce gender inequality at Fortune 500 firms

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Paid parental leave is essential to helping new parents balance the demands of work life and home life. But, a new study released by Ball State University finds that many Fortune 500 firms offer far more paid leave to mothers than they do fathers. 

The report, published in August 2020, looks at paid parental leave policies at 353 of the Fortune 500 firms; the remaining companies failed to provide information on their policies. Of the companies examined, 72% have some form of paid parental leave, meaning that 28% of the companies don't offer paid parental leave at all. For the companies that do offer paid parental leave, nearly half of them offer at least twice as much paid leave to moms than they do dads.

The study, which is the first of its kind to examine and compare parental leave policies only at top U.S. companies, finds that, on average, mothers receive 10 weeks of paid leave from Fortune 500 firms. Meanwhile dads, on average, receive less than 5 weeks of paid leave. 

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Ball State University sociology professor Richard Petts, who co-authored the report alongside Davidson College sociology professor Gayle Kaufman, says that this imbalance in paid parental leave leads to gender inequality not only at work, but also at home. 

"If companies have policies that say that moms get way more time off than fathers do it sort of implies that women are different than men," he tells CNBC Make It. "And, that can lead to implicit biases when it comes to hiring and when it comes to promotion, all of which can limit a women's opportunity for advancement in the workforce."

Currently, there are just 38 women running Fortune 500 firms, meaning that less than 8% of the top U.S. companies have female CEOs. When looking at the C-suite as a whole, women comprise only a fifth of these jobs, despite making up nearly half of the entry-level workforce. 

Petts adds that this distribution of unequal paid parental leave also "reinforces the idea that women should be primarily responsible for child care," and that "moms need to be at home taking care of their kids, while dads can come back to work much more quickly because that's not their responsibility."

In order to create change, Petts says more companies have to do their part to ensure that their policies are equal for both women and men. And, he says, more men have to take advantage of paid parental leave policies if they are offered it. 

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian agrees that more parental leave needs to be given to dads, telling CNBC Make It last year that doing this could have a "tremendous impact" on working women. 

Having openly talked about the 16 weeks of paternity leave he took in 2017 when his daughter was born, Ohanian says that if more dads were offered leave and encouraged to take it, it will "normalize the behavior and destigmatize pregnancy for women."

"It will just become a default assumption that this person you want to hire — regardless of whether they're a man or a woman — could have a baby and could take time off," he said. "If we can normalize that, then it will have a tremendous impact on women in the workforce."

Check out: Americans spend over $5,000 a year on groceries—save hundreds at supermarkets with these cards

Don't miss: Why Alexis Ohanian says increasing paternity leave would have a ‘tremendous impact’ on working women

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