Closing The Gap

Why this tech CEO is calling on Biden to give $2,400 monthly stimulus checks to moms

Reshma Saujani participates in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on 'Maria Bartiromo's Wall Street' at Fox Business Network Studios on Feb. 11, 2019 in New York City.
Steven Ferdman | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

In January, Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani ran a full-page ad in The New York Times calling on President Biden and the rest of Congress to pass her Marshall Plan for Moms, which includes $2,400 monthly checks to mothers for the unpaid labor they do at home. The ad, which was signed by 50 high-profile women including leaders from the Women's March and actresses Eva Longoria, Gabrielle Union and Amy Schumer, also called on Biden to pass policies that address parental leave, affordable child care and pay equity, as well as policies that help to retrain women who've left the workforce and policies that help to safely reopen schools.

Now, one month later, Saujani and Girls Who Code have put out another full-page ad promoting the Marshall Plan for Moms. This time, the ad appears in The Washington Post and it's signed by 50 male allies including NBA player Steph Curry, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

"As partners and fathers, we need to start doing our share at home," The Washington Post ad states. "As the majority of employers, we also need to create more protections and flexibilities for working moms, and to put an end to the 'motherhood penalty' that punishes them for exercising it."

During the pandemic, mothers have been three times as likely as fathers to take on the majority of housework and child care in opposite-sex relationships, according to a September report released by Lean In and McKinsey & Company. This overwhelming responsibility of juggling full-time child care and work has led to extreme burnout for many working mothers, which experts say is a major contributor to the more than 2.3 million women who have left the labor force since February 2020. As a result of this mass exit, women's labor force participation rate reached a more than 30-year low in January 2021, with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris referring to this crisis as a "national emergency."

"Every mother I know is at their breaking point," Saujani tells CNBC Make It, "because when schools closed, we became teachers, nannies and support folks. So the entire system is broken. And the reason why we're calling it a Marshall Plan for Moms is because a Marshall Plan was about thinking big and not thinking small. And, if we're going to build America back better, we've got to build motherhood back better."

Saujani's proposal is named after the Marshall Plan the U.S enacted in 1948 to provide financial relief to Western Europe countries following the devastating impact of World War II.

"This matters to me as the founder of Girls Who Code because we've got to send a signal to our girls and boys that women's labor counts," she says, "and that their dreams and careers are not to be taken for granted. So, this is a populist mothers movement."

Though Biden has proposed a child tax credit of up to $3,600 per year to parents in his $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan, Saujani says his proposal is only a "down payment on a Marshall Plan for Moms."

"It's going to put money in the hands of mothers who need it," she says of Biden's plan. "But that's not the 360-plan we need and we can't just stop there. We have to pass legislation like paid leave, affordable day care and pay equity."

Similarly, she says Senator Mitt Romney's proposal to pay parents up to $4,200 a year is also a "down payment" that doesn't provide mothers and working parents with the full support they need.

In early February, Congresswoman Grace Meng introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for the Marshall Plan for Moms to be implemented in order to "restore and revitalize mothers in the workforce."

Even before the pandemic, Saujani says mothers were already struggling with trying to balance work life and the unpaid labor of home life. Now, she says, "you see me on my Zoom screen with my 5-year-old and my baby and you see how much unpaid labor I deal with in my life." And even with this visibility, she says she doesn't trust that companies will take it upon themselves to hire mothers and create more equitable workplaces for them to thrive. "We're going to be penalized even more," she says. "So, what are we doing about that? How are we holding [companies] accountable?"

Though Saujani has received criticism on her Marshall Plan for Moms — including that it will only incentivize more women to leave the workplace, that it will encourage more dads to be away from home working and that it excludes dads who are also primary caregivers — she says the pushback has not made her change her mind about focusing on policies that specifically benefit mothers.

"I think that all caregivers do matter, but not all caregivers are facing a penalty for being parents," she says. "Mothers face a motherhood penalty. And I think there's a difference between focus and solution. We're focused on moms because we have a history of not valuing moms. It doesn't mean that we're excluding other caregivers."

In addition to mothers being responsible for the majority of housework, mothers are also twice as likely as fathers to worry that their work performance is being negatively judged because of their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, reports Lean In and McKinsey & Company.

"I also experience this as the CEO of Girls Who Code," says Saujani, who announced this month that she will be stepping down from her CEO role in April. "People are always asking, 'Reshma shouldn't all kids learn how to code? Why focus on girls?' Well, we focus on girls because we had a huge gap in terms of women and women of color that were in the technology workforce. And if we didn't call it Girls Who Code, we wouldn't have focused on girls and we wouldn't have created programs that were targeted towards getting them in the [tech] workforce. And, we wouldn't have started a conversation about why."

Similarly with the Marshall Plan for Moms, Saujani says her focus is not only on creating programs and policies that will benefit mothers, but she also wants to start a conversation around, "How did this happen?"

"In this crisis, we have an opportunity," she adds. "And, I often feel like as women we always ask for the least controversial thing... And I think we now have an opportunity to put it all on the table, for it all."

Check out: Women’s labor force participation rate hit a 33-year low in January, according to new analysis

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Reshma Saujani's advice for investors; be brave, not perfect
Reshma Saujani's advice for investors; be brave, not perfect