World map showing availability of government-mandated paid paternity leave (World Policy Center)
With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new study from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.
Using an interactive map and chart created by the World Policy Analysis Center, UNICEF’s paternity leave data can be sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.
Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:
Workplace sexual harassment may be committed by individuals, but if and when harassers feel able to freely engage in misconduct without fear of being caught or punished, that’s a problem for the whole organization. Specifically, it speaks to a culture challenge; the organization may have policies in place designed to prevent and stamp out sexual harassment, but victims don’t feel secure in reporting because the culture discourages it. Because of that, senior leaders may not find out about a harassment problem as early as they could.
But if culture is part of the problem of sexual harassment, it is also a part of the solution—and a growing concern among directors and shareholders. In a recent blog post at the MIT Sloan Management Review, Patricia H. Lenkov, founder and president of Agility Executive Search LLC, and Denise Kuprionis, founder and president of The Governance Solutions Group, discussed some of the steps boards can take to actively manage culture so as to mitigate the extensive legal, financial, and reputational risks associated with sexual harassment. They offer up some questions directors should be asking in their dialogue with management about the organization’s policies and practices:
How do our current policies measure up to best practices?
Too often, the board does not read company policies or require human resources leadership to review policies and procedures annually to gauge the effectiveness of the reporting process. Directors may think this level of review is “stepping on management’s toes.” However, the board must determine whether the company’s current policies and procedures related to preventing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination are adequate. Asking HR how these policies are communicated and to define “best practices” is not crossing the management/board line. Directors should weigh in on whether the CEO and the management team are communicating the right message.
Do employees trust and use our procedures for reporting harassment?
While there are many methods and procedures organizations use for employees to report harassment or complaints, hotline calls to a company’s dedicated ethics line are a good example. Board directors sometimes utter a sigh of relief when they hear there have not been any hotline calls at their organization, but it’s a common misconception that few calls to the ethics line equates to a “good” company culture. In an open and trusting culture there are many calls — calls for how to handle a matter, calls for clarification, and, yes, some calls that report a potential problem. Informed directors ask how many calls are received in a given time period and require that calls be categorized. …
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is arguably the world’s foremost example of women’s empowerment: an accomplished scientist turned national leader and one of the most powerful people (not just women) in the world. Notwithstanding Merkel’s achievements and those of other women leaders in German politics, the country lags behind its European peers in closing the gender pay gap. Germany’s pay gap stands at 21.5 percent, according to EU data: the third largest in Europe and well above the EU average of 16.2 percent.
A new law that went into effect in January is meant to help close that gap by allowing employees to request information about wage disparities from their employers, but as Carolynn Look and Elisabeth Behrmann pointed out in a recent Bloomberg feature, the law puts the onus on employees to ask, whereas other legislative efforts, like the UK’s mandatory pay gap reporting and similar laws being considered in France, compel employers to provide this information up front.
A major component of the challenge for Germany is cultural: The term Frauenberuf (women’s job) is still used to describe occupations like nursing, housekeeping, child care, and social work—jobs that are often low-paying, part-time, and lack clear pathways to career advancement, Look and Behrmann note:
Even in fields dominated by women, such as medical assistants, men can get paid 40 percent more. The lower pay, along with more part-time work for women, mean they earn about 50 percent less over their working lives than male peers, according to a 2017 study by the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.
Sexual harassment is an endemic problem in the US academic science community and a major barrier to progress toward including more women in the field, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes. While physical abuse and unwanted sexual advances are common, the most pervasive form of misconduct is what the report terms “gender harassment,” referring to hostile work environments in which women are routinely subject to sexist comments and crude behavior from their male colleagues, sending the message that they are not welcome there, as contributors to the report tell the Associated Press:
“Even when the sexual harassment entails nothing but sexist insult without any unwanted sexual pursuit, it takes a toll,” said University of Michigan psychology professor Lilia Cortina, a member of the committee that spent two years studying the problem. “It’s about pushing women out.”
The report complies data from multiple large surveys to get a sense of how pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination are in the academy. One survey from the University of Texas found that 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of engineering students, and over 40 percent of medical students reported being sexually harassed by faculty or staff. Another survey from the Pennsylvania State University system found that half of all female medical students had been harassed. Women working in university science departments experience harassment as well as students: 58 percent of academic employees report having been sexually harassed at work.
Sexual harassment “has long been an open secret” in the sciences, MIT professor and report co-chair Sheila Widnall told the AP on Tuesday. In its coverage of the report, the New York Times highlights the panel’s recommendation that universities and research institutions start focusing on prevention and fixing the work environment, rather than just “symbolic compliance with current law and avoiding liability”:
In separate agreements with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Best Buy and CVS have decided to stop using personality tests as part of their recruiting process, Erin Mulvaney reported at the National Law Journal last week. While the details of the agreements are confidential and neither company admitted liability, the EEOC said a former commissioner had raised concerns about the companies’ policies, prompting the agency to scrutinize whether these practices were potentially discriminatory:
The tests came under increasing scrutiny for their potential to weed out people with mental illness or certain racial groups. CVS had previously agreed, for example, to remove certain mental health-related questions from its questionnaire after a probe from the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.
In recent years, the EEOC launched investigations into personality tests on the grounds of discrimination and has guidelines for these job applicant assessments. Some companies on their own have decided to eliminate or reduce parts of the assessment tests, including Whole Foods Market Inc.
Target reached a $2.8 million settlement with the EEOC in 2015 over its candidate assessment system, which was alleged to discriminate on the basis of race and sex, and ended the practice. The agency has also litigated and won cases regarding such assessments against other companies over the years.
A new law enacted in Vermont late last month extends employment protections to victims of crime, specifically targeting victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, makes employees who become victims of crimes a protected class and outlaws discrimination and retaliation against these employees, Jackson Lewis attorneys Martha Van Oot and Samuel V. Maxwell explain at Lexology:
In addition, the new law carves out circumstances upon which “crime victims” are allowed to take unpaid leave from employment. These circumstances … include allowing the employee to attend:
- A deposition or other court proceeding relating to a criminal proceeding where the employee is a “victim” and the employee has a right or obligation to appear at the proceeding;
- A relief from abuse hearing pursuant to 15 V.S.A. §1103 [a state domestic relations abuse prevention law] when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff;
- A hearing concerning an order against stalking or sexual assault when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff; or
- A hearing seeking relief from abuse, neglect, or exploitation when the employee seeks relief as the plaintiff.
The statute allows the employee to use accrued sick, vacation, or any other accrued paid leave in lieu of taking unpaid leave.
In this regard, Vermont’s law is similar to laws recently passed in other states and jurisdictions giving employees a right to use their paid sick leave as “safe leave” for court dates, counseling, or other matters related to addressing or protecting themselves from domestic violence. New York City amended its paid sick leave mandate to that effect last year, while Maryland and New Jersey included safe leave provisions in their new sick leave laws. California, Washington, and Minnesota also give employees the right to use their paid sick leave for these purposes, as do the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. The only country that has a statutory safe leave entitlement at the national level is the Philippines, where it is spottily enforced, but Australian lawmakers are proposing to enact one as well.
A member of Parliament in the UK is pushing for employers to be more proactive in clarifying their parental leave policies to their current and prospective employees, introducing a bill that would require many organizations to publish their policies online, the BBC reported on Wednesday:
Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem MP, said this was “a simple and practically effortless change” that would improve transparency and encourage more competition on pay. It would help firms “better attract and retain talent”, she added. Human resources trade body the CIPD said publication could help tackle discrimination.
Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers. … The MP has tabled a bill in the Commons that would require firms with more than 250 employees to publish those policies. Prospective employees would have a clearer idea of parental leave policies without having to ask at interview, she said.
In arguing for her bill, Swinson noted that “the very act of asking” about parental leave “suggests to the employer that the candidate may be considering having a child.” A recent survey of UK employers found that most expected women candidates to disclose if they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and many managers would decline to hire a woman of childbearing age on that basis. Publishing these policies would enable candidates and employees to find out about them without having to reveal their intent to have children to a manager who might penalize them for it.
There is really no good reason for employers not to advertise their parental leave policies, as these and other family benefits are highly attractive to many candidates—particularly, but by no means exclusively, women. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that the availability of parental leave has a significant positive impact on employees’ perceptions of their overall benefits package. A lack of family-friendly policies is often a key factor in driving women out of the workforce. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.)