Recap: Paid Family and Medical Leave Roundtable
Focus of Discussion
On May 9th, 2022, the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) convened women business owners, subject matter experts, government officials and other key stakeholders to delve into paid family and medical leave (PFML). This discussion specifically focused on how the lack of equitable access to PFML may create barriers to women’s entrepreneurship. Addressing inequities and these types of barriers to starting, growing, and/or closing a business remains a top priority for this Council.
NWBC’s roundtable discussions help serve as a springboard for the Council’s annual policy recommendations to Congress, the President, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. This event was closed to press.
Tene Dolphin, Executive Director for NWBC delivered opening remarks. Diedra Henry-Spires, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Small Business Administrator, Isabella Casillas Guzman, delivered remarks at the top of the event. Council Member Rebecca Hamilton who serves on NWBC’s Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Subcommittee served as principal moderator for this discussion. Below is a full list roundtable participants joined the discussion:
- Tené Dolphin, Executive Director and Designated Federal Officer (DFO), National Women’s Business Council
- Diedra Henry-Spires, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Small Business Administrator
- Rebecca Hamilton, NWBC Council Member and Co-CEO of Badger
NWBC Council Members
- Roberta McCullough, NWBC Council Member (recently appointed, 2022) and Chair of the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC), and Senior Vice President of Operations for Institute Capital, CDFI program at the National Institute of Minority Economic Development
- Jaime Gloshay, NWBC Council Member (recently appointed, 2022) and Co-Founder of Native Women Lead and Project Manager at Roanhorse Consulting (RCLLC)
- Elaine Weiss, Director of Policy, National Academy of Social Insurance
- Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow, Paid Leave Policy and Strategy, Better Life Lab
- Vasu Reddy, Senior Policy Counsel for Economic Justice, National Partnership for Women & Families
- Molly Weston Williamson, Director of Paid Leave and Future of Work Program, A Better Balance
- Sarah Jane Glynn, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor
- Jessica (Jess) Flynn, Founder and CEO of Red Sky
Summary of Key Takeaways
Note: The perspectives and key takeaways below do not represent the views of NWBC staff, but rather, represent the professional opinions and findings of the roundtable participants.
- Women entrepreneurs are the foundations of their communities and often their families. The way they are treated and the decisions they are forced to make impact us all. These burdens and benefits are especially significant for women of color, older women, and low-income women.
- American entrepreneurship increased during the pandemic, yet women’s economic participation decreased due to caregiving responsibilities.
- The U.S. is far behind many other nations when it comes to healthcare, unemployment, retirement, parental leave, paid vacation and sick days, issues that are quite important to both employers and their employees. With respect to PFML, only one in five workers in America have access to paid family leave through their jobs, and only two in five have temporarily disability insurance through their jobs for serious personal health issues, according to BLS National Compensation Survey data, and about 50% of women don’t have access to job protection or any leave generally, paid or unpaid, according to various sources from BLS, DOL and the Census Bureau.
- Most subject matter experts joining the roundtable expressed that a national PFML, administered by the government rather than through an employer mandate, is in the best interest of businesses, particularly to women entrepreneurs.
- For small businesses with many employees, offering competitive benefits can be reassuring so that employees are not forced to choose between caring for their families and staying on or keeping their jobs.
- Subject matter experts overwhelmingly agree that offering paid family and medical leave also positions companies to be more competitive employers, especially in rural areas.
- Some women entrepreneurs have expressed concerns about the lack of a safety net. Starting a business is risky enough, but it is even more daunting when you consider whether or not you have benefits or are in a position to support your family.
- A growing share of women sit at both ends of the caregiving spectrum, taking care of their young children as well as their aging parents.
- Several roundtable participants opined that providing coverage on a case-by-case basis is not sustainable, and the pandemic proved and made this painfully obvious—COVID made it practically prohibitive for many women to participate in the economy.
- The security of paid leave allows people to take more necessary entrepreneurial risk, likely incentivizing them to take that leap and start their own businesses. Also, paid leave could level the playing field between large and small businesses by making benefits competitive from a hiring perspective.
- Paid leave programs operate differently than other benefit programs, and so to reap the full rewards of offering/providing leave, we must understand that the devil really is in the details in terms of program administration.
- Solopreneurs or the self-employed are twice as likely as employees to be caregivers, given that caregiving responsibilities are often incompatible with traditional employment.
- State-to-state, there is a patchwork of benefit policies, and paid leave is no different. Creating a national paid leave policy would reduce job lock-in, which could be especially beneficial to rural communities.
- Older, immigrant, and women of color are more likely to be taking care of children and older family members. These women are more likely to be caregivers and could hugely benefit from leave.
- Notably, there is still some apprehension in the business world over paid leave. The notion of the states or the federal government contributing might make the idea potentially more palatable.
- Improved, tailored messaging targeted to diverse audiences is needed to ensure clarity and better education on this issue and the ways in which paid leave programs are structured, financed and produce positive results for businesses and workers.
- Subject matter experts generally agree that evidence points to minimal abuse of these benefits, that they have a positive or minimal effect on productivity, loyalty and retention, and that they reduce businesses and individuals’ burdens.
- It was opined that business owners want to do right by their employees, right by their businesses, and they want to do it as painlessly as possible, with minimal government intervention.
- We need to shift the conversation away from this being a women’s or parents’ issue. These life- changing events can happen to anyone at any time. However, these types of destabilizing events can especially burden women of color.
- Allowing people to take the time they need to heal and take care of their loved ones increases productivity, while forcing people to return to work before they are ready decreases productivity
- According to several roundtable participants, there is broad bipartisan support for PFML. Pushing these conversations across networks and local chambers, can better inform small business owners and clarify any longstanding misconceptions.
- Women entrepreneurs/business owners are already forced to make so many tough choices that providing paid family and medical leave to their employees should not be another reason to make choices. Certainly, they should never feel forced to take out a loan to pay for their employees’ family or medical leave.
ROUNDTABLE HIGHLIGHTS & NOTABLE QUOTES
Following opening remarks, Executive Director Dolphin introduced the roundtable participants, the featured SBA speaker, and provided background on WBC.
Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director and Designated Federal Officer (DFO)
Executive Director Dolphin opened the event by thanking the roundtable participants and providing and overview of the Council. She then shared that this panel was selected because the participants’ “expertise and … perspective on this issue is invaluable as we seek to go deeper.”
She concluded her opening remarks by underscoring how important it is to give women an answer—a viable approach to addressing this issue once and for all. “There are a lot of questions about paid family medical leave, many of which we will be discussing today. Who pays for it? Who is eligible? How can it be used just to list a few?… But coming out of Mother’s Day, one of the best gifts we can give women, employers and employees are some answers.”
The U.S. Small Business Administration is currently leaning in and exploring what steps the agency can take within its purview to help support and grow the care economy. Notably, PFML is tangential to SBA’s work in this regard.
Diedra Henry-Spires, serves as Senior Advisor to the SBA Administrator. Ms. Henry-Spires provided an overview of the agency’s priorities, initiatives, and recent efforts to tangentially and directly related to this issue.
“I will say this, I got my start in women’s health and issues that impact our families and our communities through the lens of women [which] remain at the heart of my passion for the work that I get to do every day. So, I want to thank you today and … thank the National Women’s Business Council for having roundtables like these so that we can discuss issues that are so important to women. And as a result, important to our communities.”
First, she started by highlighting that during the previous week, National Small Business Week, Administrator Guzman participated in bus tour to reach out to small business owners, starting in California and making its way through the South. She shared, “it was a time to honor and celebrate America’s entrepreneurs and innovative startups… This year’s theme was building a better America through entrepreneurship. We were celebrating the resilience and tenacity of America’s entrepreneurs who are doing their part to power our nation’s historic economic comeback. [And] one of the things the administrator always says is we need to be as entrepreneurial as the small businesses we represent.”
She continued: “And while there’s more work to do under the Biden Harris Administration, we are on a path toward building a better, more competitive American economy centered around families, workers, and small businesses. America’s experiencing an unprecedented wave of our small business creation and entrepreneurship.” Additionally, Ms. Henry-Spires underscored that “building equity and opportunity for all Americans” is an area of focus for President Biden and Vice President Harris.
Finally, she highlighted some notable numbers on U.S. small business, including:
- In 2021 Americans applied to start 5.4 million new businesses—despite the ongoing COVID recovery.
- This is a 20 percent higher than any prior year on record.
- During President Biden’s first year, the SBA secured more than 450 billion in financial relief for small businesses under the American Rescue Plan.
- There are over 32.5 million small businesses operating across the United States today.
These number show that throughout COVID, America’s entrepreneurs “found the inspiration to create businesses and apply to start [more] businesses.”
While our nation is ahead of the curve in some ways, she noted that in others we are lagging behind. “The U.S. places last relative to national policies around healthcare, unemployment, retirement … parental leave, paid vacation, and sick days. That is stunning! And yet we know that … small businesses create[e] so many—two out of three jobs in our economy, that [is why] this issue is of the utmost importance to small businesses.”
Her other remarks indicated that the way we treat our workers today helps us shape our workforce of tomorrow from childcare to upskilling. “But we’ve got to think about how we’re going to work smarter, not harder. There are lessons that came out of COVID. I came to the SBA as the senior advisor for COVID programs. We’ve learned so much … in [the] government about flexibilities that make our workers want to come back.”
(Miss Henry Spires is a top advocacy and policy strategist and a former professional staff member for the Human Services and income security for the Senate Committee on Finance. As a former member of the committee’s health team, she is accredited as one of the architects for the Affordable Care Act as well, Miss Henry Spires is credited for shepherding the expansion of unemployment benefits and work supports during the Great Recession of 2008 and providing job creation policy and income security guidance and expertise for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Jobs Creation Act of 2010, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and the middle Class tax relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.)
Executive Director Dolphin then transitioned by introducing new Council Members Jamie Gloshay from Native Women Lead (NWL) and Roberta McCullough representing the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC). She also acknowledged former NWBC Council Member Jessica (Jess) Flynn serving on the panel, and current NWBC Council Member and Roundtable moderator, Rebecca Hamilton.
Council Member Rebecca Hamilton kicked off the conversation by thanking the panel participants. And before delving into her first question, she opined that women shoulder a greater part of the responsibility in the care of family and loved ones—part of it coming from giving birth or just historically from women being in the position to have to care for family and loved ones. “When you think about things like one in five people in America actually have access to paid family medical leave …close to 50% don’t even have this … [and] women who are of childbearing age don’t even have access to job protection, to family medical leave, without even getting into whether it’s paid or not. And so, with the pandemic, we saw kind of this stark reality of what happened when a lot of workers were pulled out of the workforce to care for their children, to become educators to care for loved ones.”
She then compared the struggles of providing leave as a larger firm with 100 employees to the difficulties providing leave as a restaurant owner with 20 employees. She then went on to ask the panelists to introduce themselves and later followed with the first roundtable question followed.
Opening Question | Rebecca Hamilton
“With respect to solopreneurs, a critical piece that we are missing is that safety net for women, particularly for those who go on to be entrepreneurs and who take that risk of starting a business without healthcare benefits, or a way of support for those choosing to have a child.” Each panelist was asked to share background on her organization and perspective on this critical issue. The roundtable participants were also asked to share the name of their organization and why PFML this is such an important topic for you?
“I’ll say my mom is a solo entrepreneur in rural central Kentucky, so this is especially near and dear to my heart and I’m excited to be here today…”
Sarah J. Glynn
“I’m Sarah Jane Glynn. I am a senior advisor at the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. Paid leave is also one of my favorite things to talk about … So, I’m really excited to have this conversation today. Thanks for including me.”
“Hi, I’m Elaine Weiss. I’m the policy director at the National Academy of Social Insurance, and we are working on a number of initiatives all related to social insurance, around issues of economic security and caregiving cuts across all of them. We are talking about the impacts of COVID-19 on social insurance and how we could bolster it going forward. Obviously, caregiving and investing in caregiving is a huge part of that.”
“[A] large and growing share of those are women and caregiving on both ends, both as people in need of care and people providing care … So I am also thrilled to be part of this conversation.”
“My name is Vasu Reddy … and I’m senior policy counsel for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women and Families. I’m really particularly excited about talking about this from the women’s business angle.”
Ms. Shabo who is a senior fellow at New America, a think tank in DC, previously testified before the Ways and Means Committee prior to the pandemic alongside Rebecca Hamilton.
“I think we can’t think we can’t have a successful effort sort of nationwide around small business creation and retention without talking about the supports that we need … and paid family and medical leave is certainly one of them… The reason we are so behind is that we do this on a business-by-business case, and that’s not sustainable. We have seen the deleterious impacts of that during the pandemic,” she continued.
Jessica (Jess) Flynn
Ms. Flynn shared that she has been on her own personal journey learning about and understanding the issue of paid family and medical leave. And I have been on my own journey with understanding and paid family leave. “As Rebecca knows and will be part of this conversation, and in how I think about it, for a small business like mine of 10 people, and the things that I’ve come to see are really necessary for the solopreneurs and micro businesses like mine.”
Ms. McCullough who recently joined NWBC introduced herself as board chair of AWBC. She mentioned that as a representative of an organization encompassing 140 WBCs, “these kinds of topics are very important so that we can share these throughout the network and ensure that as we assist these women who are owning and running businesses … that they have the proper tools to be successful long term.”
Council Member Jaime Gloshay, Co-Founder of Native Women Lead (NWL) who was also recently appointed to the Council was recognize by Executive Director Dolphin.
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
How do you think the current state of affairs and the lack of paid family medical leave is impacting businesses, but particularly the ability for women to be entrepreneurs or be in business?
Women make up an important part of America’s economic fabric, and COVID showed us that catastrophic events disproportionately impact women’s economic participation, especially women of color. These events can also be prohibitive for new entrepreneurial development because during times of trouble. “If there is any sort of catastrophic situation that is going to affect a lot of women… women are going to bear the brunt of it and that it is going to be prohibitive to their participation in the economy.”
“And I like to think of the sort of … analogy of … a cliff top… if you are constantly teetering on the edge of precarity … that is not going to be the time when you’re going to be able to take the risk that is necessary to start your own business,” she added.
Ms. Shabo noted just how difficult it is for employers to recruit and retain workers as they compete against bigger companies, particularly noting the competition in the “big tech” industry that are well-positioned to offer competitive benefits to their employees, particularly women. She noted that turning to public policy could offer some solutions.
Ms. Shabo also expressed how smaller employers can “really struggle to offer … similar level benefits.” She continued that it “also creates an uneven playing field between smaller and larger companies.” Smaller companies are contending with a “brain drain” of sorts for these reasons and a change in policies could support women entrepreneurs as they grapple with this.
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
So, this is something that often comes up, with respect to what small business owners say, that it would be a burden on small businesses. So, is it a disadvantage to small business?
“Exactly. You know, and there’s a lot, a lot of research, polling from the Small Business Majority and Main Street Alliance and others that show 60 to 70% of smaller operators or smaller businesses want paid family and medical leave to be established at the national level for exactly that reason… the competitiveness actually goes the other way [so] that [there is] a disadvantage not to have a public policy in place.”
Sarah J. Glynn
Job lock as a drag on small business and economic growth was noted by Ms. Glynn as well. She encapsulated it by explaining: “So if you’re in a job that provides it and you know that you’re going [to or] want to have a child in the next few years, lots of folks won’t leave that job, even if it’s not a job that they like, even if they might make more money somewhere else, even if they’re interested in investing in themselves and starting their own business … that job lock is a really serious impediment for folks.”
Ms. Glynn also mentioned that this particularly burdens women, as they face greater caregiving responsibilities and are also more likely to own businesses in sectors where women are heavily employed. This creates a compounding affect in her eyes.
Ms. Glynn concluded by addressing the logistics of offering leave. “When you are talking about how the program actually functions and the ways that small businesses can really tap into these resources … the devil really is in the details when it comes to these kinds of policies, not just from …an administrative perspective.”
“Yeah …you could also say that it is a job lock against entrepreneurship. If women who are of childbearing age are thinking about starting a business and there is no safety net, there is no ability for them to … have children and continue their business without interruption. That can lock them into being an employee instead of an entrepreneur!”
Ms. Williamson noted that 90% of women owned businesses are one-woman operations with no employees—they are solopreneurs. “And that, is actually ironic… the reasons that people want to choose entrepreneurship and self-employment are often exactly the reasons you need leave.” People who choose self-employment often do so for the flexibility it can provide to support things like caregiving, based on statistics from (see above sources).
She then touched on the fact that states are now allowing the self-employed to opt-in. She also touched on the racial justice implications of this issue when it comes to “who is and is not able to choose entrepreneurship.”
Building on other roundtable participant perspectives, Ms. Weiss added that in addition to job lock, a lack of paid family and medical leave programs also creates a state lock, which can have huge implications for rural areas as well. This has a compounding effect considering that these states often do not have other policies and benefits and that women of color of low-income women disproportionately live in areas lacking these sorts of policies.
“We will continue to see the same disparate pattern that we are seeing with so many other policies, right? So, you get a state lock, right? It is not just a job lock, it is like you’re picking your state, you’re picking your city and they’re picking you. Right?”
She also underscored a related issue of older women in physically demanding jobs “who are getting hit all over the place from lack of paid leave.” “These are women who are at that point where they still may be at the tail end of caring for kid, but they’re at the early end of caring for an aging parent, an ailing spouse, and… all of that.”
Flynn shared her struggles in providing leave support when four employees in one year announced they were expecting and would need to take leave. “In order to make sure there is a business to come back to, I could not with my risk averse nature, figure out how to do that and I will say there’s a lot of things I don’t know in the world, but I was ashamed really to admit … that anytime anybody has talked about paid family medical leave, I have always thought that would be some sort of mandate onto the employer to provide it. I never as a small business owner of 14 years really thought that you’re talking about the Feds or [the state stepping up,” she added.
Ms. Flynn went on to discuss how Idaho is a child care desert that does not have a caregiving system, and how policy priorities and responses have been inconsistent. “While on one side of our mouths we talk about how important the family is and how we need workers, on the other side of our mouths … we say small businesses are the backbone of our economy across the country, yet we don’t put the systems and the infrastructure in place.”
She also noted the importance of clear communications and education when explaining these types of policy proposals to small business owners. “So, I think besides the policymakers, you [also] think [about] how we talk to small business owners to make sure that they are part of the advocates.”
She went on to ask: “Are there misconceptions that we need to address in terms of what legislation would do or what the actual burden to a business would be?”
Ms. Shabo also noted the importance of addressing possible misconceptions that adopting PFML might create additional burdens on companies or that this would result in other hardships or that people will abuse the time. “We have data to refute all of this, and you know, study after study shows … neutral or positive effect on productivity and loyalty and retention… And you know, there are studies showing a return on investment and higher profits.” She also raised whether there is a better messaging and communications approach that highlights the benefits.
Jess Flynn provided additional comments on the messaging issue suggesting that when it comes to business owners, policies need to support employees, but also maximize ease and minimize government intervention.
She added that with respect to messaging, it would be important to break down messages by audience, identifying each group’s key motivators. She also raised whether there is any data around messaging and misconceptions.
“So, I love that, just to actually gather a lot more information from businesses about the language that would be specific that we can use. Again, I think … the misconception is the barrier to … moving this forward and we’ve been trying to move it forward for quite some time. So clearly there are some things standing in our way.”
Jamie, your newest Council Member, had a comment in the meeting chat that I thought was really good … from the previous part of the conversation … chiming in about women as the centering forces — economic and … family stabilizers. But then, also like our aging population, we see that aging population data … our workforce is going to keep decreasing?”
Regarding addressing the “myths and misconceptions” Ms. Williamson shared that we need to think of this as sort of two-step benefit. Because when everybody pays into an insurance system and when you need the benefit, the system pays you out. That means that your workers are getting paid, but they are getting paid through the insurance system.
She added: “And so, I think when we think about that from a messaging perspective to business owners, I think that really strikes folks in terms of like this could happen anybody… There is a whole set of workers who are going to have to take this leave, whether it’s paid or not, whether the jobs [are] going to be there when they need it or not.”
Ms. Williamson wrapped up these set of comments by pointing to the ineffective ways [that] people [are] leaving the workforce. “We all end up picking up the tab when we don’t provide the supports we need for what we know people really need… But if you’re a woman of color, who is this sole breadwinner for your family, and you get breast cancer and can’t work, the economic impact on your family is the same.”
“We’re paying for all of these needs on a societal level in a really inefficient way and we can choose to pay for it in a smarter way that gives both workers and businesses more tools and supports to do it better and smarter and gets everybody to better outcomes,” she added.
“Yeah, that that’s really good communications … too, Molly. That we’re already paying. And especially after the pandemic when you have ‘the worldwide resignation’ that you, businesses, see how much it costs to hire and train new employees. I think that can resonate really well.”
When discussing the universal nature of the kinds of events that require leave, Reddy made the connection to COVID. “COVID has been basically the biggest mass-disabling event in lived memory for most people right now. And it’s estimated that there were 1.2 million new newly disabled folks during the pandemic and about half a million newly disabled people in the workplace… A lot more people are going to be dealing with serious health conditions than I think have even contemplated it before.”
Reddy also touched on the misconception held by people in positions of influence that everyone already has leave, “And when you actually look at the numbers, well, no, not everybody has it. A lot of people have some form of vacation time although it is usually very minimal, but vacation is a very different need from paid family and medical leave,” she continued.
“When you look at … the lowest paid jobs, it is in the single digits of who actually has access to paid family leave.”
“Here’s where I think the social insurance angle can be very helpful … when we prefer to pay for it proactively, productively, and successfully or reactively, counterproductively … you know [it is] much more expensiv[e] … nobody would take away Social Security for that exact reason.”
Ms. Weiss further elaborated on the concept of treating PFML as social insurance. “We’re talking about a system in which we all have skin in this game because, as we’ve all pointed out, that is what social insurance is about. It is about protecting all of us from the common life risks that we are all very likely to experience … that any one of us will not at any point get very sick, will not at any point have a husband or wife or spouse who suddenly broke their leg, will never have an aging parent who suddenly needs our support, or any of those things seems really, really low… We have massive market failure because on our own, nobody can afford to pay for this.”
Sarah J. Glynn
“Yeah, I think that’s a great segue. You know, because I want to tie together two things that I think folks have already brought up … Anybody can become disabled at any point in time. Anybody can have an emergency in their family that they are not anticipating. And I think there’s a couple things that are important to keep in mind in that when we are talking about the medical leave and the caregiving leave portions of this… These are serious medical concerns that we’re talking about.”
Ms. Glynn differentiated short- from longer-term leave for more serious health issues. “So, this is what we should be thinking about … in terms of leave that would take weeks as opposed to days. And those are things that can happen with little to no notice. And that can happen to any of us. They are also at the same time over the course of your entire life, relatively rare events. So, everybody can see their interest here. But most people are not going to need to take this leave. So, we’re insuring against these really common life events, but that happen to individuals fairly infrequently.”
Ms. Glynn also opined that covering workers for significant life events would unlikely shift most people’s behaviors. “This is not going to change people’s behavior and where it does, it’s around the margins, right? So, it means people can take a little bit more time that they already needed. And for those of you who’ve had workers who come back to work, maybe a little sooner than they probably should have after having surgery, or when they have a two-week-old infant at home, but they have to come back to work, right? We know what that does to productivity. So, encouraging folks to come back to work as quickly as possible after having a really big life event like this is not in a business’ best interest in terms of productivity and [the] bottom line.”
She concluded these set of comments by underscoring how a national approach to PFML could be very beneficial in terms of raising productivity in the long-term.
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
A number of states have passed PFML. One big question is what is the barrier, and do we need to actually do differently to get PFML?
“Sure. I mean… when people return to work too soon when dealing with a serious health need, they’re significantly more likely to get injured on the job.”
She continued: “[We] have … a lot of good anecdotal evidence that when people don’t have the paid leave they need, they put off needed care… And when we’re looking at… a system in which employers are the leading provider of health insurance, it’s economically inefficient to create a system that incentivizes getting later, less effective, more expensive care.”
Ms. Williamson concluded by opining that status quo is leading to inefficient outcomes not only with respect to public policy at the national level, but also directly for individual small business owners.
“Somebody will say, why should I pay for other people’s kids? And there [are] lots of responses to that. But I think really thinking in terms of universalizing this, you really [are] talking about the ways in which all of us are currently paying… I think there’s a whole lot of people who are still just not understanding the magnitude of the impact of the lack of these benefits… I think there’s still a sense among a whole lot of people, particularly a whole lot of policymakers who… still see paid leave as a nice to have.”
“Do you think still see it as a bonus as a benefit as a perk?”
“Yeah, I think that’s I think it’s a great question… Investment [in] or right[s] for working people is in direct opposition to the needs of businesspeople, and that it really is this. It really is this oppositional thing, and it’s a zero-sum game. But I think what women entrepreneurs know and what small business owners know is that women entrepreneurs… that the right for the worker is the right for the business owner… And therefore… it is helpful for them as a business owner as well.”
She emphasized that small business owners are really a necessary part of this conversation.
“One of the reasons I was so excited about getting on this call is that [the] narrative is so fixed in the American political landscape. And I think voices like the Council and all of you all are really doing such important work in countering that and creating an alternative of, this is what the economy could look like if we understood that investing in people was just as important.”
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
“What is the business case for paid family medical leave?… The barrier being communication and a misconception about [PFML] being negative for businesses is something that we have to overcome and… well all know that it is an incredibly important… So, we want to understand the business case for adopting paid family medical leave, and how does that make businesses more competitive on a global and national level?”
“There is no lack of political will for this in terms of surveys. It’s unbelievable how much support there is for this. The problem is that our elected representatives do not represent us and the so-called business voice does not represent business. That is the reality, and we all need to be really clear about that.”
“The voices that are not being heard are small business owners, especially women of color, who are frankly not heard on anything, she continued… And given that these women are so disproportionately entrepreneurs or would like to be entrepreneurs, and that we know there is enormous evidence that… diversifying the business world, that diversifying both the employer and employee world, lifts up our economy.”
“Yes, it’s hugely popular on a bipartisan basis across demographic groups. But what … I think is lacking is that kind of institutional organizing that can institute these consequences and that… can provide this counter voice. I hate to beat the dead horse, but you know, conversations like these are… essential to… that kind of power-building and making sure that the voices of all of the actual business community and people who are running businesses are being heard, rather than these kind of big-funded lobbies… really have to be building power and directing resources towards alternatives.”
“So, I agree with all of that… But the other thing I would say… more resources than ever before were invested in trying to organize small businesses in these last several months. In this last year, more resources than ever before have gone to organizing larger businesses, and it hasn’t been at scale. It hasn’t been enough to overcome the power of the organized business lobby groups, in part because of the way the political system works. So, I think we have to grapple with that.”
Ms. Shabo also highlighted the importance of continuing to bring attention to this issue and actual change at the state level. “Winning more state policies which will help ladder up to more pressure to have a national solution, if for no other reason [than] the large multi-state businesses [not wanting] the state policies that to continue to proliferate.”
“The ultimate solution to why we aren’t where we need to be is about power and that’s where the consequences come in… [The] folks on this call are the kinds of voices who can really drive home all of the ways in which we are engaging in terrible economic policy by not… investing in paid leave.”
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
Thank you, Molly. And to your point, what do you think the cost of not having paid family medical leave is?… I think a number of you have brought up [is] that you know somebody has a major illness or family [member] that they have to care for, they’re [going to need] leave no matter what. And it’s just going to be messier. And you’re going to pay for it a different way. Do you have a way of thinking about that, or quantifying what that would look like for businesses?
“Heather Boushey… who is now on the Council of Economic Advisers and Sarah Jane Glynn did a study probably like 10 years ago now, that did a lit review that quantified the cost of turnover but in different types of businesses. So actually, [it] … showed a range of anywhere between 16% and 213%, and an average of around one-fifth of a worker’s annual salary” Ms. Shabo shared with the group.
Ms. Shabo also noted that there is about $650 billion in lost productivity from women working at levels less than in our competitor countries, a portion of which was likely related to paid leave issues. “There are a lot of different ways to quantify, that are out there, that have been produced over years.”
Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton
Is there anything else that you as kind of experts living and breathing this would like for the Council to take away from this conversation; or know that is important for us as we think about how to how to address this issue for women in business?
Ms. Williamson referenced looking at current state and international models of success. “I mean, I think first just want to say thank you again… for all of the clear … thought and reflection … We now have programs that are paying benefits in states across the country… And the expectation is [that] tomorrow the Governor of Delaware is going to sign.”
“You know… I think figuring out how do we learn from and build from what already exists in this country, as well as obviously the resources from around the world, and how do we turn that into really making that payoff for businesses, for business owners, for workers, for our economy is how do we build from this really strong foundation,” she added.
Ms. Weiss also underscored the need to study differences in paid leave opportunities in rural versus urban communities. “We really need to need to lean into this whole issue of rural/urban divides… a lot of rural areas are deserts in so many ways… we need to bridge this divide; we need to make our rural areas first survive… and then we need to bring them back to a place where they can thrive more. It cannot happen without paid leave,” she added.
Moderator Rebecca Hamilton asked the participants to share some closing thoughts on the topic.
“Just wanted to echo thanks to everyone for pulling this together. This is an incredibly well thought out conversation… from the competitive advantage question to the entrepreneurship question, to the cost of inaction, to the messaging, and sort of framing this for small businesses, to the role that you all play.”
“And I’ll just throw in… I think women business owners and sole proprietors are uniquely equipped to point out the benefits of putting people before profits.”
“You know, you all have such a such a huge role to play in redefining kind of how we think about the economy. And so, I’m just so happy to be helpful. However, … I really hope that we can continue to be supportive to you all and elevate those voices.”
Following the closing remarks, Council Member Rebecca Hamilton turned over the conversation to Executive Director for closing remarks.
“Wow, thank you so much, Rebecca! Before I start to close… I know that you guys were in listening mode… Roberta [and] Jamie. And I know that you put some stuff in the chat… so you don’t have to ask anything, but if you have a burning question that you wanted to ask of this panel, let us know.”
“Thank you so much for your wealth of knowledge and wisdom. This is really helpful for me, especially because I work with indigenous women entrepreneurs… You know that our caregivers and our economic stabilizers and drivers don’t have access to [PFML], it is really disheartening.”
Ms. Gloshay added comment on PFML with the intersection of other economic equity issues. “It’s a really interesting conversation and need, but it also how it intersects with pay equity, right? Because we see entrepreneurship as a pathway towards closing racial wealth gaps and pay inequities as well as supporting those… we care for [and] the caregivers—and… I think that definition for me is expanding… those that are the economic stabilizers for families and communities. So, thank you so much. I appreciate all that you all are doing.”
“Hi, and this is Roberta… This has just been a wealth of information. I was just consuming listening to all of you all have been that have been working on this for some time and you mentioned today one of the subcommittees is access to capital, which is a huge factor in being able to provide these sorts of services in terms of women owned businesses stabilizing their employees as well as offering these kinds of benefits.”
“I find that very intriguing from my particular standpoint, working for a lender and helping many, many women-owned businesses. So, I’m just looking forward to further conversations and… I appreciate your time.”
Executive Director Dolphin concluded the roundtable noting that after speaking to a women business owner she learned some our taking out loans to provide PFML. “Women owners having to take out loans for it is just unfair.”
Following this final observation, she concluded the event by thanking the participants for joining the roundtable and for their dedication to helping solve this issue. “Thank you again… Rebecca, for being so passionate about this conversation and leaning into it and for building a better workplace. I’d also like to thank senior advisor Deirdre Henry-Spires for joining us at the top of this conversation. And then I want to thank all our panelists. Elaine, Vasu, Vicki, Molly, Sarah for your voices, your work, your passion. And Jessica, thank you so much for joining this conversation. We needed your voice. We needed your experience.”