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Opinion: It’s time for change to stick: paid family leave

Reports tell us that family leave policies are critical to the economic success of families and communities. Our own research shows us that women are disproportionately affected by these policies, more often having to give up their job to stay at home to provide childcare when circumstances change. The most recent — and perhaps most destructive — instance of this impact is the increase in women staying home amidst the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. 

United WE President and CEO Wendy Doyle

Unfortunately, we know that developing better policies for families is not easy. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; for example, a small business owner may have limitations compared to a large corporation. What we have seen, though, is that more organizations are looking at workforce needs as a result of COVID-19. This positive momentum has created conversations here in Missouri and on the national level. 

In Missouri, there are promising updates as we’ve seen executive orders advancing paid family leave policies. This year we heard from women across the state in our Women’s Economic Development Town Halls that families need better policies in order to maintain — or regain — financial stability. The feedback is loud and clear: Women need relief they currently don’t receive. 

There is also national attention on the need for a better policy. Melinda French Gates recently lobbied for a national paid leave policy, detailed in a Time magazine feature. As she noted, 75 percent of American voters across party lines support a national paid leave policy; her answer to why the support is so broad is that the need is universal. Unexpected changes, from an ailing loved one or new baby to small business struggles, impact all families and therefore must be incorporated into the fabric of our workplaces and communities. 

With national attention on better family leave policies and our current efforts to advocate for Missourians, it is more important than ever for change to stick. It is not enough to draw awareness to the statistics and the families facing difficulties; we must enact change that lasts for generations. Imagine a future where a national policy is in place and our economy is full of women who thrive in the workplace and at home. If we imagine this future, we can achieve it. 

As the Bipartisan Policy Center states, providing leave supports work, as employees can return to jobs more effectively when they’re given opportunities to take time away. These policies should no longer be a “nice-to-have” component; they are a must-have need to strengthen workforces and communities. Retaining women in the workforce means growth for Missouri’s economy. A paid family leave policy is a workforce development strategy to recruit and retain top talent for Missouri and can help to advance our economy forward. 

We will all be impacted by the need for workplace support as we face challenges. Now is the time to unite and create change that sticks, moving away from a piecemeal approach that doesn’t achieve the future we envision. I hope you share in our commitment to improving family leave policies for families in Missouri and across the nation. Let’s get to work.