Editor’s Note: Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg are co-CEOs and co-founders of theSkimm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
In August, Finland’s comprehensive family leave plan went into effect, granting 160 days of parental leave to both parents (or 320 days for a single parent). While it’s great to see the progress other countries are making, we question whether or not the US will ever understand how imperative paid family leave is to reach true gender equality.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a report in September that cites research estimating the world won’t reach gender equity until 2108. As women continue to shoulder the burden of caregiving, a lack of paid family leave adds to the inequalities they face in the workplace, too. Furthermore, because women earn less on average than men, they have to work longer for the same amount of pay. These disparities only increase for women of color.
Here’s the reality women are facing: The system is not just broken – it was never built to make us equal. But no step is too small when it comes to getting ahead of our futures. As women and business leaders, we cannot sit back and watch continued decades of inequality. We’re calling on business leaders to act in the following ways:
Provide financial education
The odds continue to be stacked against women when it comes to their finances. They have less banked for retirement and in long-term savings, and they don’t work with investment advisers as much as men do, which can make it harder for them to build wealth.
It’s not just a wealth gap, but a wealth knowledge gap. Women often demonstrate a lack of confidence when it comes to their financial wellness, which contributes to lower levels of financial literacy when compared to their male counterparts.
As the way we save and invest shifts due to evolutions in fintech and cryptocurrency, information is key to ensure women have a seat at the table. A foundation of knowledge offers women an opportunity to take control of their finances and feel empowered when building wealth.
Business leaders need to provide women with resources that not only support their long-term goals – like 401(k) programs, stock options and equity in the company they are helping to build – but also offer financial education programs that can help them make smart saving, investing and retirement decisions. That might include workshops around setting financial goals or services that make it easier to track spending and saving habits.
Offer paid family leave
The US is one of only a handful of industrialized nations without a national paid family leave policy in place. Even in the private sector, only about a quarter of workers have access to paid leave. In a recent study conducted by insurance agency Breeze, 74% of women who take unpaid maternity leave will have drained their savings after eight weeks.
While we know a national policy for paid family leave is fundamental to making it accessible for all, we cannot wait around until that happens. In March, we launched our #ShowUsYourLeave database, where companies can showcase their leave policies, because we knew it was imperative as business leaders to speak up. Without paid family leave, women will continue to be pushed out of the workforce. That isn’t just bad for equality – it’s bad for the economy. We need more business leaders to join us.
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We implemented a paid leave policy at theSkimm long before we had any expectant parents on the team. It offers 18 weeks of paid family leave (including for adoption, surrogacy and fostering) for all new parents, as well as emotional, mental and financial resources. And we’ve already had several team members – including Danielle – utilize it. Policies like paid family leave allow businesses to show they support their employees, which in turn helps with retention.
Women are exhausted from being made to feel less than. The fact that enough progress likely won’t be made for another century can feel crippling. But we cannot allow our children – or our children’s children – to carry on with these burdens. We need to act now because we are not waiting for equality for 100 more years.