Becoming a parent is perhaps one of the most extraordinary experiences in our lives; nevertheless, it has become a greater challenge for many families nowadays, particularly in America. Without paid maternity and paternity leave, many new parents have to decide whether to risk economic adversity, leave behind their professional aspirations or return to work prematurely.
Paid leave is not only beneficial for the parents, it’s good for children, companies, and society as a whole. It is well-known that maternity impacts greatly on female employment in countries with high levels of discrimination. If more corporations granted paid maternity leave, the female labor force participation would increase 20% in countries deeply affected by gender inequity.
If we provide the necessary conditions to foster safe and healthy environments for new generations to thrive in, it will have a ripple effect on society. When policies are inclusive and family-oriented, women are empowered within their family life and financial decisions. At the same time, men may be free to explore new aspects of masculinity where they are fully involved in raising children and sharing household duties.
There are disparities in paternity and maternity rights around the world. It is remarkable that all OECD countries, except the US, offer paid maternity leave. Half of those also offer fathers paid paternity leave. Northern European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Germany have additionally extended periods of job security after birth. To cite just an example, new moms in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, fully paid.
Most corporations in the United States offer leave but without payment, and little job protection. Several companies, especially in the technology industry, have taken the lead by offering paid maternal and parental leave during the first year after their child´s birth or adoption. Nevertheless, this represents only a fraction of all companies. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it is estimated that only about 12% of American companies offer paid leave.
I believe in establishing gender-inclusive policies in our companies –not only as an incentive for women empowerment and gender equality, but because it is beneficial for society as a whole. Let me share a few reasons why:
1. Parental leave improves pediatric health and reduces the number of deaths in infancy. According to a recent study by the University of North Carolina, comprehensive paid leave was found to reduce deaths of infants and young children. This suggests that parental leave may be a cost-effective way to improve children’s overall health.
2. A longitudinal study carried out by the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany, demonstrated that mothers who take longer maternity leave have children with higher education levels, higher IQs, and better incomes.
3. Paternity leave fosters stronger father-child relationships. Fathers who took paternity leave to take care of the newborn child, were more involved in their care later. Surprisingly, men who spend more time with their babies, experience changes in their brains (amygdala) developing skills and sensitivity related to the child´s well-being.
4. Offering paid paternity and maternity leave brings many benefits for companies: it improves employee retention, it reduces turnover costs; and it attracts talent. For instance, 77% of workers said that paid family leave determines their choice of employer. Additionally, companies that support a work- family balance for its employees improve motivation, engagement and productivity.
Equitable work conditions and paid family leave for men and women will open the door to a co-responsible approach to parenthood. Women’s economic empowerment means greater agency, opportunities, and resources, which become a virtuous cycle within families. This contributes towards better health, education, social development, the eradication of poverty and inclusive economic growth.
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.