Double Booked: The Four-Tenths of 1% Solution



By Shifra Bronznick

I have been passionately involved in fighting for women’s equality since 1964 when, as a fourth grader, I announced that I wanted to be the first woman president of the United States.

My declaration was met with mockery. “You mean: first woman president of the garbage department?” said Claude, the boy sitting to my right. I responded without thinking with a swift punch to his nose.

It was a short-lived campaign for President but the start of a life-long journey to expand women’s opportunities for success on every front – personal, professional, and political.

Fifty years later, I participated in the first White House Summit on Working Families. I was moved when Barack Obama declared “When women succeed, America succeeds…21st-century families deserve 21st-century workplaces…And that means paid family leave, especially paid parental leave.”

Yet, it is infuriating to realize that as a result of our dysfunctional Congress, our President feels powerless to throw his weight behind the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, (FAMILY), a low-cost solution to establish paid leave, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro.

Four-Tenths of 1%.

That is what it would cost as an annual wage contribution   to fund partial paid leave for people who are seriously ill, taking care of a loved one who is seriously ill, or having or adopting a child.

Four-Tenths of 1%. That’s it.

As a life-long activist, I asked myself: what would it take to mobilize voters to demand that we establish paid leave in this country?

Here’s what I’ve learned about changing minds on work place policies from my own experience. Five years ago, I launched an experiment in the Jewish community where I have longstanding relationships and opportunities for influence.

This experiment, the Better Work, Better Life campaign called on Jewish organizations to act on their values by adopting paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements.

Our immediate goal was to enlist 100 organizations within our sector to adopt healthy work life policies. Our long-term goal was to demonstrate the positive effects that these policies have on productivity, employee morale and the bottom line – and to inspire broader change in America.

Five years into our experiment, we have 86 organizations on board with more in the pipeline. It takes time to persuade organizational leaders to change their assumptions. Despite strong resistance from decision-makers who assumed they could not afford paid parental leave and others afraid to lose control if employees worked flexibly, we persevered.

It turned out that the best evangelists for our campaign are the human resource professionals who adopted our recommendations early on and saw the benefits firsthand. They generously mentored colleagues in other organizations and helped them integrate new workplace practices.

Our ongoing success depends on broadening and deepening our circle of advocates. For me, one of the most gratifying moments was when my daughter, Emma Goldberg, wrote a prize-winning piece called “Mother May I (Go on Maternity Leave)” about her efforts to convince her Jewish day school to adopt paid leave.

Despite her persuasive case, her school and virtually all Jewish day schools have not yet adopted paid parental leave because of financial considerations. The FAMILY Act would make a big difference for these schools and countless other institutions.

Tina Fey told a story in her bestselling Bossypants about suggestions to increase parts for women at Second City in Chicago, where she was a member of the famed improvisation  troupe. Producers and directors panicked: “You can’t do that. There won’t be enough parts to go around.”

Her response? “It’s improv. Aren’t we making up the show ourselves?”

That’s our cue. In 2014, we have the power to write a new script for women, for working families and for America. Let’s call it the Four-Tenths of 1% Solution.

Shifra Bronznick is the Founder and President of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community and the co-author of “Leveling the Playing Field.” She is a strategy consultant in the social sector and teaches strategic leadership at NYU Wagner’s  EMPA program. 

Comments are an important part of the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments sectionThis blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

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5 Responses to “Double Booked: The Four-Tenths of 1% Solution”

  1. Shifra’s struggle to enact paid family and medical leave is of utmost importance. As an Israeli lawyer and advocate for women’s rights in Israel for more than a decade, I was astonished to find out that the U.S. does not provide such paid leave to employees. I lived in the U.S. for 3 years, writing my PhD in law (Berkeley, California) comparing between work-family arrangements in Israel and the U.S. My initial reason for coming to the U.S. to pursue a PhD was to learn from the U.S. and then bring new ideas to Israel. However, I realized that the U.S. has a lot of work to do in order to provide its working parents with basic entitlements, such as paid leave. Kudos to Shifra and her colleagues for fighting for a better life for Americans.

  2. Shifra’s struggle to enact paid family and medical leave is of utmost importance. As an Israeli lawyer and advocate for women’s rights in Israel for more than a decade, I was astonished to find out that the U.S. does not provide such paid leave to employees. I lived in the U.S. for 3 years, writing my PhD in law (Berkeley, California) comparing between work-family arrangements in Israel and the U.S. My initial reason for coming to the U.S. to pursue a PhD was to learn from the U.S. and then bring new ideas to Israel. However, I realized that the U.S. has a lot of work to do in order to provide its working parents with basic entitlements, such as paid leave. Kudos to Shifra and her colleagues for fighting for a better life for Americans.

  3. Shifra has been such a leading light for decades on this critical issue facing the Jewish and wider American community. We need more of her ideas to be put into practice — so we can live out the values we advocate for everyday as we fight for change! Go Shifra!

  4. The progress made through the Better Work, Better Life campaign has enormous implications for how we approach broader change toward more equitable workplaces in America. In particular, the way in which the campaign has made the issue of flexible work policies, including parental leave and remote work, an issue of concern to women and men, employees and employers demonstrates the kind of big tent, collective good message that works. This is NOT a special interest issue. Rather, policies like paid leave enable companies to retain talented employees, avoiding the high cost of turnover and endless searches while making it possible for both women and men to lead more financially secure lives AND to contribute to the development of a healthy, productive next generation. I genuinely believe this can be a win-win proposition. We don’t see those very often anymore. Kudos to Shifra and her team.

  5. Steven M. Cohen Reply July 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Shifra’s fascinating blog post makes clear that social change for good is possible, but it takes strategic thinking, smart execution, persistence and patience. As Jews and as Amercans, our values and our interests cry out for more humane workplacs. The 4/10 of 1% solution would represent a significant step toward a better workplace, and a better life for all Americansk, Jews included.

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