Lady business with equal parts lady and business.
By now you have definitely seen it: the Cadillac ad for its first hybrid car that has a hard on for America’s work ethic. “Other countries,” actor Neal McDonough says while strutting through his perfectly landscaped yard alongside his in-ground pool, “they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café, they take August off. Off.” Quelle horreur! And he explains that Americans, from Bill Gates to Ali, aren’t like that. “We’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers,” he says. And he implies we do it for the glory, but also for the stuff, like a luxury car: the latter is “the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”
But McDonough, or this hyper-capitalist alter ego, is dead wrong. Americans should absolutely take August off. It will, in fact, lead to more stuff—among other things.
Americans don’t take August off, but most people probably don’t even take two weeks during that month. Twenty rich countries have a national guarantee that workers can get some vacation time. Thirteen also make sure workers get at least a few paid holidays off. The United States, on the other hand, is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t have either requirement. About a quarter of Americans don’t have any paid vacation or holidays at all, a share that is growing—although I would guess that the luxury-product-buying, power-suit-wearing character McDonough plays in the commercial does get paid vacation time, as these benefits are disproportionately the purview of the rich. The average American worker gets about ten days of paid vacation and six paid holidays a year—that’s just over two weeks every year—which is less than the minimum required in nearly every other country. And of those who get paid vacation, they leave more than three days, on average, unused.
We also don’t ensure that workers can take other kinds of paid time off, like sick days or family leave or even a weekend. And we certainly aren’t slacking in the hours we work each week, either: we’re number eleven out of thirty-three developed countries for weekly hours worked.
What are all of these hours getting us? Certainly, we are one of the richest countries in the world. But all this time spent on the job without taking some time off to decompress isn’t necessarily why. It can be incredibly counterproductive. Henry Ford’s famous 1920s revelation that shortening the working day and the workweek would lead to better productivity is still true.
Ford found that productivity diminished after workers put in eight hours a day, five days a week. And as Daniel Cook of Lost Garden has found, working more than sixty hours a week produces a small productivity boost, but it doesn’t last: after three or four weeks, it actually ends up hurting output. Other studies have found the same thing: you can push yourself into overwork for a short time and produce more, but eventually it will wear off and come back to bite you. Taking small breaks can also help people better focus and perform.
Taking a vacation has a similar effect. When accounting firm Ernst & Young studied its own workers in 2006, it found that for every ten hours of vacation an employee took, his or her year-end performance ratings would improve by 8 percent. More vacation time also correlated with lower turnover. Former NASA scientists had the same experience: they found that people who take vacations see an 82 percent bump in job performance when they get back. And longer vacations are more important for refreshing than just taking a few days off. Shutting down for a whole month isn’t sounding so crazy, is it?
Individual companies don’t just see a monetary gain from pushing employees to take some time off, though. The whole economy benefits. That’s because people on vacation tend to spend their money on plane tickets, hotel rooms, restaurants and sightseeing, instead of holding on to it all while working away at their desks. If American workers took their unused vacation time—remember, only about three days—and traveled, leisure spending would increase by nearly a trillion dollars, according to Oxford Economics. Even if only some people traveled, however, it would add $67 billion in travel spending. The total economic impact beyond the leisure industry would be $160 billion in business sales and $52 billion in additional income.
Think what the increase from a whole month off would look like. Think of all the stuff that we could buy with that extra income and economic growth.
Beyond stuff, of course, there is the improvement in quality of life. We are a stressed-out country. Half of both working mothers and fathers are stressed about juggling work and family. A month off in the summer has the added benefit of lining up when most students aren’t in school, allowing parents to spend a solid chunk of time with their children. It wouldn’t solve the whole problem—there are plenty of other vacations parents wouldn’t necessarily be able to take off for, and then there’s the everyday struggle of coming home from work to the demands of feeding, cleaning and clothing everyone in your family—but it would give working people some breathing room.
Heck, maybe some people would use that month to dream up the next innovation in automobiles or space travel.
Read Next: Bryce Covert on why men must lean out
In an essay for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks writes that she hates Sheryl Sandberg. Not because she has nice hair or is wealthy, but because she has urged women to “lean in” to their work. Brooks describes taking this advice, leaning in to every opportunity inside and outside the workplace, and ending up utterly exhausted and, in her words, miserable. After briefly contemplating a move to Santa Fe to make crafts for a living, she says she came to an epiphany: “Ladies,” she writes, “if we want to rule the world—or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions—we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.” She declares there has to be “a movement” and her rallying cry is thus: “Women of the world, recline!”
But targeting women with that battle cry isn’t going to bring about the transformation that she craves. The problem is that too many women already lean out—and that far too few men do the same. We need to start by asking men to recalibrate if we’re going to revolutionize the workplace.
Brooks has put her finger on something important: asking women to lean in in today’s world is a bit like asking Atlas to help you move in to a five-floor walk-up. Americans work too much, plain and simple. A Harvard Business School survey of professionals found that 94 percent work fifty hours or more a week, and nearly half put in more than sixty-five hours a week. Out of thirty-three developed countries, Americans are eleventh in how many hours they put in each year, beating out Japan, Germany and plenty of other developed peers.
We also stand out from our developed neighbors in how little time off each worker is ensured. We are the only advanced country that doesn’t guarantee every worker some paid vacation time. We are the only one out of twenty-two developed countries that doesn’t guarantee every worker a paid day off when they get sick. We one of just three countries out of 178 that doesn’t guarantee a new mother can take paid time off when her baby arrives, not to mention fathers.
Brooks also nails it when she notes that “in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out” given that they are “still expected to work that ‘second shift’ at home.” Women are no longer waiting at home with dinner cooked, house cleaned and a cocktail at hand—nearly half of all families have two working parents, and another quarter have a single working one. But someone still has to cook that dinner and clean the house, not to mention watch the kids when they’re home from school or, if they’re infants, all day long.
And that someone is still by and large a woman. Men have upped their share of the chores—they now spend seven hours a week on childcare and ten on housework, up from just two and a half and four hours, respectively, in 1965—but women still spend twice as much time with children as fathers do, and they now put in more hours on that task than the 1960s woman.
Given this contradiction—putting in more hours in the office while still doing the bulk of the work at home—many women already lean out. Nearly a quarter of married mothers don’t work so they can stay home, compared to less than 1 percent of fathers. Fewer women have been entering the labor force, in fact, because of our pathetic workplace policies. In 1990, American women’s labor force participation rate was 74 percent, which netted us a sixth-place rank among twenty-two developed countries. Two decades later, that percentage has only increased to 75.2 percent, while the other countries are at nearly 80 percent—dropping us to number seventeen.
Women are also more likely to change the arc of their careers to take children or other caregiving into account. They are more likely to go part time and cut back on hours—more than 40 percent of women with children have reduced their hours to care for someone, compared to 28 percent of fathers.
Telling women to lean out, then—not to take every opportunity, be aggressive and aim for the top—is not revolutionary. It’s what many women either choose to do or are forced to do in the face of a workplace that has yet to come to grips with the idea that workers have lives outside of the office that need tending to.
What would be revolutionary, on the other hand, would be to target men and, while women are leaning in, ask them to lean out. That would mean men cutting back on their hours, going part-time, telecommuting and otherwise adjusting their jobs to focus on things outside of work. Then they could spend even more time with children—something 46 percent wish they could do—as well as relax in a La-Z-Boy recliner, something Brooks longs for. Her movement begins with women and “bring[s] our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too,” but it needs to flow in the opposite direction. Men have to lean out before women can relax more without sacrificing something.
But we don’t just have to ask men kindly that they please stop working so much and wait for them to comply. There are policies that could reduce everyone’s work hours and make leaning out gender neutral. One small step would be to change our overtime rules so that more workers have to be paid time and a half when they put in more than forty hours a week, thus re-normalizing the nine-to-five work day. We need to pass far more paid leave policies. A much broader change, though, would be to simply cap work hours. That may sound crazy, but it’s illegal for an employer to make workers put in more than forty-eight hours a week in six of the top ten most competitive countries. Somehow, we need to make more time for children, friends and reclining chairs.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on New York City’s expanded sick leave law
The car industry is no bastion of female empowerment, so it was groundbreaking to see General Motors appoint Mary Barra as CEO in December. She is the first woman not just to run the company, but to run any global carmaker. But on the heels of that historic news came something sadly less surprising: her current pay package is less than half of what was given to the man who just vacated the role. True, as the company has pointed out, she may well get more when shareholders vote later this year on her long-term compensation package, but her base salary and short-term package are lower than the man’s before her. And she is in no way the only female executive to be paid less than the men around them.
After President Obama mentioned the gender wage gap in his State of the Union by citing the average figure that women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man makes, some conservatives have once again pushed back at that figure, and with it, the notion that there is a discrimination-created wage gap. True, that seventy-seven cents figure includes many different factors, including wage penalties women may accrue for taking time off to take care of kids, for instance, not just employers simply paying women less. But to see discrimination at work, all you have to do is look to the top.
Barra’s pay package is lower not because she’s a newbie who might have taken years off from her career to care for family members. Barra has logged thirty-three straight years with the company, most recently serving as senior vice president of global product development. Her predecessor, Don Akerson, on the other hand, came to the job with zero years of experience in a car company, although he had sat on GM’s board since 2009. In response to a question about Barra’s lower base pay, a company spokesperson told me Akerson got more because he was also named the chairman and because he had been a CEO before—just not at any car companies. Barra, in dedicating her career to the carmaker, hadn’t gotten the chance yet.
Women who reach the top can’t be accused of lacking ambition. Not surprisingly, the few who make it—women still represent less than 15 percent of CEOs at the country’s largest companies—are extraordinarily ambitious, more so than their male peers. They haven’t opted into lower-paid jobs—they’re at the very top. They haven’t decided or been forced to put family before career, or at least not so much that it stopped them from reaching the pinnacle of their organizations.
Yet the highest-paid female executives at S&P 500 companies make 18 percent less than men in the same position. The gender wage gap among CEOs, in fact, is 69 percent, a bigger gap than that average for everyone. Barra isn’t the only one. Heather Bresch, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Mylan, makes 33 percent less than what the average chief pharma executive can expect. Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, makes 24 percent less than the average in the food industry.
What can explain this gap? These women have climbed to the top of their companies. They have worked hard and reached high. Why do they deserve to be paid less than the men who did the same? I can’t see any other explanation for it than discrimination. And there’s good reason to think discrimination hurts other women’s pay: When it examined multiple factors that might explain the disparity in pay, the Government Accountability Office couldn’t explain a 20 percent gap between women’s and men’s earnings, saying that it’s likely discrimination is at fault.
Pay gap skeptics often cite different work histories, women ending up in lower-paying jobs, and the fact that young women see a smaller gap as reasons to doubt the 77 percent figure. But it’s worth noting that even these factors represent discrimination, although it is on a societal level, not the employer level. The work women are more likely to perform—think care work, teaching, service jobs—pays a lot less than what men tend to do. In fact, male-dominated fields pay nearly $150 more each week than female-dominated ones. This is not only thanks to society’s telling women they aren’t the stuff of engineers but a devaluing of the work women do. Women are the default caretakers in a society that still doesn’t realize that most families feature two working parents or a single one, but our policies present working parents with impossible choices: Go back to work too quickly after the arrival of your new child or suffer financial hardship while on unpaid leave? Risk your job or your pay to take a day off to care for a sick kid or find someone else to care for him? Pay for incredibly expensive childcare or have a parent leave work and stay at home? No wonder women feel pressure to interrupt their careers to care for children—someone often has to. Women even get more college degrees yet earn less than men with the same educational credentials.
The gender wage gap is complicated, and throwing around the 77 percent figure can sometimes mask the various factors that go into it. But it’s impossible to rule out discrimination as at least one, if not the biggest, cause of it when the women who reach the top are still valued less.
Read Next: Annie Shields on how male politicians insist on defining women in relation to men
First it was Senator Marco Rubio: marriage is “the greatest tool” to lift people out of poverty. Then it was Ari Fleischer: the best way to fight income inequality is by “helping the poor realize that the most important decision they can make is to stay in school, get married and have children—in that order.” And then on Sunday it was Ross Douthat: “one of the biggest boosts to opportunity comes from having married parents.”
Conservatives are lately doing some thinking about poverty and income inequality, but the answer they seem to keep landing on is marriage. True, being married certainly is associated with financial benefits. The poverty rate is about five times higher for single parents than for married couples, which can have a significant impact on children’s well-being and future prospects. But to turn that from a statistic to a solution, the next leap would be to push for the government to push people into marriages. Unfortunately for conservatives, the government is terrible at getting people together.
In seeking to push people toward marital bliss, the government uses a carrot and a stick: incentivizing some couples with spending on pro-marriage counseling programs while attempting to penalize others who don’t marry by denying them tax benefits. Neither of these attempts to rig the marriage market work.
Take marriage promotion. In 2002, the federal government poured tens of millions of dollars into a project called Building Strong Families, which offered more than 5,000 unwed couples across the country group sessions on relationship skills and support services to boost marriage rates. It cost an average of $11,000 per couple. Yet three years later, an independent review of its efficacy found that it was a flop. It had no effect on whether the couples got married or even whether they stayed romantically involved. In fact, the couples who took part in the program were slightly less likely to stay together or live together than those in a control group.
Another review found slightly more optimistic but not promising outcomes. Researchers analyzed the relationship between state spending on Healthy Marriage Initiatives—relationship education programs—and how many married adults lived in the state. The positive association they found all but disappeared when one outlier, Washington, DC, was taken out of the results. In short: all this spending has done little to boost marriage.
But even if these programs were effective at pushing couples together, they might not help single mothers. Low-income single mothers’s relationships are much more likely to be highly unstable and low-quality. And there is often little benefit from getting married: in a recent study, Ohio State University Associate Professor of sociology Kristi Williams analyzed more than thirty years of data and found “no physical or psychological advantages for the majority of adolescents born to a single mother whose mothers later married.”
And that’s if they stay married. Just because a single mom ties the knot doesn’t mean the union will last. A nationally representative study of more than 7,000 women found that two-thirds of single mothers who married ended up divorced by the time they were ages 35 to 44. That leaves them worse off: single mothers who never marry are in better financial shape than those who marry just to end up single again.
If spending on pro-marriage campaigns is the government’s carrot enticing couples toward getting married, it uses the tax code as the stick, ostensibly tailored to make marriage financially rewarding and staying single more expensive. Yet while the majority of couples see a marriage “bonus” from the ability to file jointly, that doesn’t hold true for everyone. Putting two people’s incomes together can sometimes trigger higher tax brackets than if they filed separately. In 1997, when the Congressional Budget Office last issued a report on the topic, 42 percent of couples got a penalty, although changes since then have lessened the problem. These penalties hit couples who earn similar amounts of money, particularly at the bottom and top of the income scale. Low-income couples—the very people the government has nudged toward marriage—are the most impacted, as they are more likely to make different decisions based on incentives or costs. Given these complications, as Anne L. Alstott argues in a paper for Tax Law Review, “joint filing is an exceptionally poor tool for encouraging people to marry and stay married.”
But if the tax code succeeds at incentivizing any marriages, it is also mostly pushing people toward one outdated family formation: a breadwinner and a homemaker. Couples who have similar incomes are the most likely to incur the penalties, but as the Tax Policy Center explains, “Couples in which one spouse earns all of the couple’s income never incur a marriage penalty and almost always receive a marriage bonus.” Fewer and fewer families are likely to take advantage of that bonus, then. Just one in five families features a stay-at-home mother and a father who earns the money. On the other hand, the percent of families that rely on women’s income just hit a record high.
It might sound complicated to extricate the government from all the ways it has invested in marriage. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead of joint filing as an ill-advised attempt to reward marriages in the tax code, all earners could file individually with one income tax schedule for everyone, thus undoing the penalties many married couples face while treating unmarried couples and single people equally. Rather than throwing money at marriage promotion campaigns that don’t have much of an impact, the government could instead put it toward policies that can help single parents survive. Williams found that low-income women need greater access to family planning. Once they have children, single mothers need better access to health insurance and high-quality childcare, a stronger welfare system, and paid leave for a new child or to care for ones who get sick. The lack of these policies make American single mothers the worst-off single parents among developed countries.
These policies also have the added benefit of meeting people where they are. The share of people who decide to get married has been steadily shrinking for a half century, while the number of people who never get married has been growing. Forcing a hard stop or even a reversal of these trends is unlikely. But our policies don’t need to penalize people for the different decisions they make. Being single doesn’t need to be a financial death knell.
Watch Next: Michelle Goldberg explains why marriage does not alleviate poverty.
Plenty of worthy policy changes that would help working people balance the demands of the workplace with home have been proposed in Congress. Universal preschool. Paid family leave. Paid sick days. But this is not a Congress that gets a lot of things done. It passed the lowest number of bills in decades last year, at just fifty-seven.
So it’s important to take note of something President Obama could do right now, on his own, that could have a huge impact on the work/family conflict: update our overtime laws.
As Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, explained in The New York Times this weekend, employers are required by the Fair Labor Standards Act to pay certain workers time and a half—one and a half times their regular wage—in overtime pay after they put in forty hours of weekly work. But the threshold for which workers are covered by this requirement needs updating. It’s currently $455 a week, which is $23,660 a year, and as Eisenbrey notes, $2 a week more than the poverty line for a family of four. That means a whole lot of middle-wage workers who make more than that don’t get any extra compensation for working extra hours.
And Americans put in a lot of hours. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is in the top fourteen of thirty-three countries in the number of hours we work. Given that about half of all families with children have two working parents—just one in five has a stay-at-home mom and a breadwinner dad—that leaves few hours to spend taking care of children, elderly parents or each other.
Enter the overtime requirement. Eisenbrey proposes lifting the cap to cover those who make $970 a week or less, or over $50,000 a year. That affects not only low-paid service and construction workers but also white-collar workers—and begins to normalize paying for over-time in professional settings. Eisenbrey picks this number because it would bring the threshold in line with its historical value of $240. But since in 1975 it was 1.6 times the median wage, and today’s median wage for forty hours of work is $670, $970 is actually on the low side—the threshold could go above $1,000 a week and be consistent with historical norms.
While Eisenbrey pushes for an update because it “would make overtime pay more expensive, creating an incentive for employers to spread work among other workers” in an economy in desperate need of more jobs, he doesn’t mention the impact it would have on those working more hours than they want to. The norm in many jobs, particularly professional ones, has become to work fifty-plus hour weeks. Some workers feel like they have to put in sixty or more hours, raising the question of whether they ever eat a meal with their loved ones. If it became more expensive to keep workers around after forty hours, however, even for just the lower paid staff, it would reintroduce the nine-to-five norm where everyone wraps up and goes home when the clock chimes five.
This might sound like a scary thing if you’re a job creator. But as Eisenbrey writes, if an employer wants to avoid paying overtime, he can hire new workers to do the extra work at the base rate, one of the original law’s objectives. It’s also not unheard of for governments of developed countries to curb work hours. In six of the top ten most competitive countries—Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom—it’s illegal for an employer to make her workers put in more than a forty-eight-hour workweek. Not to mention that forty hours a week has been found to be the “sweet spot” for workers’ productivity. Just ask Henry Ford.
The beauty of working less is that it is a gender-neutral way to change the workplace to better suit the current shape of American families. Our model assumes someone is at home to cook a meal, clean the house, care for a parent, watch the kids when they get home from school and do anything else that isn’t paid employment. But that’s not true for a growing number of families. While women are still the default when it comes to who takes on the care work, the stress of this dilemma reaches both genders. If everyone worked less, everyone would have more time to devote to the other things in life that need attention.
Read Next: Bryce Covert on the rise of female labor leaders.
In his State of the State address yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a passing reference to preschool, saying that it is “time to fulfill the state’s goal” of providing all-day pre-K to all children in the state. He failed to mention of how to do it or how to pay for it. There had been rumors that he would propose a universal preschool program funded through the state’s budget, but he quashed those hopes well before the speech. The question of how to fund a preschool program is likely to put him at odds with newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on a promise to make high-quality preschool available to the city’s children by raising taxes on the wealthiest earners.
This fight could be thorny for Cuomo, who has painted himself as a social progressive at the same time as he tacks hard right on economic issues. In his time in office, he has made big news for pushing through the legalization of gay marriage in the state, pushing a Women’s Equality Act that brought together legislation to close the gender wage gap, help the victims of domestic violence and protect the right to an abortion, and recently for proposing to legalize small amounts of medical marijuana, among other things.
These are all great. But none of them costs the state money. Universal pre-K would. So here’s a test: Cuomo says he is a staunch supporter of women’s equality. But would he spend money on it? Because sometimes it takes money to achieve social goals. He has long tried to keep economic and social issues separate, but they can’t be so neatly divided. Preschool, and childcare more broadly, is one of those issues that expose the way they overlap and interact.
High-quality preschool has certainly been proven to have many benefits for children. What gets less airtime is the benefit it would have for working parents, and specifically mothers. The United States lags far behind other countries in how many children are enrolled in preschool, and the cost of childcare in a center or someone’s home is huge, clocking in at more than median rent in every state and more than the cost of public college in many. In many heterosexual families, couples look at the cost of care and compare it to their incomes—and usually match it dollar for dollar with what the woman makes. Many women look at that equation and end up dropping out of the workforce. One study has found that mothers with regular childcare arrangements are twice as likely to stay in their jobs as those without. Their wages often drop if and when they head back to work, thanks to skill stagnation or their returning to a lower position than they would have had. About 10 percent of the gender wage gap can be explained by differing time spent working.
Preschool would help to halt and even reverse this trend: a fully funded, national early childhood education program would boost women’s employment rate by up to 10 percent. So if Cuomo really does care about the gender wage gap, as he says he does, this is an important piece of the puzzle.
But one way or another, you have to spend money to create a high-quality, universal preschool program. One group estimated that it could cost $4 billion to create one in New York. De Blasio is willing to put his money where his campaign promise is with his tax on the wealthy, which is expected to bring in about $530 million a year, enough to cover the $340 million price tag for the city. Cuomo, on the other hand, made his quick preschool reference in the State of the State amid a big, concrete plan to lower taxes. He just unveiled a $2 billion package of reduced taxes for businesses, renters, property owners and upstate manufacturers. In his address, “He mentioned the word tax or taxes about 40 times, mostly to make the assertion that he had managed to drive them down,” The New York Times reports. That $2 billion means $2 billion less in revenues that the state could use on early childhood education.
Some women’s rights issues come at no cost. Enshrining a woman’s right to an abortion in New York State is revenue-neutral, even if it might require reserves of political capital. But if you want to address the gender wage gap or the work/family dilemma, it will take something more.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on how de Blasio can craft a progressive school policy for New York.
Last night, Twitter made a change to what happens when a user blocks another user. Originally, when users were blocked they could no longer see the other’s account and visa versa. But while the new policy still kept the feature that hid a blocked user’s tweets from the person who blocked them, it allowed the blocked user to see the other’s account if it was public. “If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline,” the company stated. That meant that potential stalkers or harassers could retweet their victims’ tweets into their own stream, opening up the victims to potential blowback from a harasser’s followers.
After a wave of outrage against the policy change, Twitter later reversed course, saying, “We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users,” adding, “we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe.”
When it made the original change, the company explained that it was to fix the fact that users can tell when they’ve been blocked, which it said meant there was “antagonistic behavior where people would see they were locked and be mad.” As Ashe Dryden pointed out, “This is dictating an abuse victim’s safety based on how upset their abuser feels.” As Zerlina Maxwell explained in her petition to get Twitter to reverse its decision, “I am very concerned because stalkers and abusers will now be able to keep tabs on their victims, and while there was no way to prevent it 100% before, Twitter should not be in the business of making it easier to stalk someone.”
It’s not necessarily a coincidence Ashe and Zerlina are women. Women are more likely than men to experience stalking and harassment, and women on the Internet experience a high volume of this abuse. There’s plenty of tales of personal experience, but also hard evidence, like a study that found that chat users with female-sounding usernames were 25 percent more likely to get threatening or sexually explicit messages. As Zerlina noted, she is often the victim of online rape and death threats. Women know what they need to be better protected from its effects.
And this might help explain why Twitter didn’t see the backlash coming. It, like many other tech companies, is a male-dominated company. Just two of its twelve executive team members are women, and they were not likely involved in the decision: they are its vice president of human resources and the general counsel. It just added its first female board member last week, a sign of its recognition that diversity is important but that there is so much father to go. This maleness is counter to its user base: the majority are women, which is true for social media in general.
Twitter’s mistake seems like one it could have seen coming. Someone might have been able to put themselves in the shoes of those who experience harassment and stalking and realized that getting their tweets retweeted into an abuser’s stream opens victims up to even more abuse. It has also taken other big public mobilizations to get the company to make changes that could help users who are the targets of threats. Given that women are more likely to these targets, it might take having someone of that gender in the room to come to these realizations ahead of time. This is one of the many benefits of having a more diverse team: you get more diverse opinions, reactions, and ideas.
Twitter is far from the only company suffering from a lack of women making the decisions; women are a small percentage of the chief executives of the country’s largest companies, for example. Yet there’s a large body of evidence that more women in leadership roles at companies means better financial performance. And Twitter’s experience last night illustrates that it isn’t necessarily just about the dollar figures. A workplace that has employees of all genders, races, sexualities, classes, religions, etc. means a better chance to bring different ideas to the table—and different perspectives that can stop a bad decision before it gets made.
Read Next: Jessica Valenti on Michigan’s anti-choice bill.
In a recent study, Freakonomics guest writers John List and Uri Gneezy set out to prove what they posit is a big reason women are still paid just seventy-seven cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes. “Personally,” they write, “we think that much of it boils down to this: men and women have different preferences for competitiveness, and at least part of the wage gaps we see are a result of men and women responding differently to incentives.” To demonstrate this, they posted ads for a job opening on Craigslist, and when people applied, they told half of them that the job would be paid a flat rate of $15 an hour but the other half that they would get $12 an hour and then have to compete with a coworker for a $6 per hour bonus. The authors write that “both ads would pay workers and average of $15 per hour,” neglecting to explain what would happen if a worker were to lose out to the other every time and miss that bonus.
The two report that women were 70 percent less likely to want the job with a “competitive pay scale”—and conclude that women just don’t have the same desire to chase reward. But what they would call “competitive” I would call risky: one job offered steady pay, while the other varied depending on a variety of factors. One of those factors may have been how the boss viewed female workers. Women have every reason to be averse to a situation that might pit them against a man, knowing that there is still lots of implicit bias against them. Employees would have been putting part of their paychecks at risk, and women—logically—declined to take that risk.
Setting aside the myriad other causes of the gender wage gap that List and Gneezy don’t address, it’s worth asking: Why don’t women take risks? One half of the answer is that they are socialized not to. It starts very early. Girls are rewarded with higher grades at school for their better ability to follow the rules and not act out. Other research has shown that girls learn to give up on a challenge that stumps them while boys are taught to redouble their efforts and keep trying. Boys, who have a more difficult time paying attention and sitting still, are told that they just need to put in more effort to get it right. Girls, who are better at following instructions, are told they are smart, good, clever—innate, unchangeable traits that don’t improve with trying harder. Girls are given less room to make mistakes.
Room to try things over and over, for forgiveness for behaving badly, has ripples throughout boys’ lives. A study of those who start their own high-risk, high-reward businesses found that they were more likely to engage in “aggressive, illicit, and risky activities” as young people than others. Entrepreneurs are twice as likely as salaried workers to say they took something by force when they were young and 44 percent more likely to have been stopped by the police. They also end up earning about 30 to 50 percent more than others.
Women, on the other hand, aren’t rewarded for being risk-takers in the workplace. The other half of the answer to the question of why women might not go in for risk is that they don’t see the same returns. A study by the research organization Catalyst found that female MBA graduates employed many of the aggressive and ambitious strategies to get ahead in their careers as men did, including asking for higher pay while getting hired and a higher position later, both risky demands. But they still didn’t reap the rewards. “[W]hen women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less,” it noted.
It seems men get paid more for taking bigger risks. But companies may want to rethink rewarding this behavior. Women’s ingrained nature to be risk-averse is proving to make them a boon for the bottom line.
A new study finds that the presence of women on corporate boards leads companies to pay less for buying other businesses and make fewer acquisitions overall, something that may create more value. Each woman added to a board reduces the final price for acquiring a company by 15.4 percent and lowers the chance that it will make a buy in the first place by 7.6 percent. The researchers posit that this shows that women have less appetite for risky deals and are focused instead on higher returns on investment. In another study that took place over seven years, female investors were found to outperform male ones thanks to the fact that they were more level-headed and avoided making a lot of trades, which lowers returns. They are also more loss-averse and let go of losing stocks more quickly. These line up with a host of other studies that show that having more women on corporate boards improves firm performance.
If women were rewarded for going off-script as children, it’s highly possible that they would have similar appetites for risk as men do. But they are discouraged from disobeying the rules and given less room to screw up than boys, and when they take risks later in life they don’t get the glory. Blaming the gender wage gap on this difference blames girls for the way society has shaped them.
But we also may not want to turn women into daredevils. Instead, we could reward an eye for the long term and a more even head the same way that we currently reward impulsive and risky behavior in men. Stealing as a teen may correlate well with starting a new business later in life, but playing it safe can get you a better return.
Among the fifteen most competitive countries, the United States is the only one that doesn’t guarantee that all workers have access to paid time off when they or their family members fall sick. So some states and cities have addressed the problem on their own by passing laws that require employers to offer paid sick days to all employees. There are seven such laws on the books right now: in Jersey City; New York City; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, DC; and the state of Connecticut. Three of those laws—Portland, New York and Jersey City—happened this year.
The movement is experiencing a good deal of momentum, with current fights for these policies being waged in Newark, New Jersey; Tacoma, Washington; Massachusetts; New Jersey; and Vermont. Advocates are also pushing for an expansion of DC’s law to cover tipped workers, and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio may look to expand New York City’s law to cover more workers.
But what some progressive fans of this movement might not realize is that there is a well-funded wave of opposition that, by the raw numbers, has experienced more success. So-called “pre-emption” state laws that block cities and counties from passing paid sick leave bills have now been enacted in ten states, with seven this year alone, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute:
As the report notes, this effort is fueled with support, and money, from enormous business interest groups. “In each of the ten states, the bills’ sponsors included members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),” it notes. “And in each case, the bills were adopted following vigorous advocacy by corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Restaurant Association.” For instance, Florida’s bill was pushed forcefully by Disney World, Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster), and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. ALEC handed out model pre-emption legislation to conservative legislators at a national meeting in 2011.
But these numbers don’t mean that advocates of paid sick days are feeling beat. While Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, told me legislative fixes in the states with pre-emption laws may be difficult, one possibility—which would take serious resources—would be to take the issue to the voters through ballot initiatives. Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said her organization is also reaching out to local officials to have them speak with their colleagues about “the principle of democracy and local control,” since these laws take power away from local governments. “Coalition members find allies who are experts in good government and circulate commentaries from conservatives who say, we may not like paid sick days, but you can’t support the concept of local control only when you agree with the outcome,” Bravo said. And both said they are shining a light on the big business interests behind these laws that “would rather deal with lowest common denominator,” as Shabo put it.
But even the targeted action against the paid sick days movement may have a silver lining. The pre-emption approach has been deployed by business interests to combat issues from smoking ordinances to gun laws to domestic violence protections to environmental protection. “It’s a testament to the success of the paid sick days movement that we’re now being targeted,” Shabo said. Not to mention the success of paid sick days, usually pushed by organizations that are staffed by volunteers and can’t hire lobbyists, has been in the face of vast sums of money on the other side.
And with each victory comes a new opportunity to prove that these laws are actually beneficial to businesses. The expansion of DC’s law alone is estimated to net employers $2 million in savings even with any costs taken into account. Seattle’s job growth and business growth have been strong under its law, and job growth has actually been stronger. San Francisco has also seen strong job growth and the law enjoys business support. The policies in DC and Connecticut have proven to come with few costs for businesses.
On the other hand, the average employer loses $225 per worker each year due to lost productivity when employees get sick and don’t have access to paid leave. Perhaps with time more businesses will champion the cause.
There’s another “cliff” at the end of the year, George Zornick writes. Going over would devastate America’s long-term unemployed.
The city of San Francisco just passed a little-noticed policy in an attempt to address the work and family conflict increasingly experienced by today’s workers: a “right-to-request” law that requires all employers to set up a process so that workers can negotiate flexible schedules. That means that starting January 1, city residents will be able to ask their employers about whether they can change their start and end times, telecommute or go part-time and the boss will have to prove “undue hardship” if he refuses. Vermont passed a similar statewide policy in May. These are the only places in the United States to take up such a law, although the UK, New Zealand and Australia have countrywide ones.
Supporters tout such laws as a way to help resolve the conflict of work and family for all. And for those who feel torn between these two worlds, this streamlined path to changing schedules will likely come as a relief. But if the goal of resolving the work/family conflict with policy is to level the playing field for mothers who work and to allow women to catch up to men, flexible scheduling, at least for now, falls short. It cures a symptom without touching the disease.
A big problem is that women tend to be the ones using flexible work options, doing nothing to change workplaces that otherwise remain rigid against attempts to truly transform them to better integrate women workers. One paper found that while married men use them more than married women, once they have children working mothers use them more than fathers. The Families and Work Institute found that women and parents are more likely to use them, with nearly 80 percent of both groups taking advantage of flextime, although 68 percent of men and 70 percent of non-parents use it when they have access. Other evidence suggests that women, and in particular mothers, are more likely to ask for flexibility, and perhaps the similar usage rates stem from the fact that men are just more likely to get it when they ask.
Women and men may also be using the flexibility for different reasons. Researchers at Cornell University interviewed thirty-six couples in upstate New York in 2005 with young infants and found that the mothers made more changes to their work schedules to meet family needs, thus “diminishing the necessity of work-family policies for their full-time employed husbands.” The authors note, “[T]his appeared to be driven by the women’s views of what was required of them personally as mothers and as workers.” Women are much more likely to take advantage of changes in work schedules if they have preschool-aged children, whereas that factor doesn’t make a difference for men. Fathers are much less likely to tell their employers that they need flexibility for family reasons.
In fact, when men ask for flexibility, it’s likely they’re doing so to take time to develop their careers, not devote energy to raising their children. If that’s the case, they’re in luck. Managers are most likely to grant men’s requests for flexible schedules, particularly if they are doing it for personal development reasons, than for women asking for any reason at all. Flexibility, then, gives men a leg up on their careers while simply giving women more time to be caretakers, something they will likely still be penalized for professionally. The evidence says as much: one study found that women with a flexible schedule are perceived to have “less job-career dedication and less advancement motivation.”
Women, then, are using these programs to reinforce their roles as mothers, while men use them to advance as workers. Flexible scheduling, it seems, will just further reinforce the Leave It To Beaver split.
Other data has shown that the types of flexibility they make use of are different and men may not risk their careers with the kinds they choose. Women use “formal” flexibility, such as shifting to part-time schedules, while men just change their start and end times while putting in the same hours. The research organization Catalyst found that high-powered men and women make equal use of flexible work arrangements, but women are more likely to telecommute, use flex time and reduce their work hours or go part-time. Men are nearly twice as likely to say they have never telecommuted during the entire span of their careers. Flexible scheduling may just be another way of dropping out of the workforce when women have children. If women go part-time or telecommute, they will have trouble getting promoted into management, which typically requires putting in full, in-person hours. And they may just make themselves out of sight, out of mind. “Research shows that employees who work remotely are likely to receive poorer performance evaluations, smaller raises, and fewer promotions than their in-office colleagues,” Nannette Fondas wrote at The Atlantic. Not to mention that fewer hours means less pay.
That’s not to say that right-to-request laws shouldn’t be passed. There’s clearly a big demand for flexibility, and given our current work culture, many working moms will likely pounce at whatever they can get to make their lives easier. But these policies are worse than just a stopgap—they may move women backward if they are perceived as even more likely to leave to care for children or less dedicated to their jobs. To truly transform the workplace so that all parents can go to work and raise children, we need guaranteed time off in the form of vacations, family leave (required for both genders) and sick days. Even more than that, we need to simply work less. Americans put in more hours than in nineteen other developed countries. Reducing everyone’s workday would free both genders up to spend time with their children—or their aging parents, or their friends or their cats.