Sunday marks the three-year anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill aimed at improving equality in the workplace. Contrary to what feminists would have you believe, however, protective laws like Lilly Ledbetter actually increase the cost of employing women — especially of childbearing age — by creating the threat of lawsuits and uncertainty.
In honor of this anniversary, perhaps, Working Mother Media and the National Partnership for Women and Families have launched an effort to urge Congress to mandate paid parental leave. As a working mother of three children, I sympathize with the problem; still, the effort is misguided and will ultimately hurt women.
The fact is women make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce. They are outperforming men educationally, soaring to the top of almost every professional field, and are the nation’s leading consumers. Bottom line: Women are a valuable asset. And businesses recognize that.
Nevertheless, organizations like WMM and NPWF don’t trust that the marketplace will recognize women’s value. While they acknowledge that big corporations attract and retain women by offering family-friendly benefits — flextime, telecommuting and shared jobs — that help employees at all levels of the corporate structure, they want all businesses to adopt the same generous policies.
It’s true, smaller companies might not be able to provide the same kind of maternity benefits as larger corporations, but that’s because there are real economic factors associated with these benefits. The fact is, when an employee takes time off for paternal leave, the workload doesn’t disappear. Instead, companies have to restructure to handle the additional responsibilities. While a company like American Express or AOL may be able to absorb these costs to retain good employees, a smaller business simply may not.
Still, as corporate America has demonstrated, government intervention is not the answer. Businesses of all sizes understand that helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance is the price of staying competitive and doing good business.
As we approach the anniversary of Lilly Ledbetter, women and lawmakers ought to consider the costs associated with mandating paid parental leave. Changing gender roles, improved technology and a vibrant private marketplace means men and women today have more flexibility than ever before. Don’t let government get in the way.