Three Policy Reforms That Could Make our System Work for Workers—and Women

Dear Colleagues, 

It’s been a year since the term coined the “she-session” began. Since the dawn of the pandemic, women have left the job force at higher rates than men and have carried much of the burden of the broken childcare system. 

Thankfully, women’s funds and gender justice funders have been leading the resourcing, visibility, and cross-sector organizing needed for meaningful change to unequal and unjust systems that led to our current reality. In honor of May Day, a celebration of workers’ rights, we wanted to highlight three game changing policy reforms that could overhaul our broken system. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave: Paid family and medical leave is essential to gender equality and economic mobility for women by creating a social and economic framework that allows families to accumulate wealth and financial stability. Without paid leave, families lose an estimated $22.5 billion in wages each year. Globally, 42% of women are outside the paid labor force because of unpaid care responsibilities, compared to 6% for men. Studies have also shown that offering paid leave actually saves businesses money in the long run by growing employee retention rates and keeping more women in the labor force. Paid leave has been shown to increase labor force participation and employment-to-population ratios, especially for women.

Affordable Childcare: Affordable childcare is a keystone to creating greater levels of gender equity in the workplace and for building lasting economic mobility for women and their families. Without access, women and girls lose out on opportunities for advancement and get stuck in cycles of poverty. 

New mothers who take paid leave are more likely to stay in the workforce and are 54% more likely to report wage increases. A woman who is 50 years or older who leaves the workforce early to care for an aging parent will lose more than $324,000 in wages and retirement

The average annual cost of childcare in the U.S. is higher than the annual cost of one year of in-state college tuition, forcing women to drop out of the workplace to care for their children. However, research shows that countries with greater supports for childcare have lower gender pay gaps and a more equal distribution of unpaid care work between men and women. Childcare is also essential to supporting girls of color – who also bear the burden of care taking younger siblings

Raising the federal minimum wage: Raising the federal minimum wage is a key component to lowering the pay gap between men and women. Studies have shown that in countries with higher minimum wages the gaps between men and women’s earnings decrease, and generational cycles of poverty are broken, leading to greater levels of educational attainment and workforce participation.

Historical increases in the federal minimum wage have reduced racial wage gaps by up to 20% within the following years. Decreasing these wage gaps supports families and helps to end cycles of poverty and discrimination based on race and social economic status. 

Women make up to 88% of roles where the pay is typically less than $15 per hour in the U.S., compared to 12% for men. Nearly 60% of workers who would get a raise from a federal minimum wage increase in the U.S. are women, compared to 40% for men. Additionally, states with a minimum wage of $10 or more have seen 34% reduction in the gender wage gap, compared to states with a minimum wage of $7.25.

Your Women’s Funding Network stands in solidarity with all the women across the globe who have put themselves at risk on the front lines, sacrificed careers to care for their families, or lost their jobs because of COVID-19. As we recover from this pandemic, we must work together to rebuild a stronger and more equitable economy by centering the voices of these workers and marginalized communities in our recovery efforts.

In solidarity,

Elizabeth Signature

Elizabeth Barajas-Román
Women’s Funding Network 
President & CEO

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