As the first woman to serve as the mayor of Eastvale, and a new mom, I know firsthand how much we need a national family leave policy.
By Jocelyn Yow, Special to CalMatters
Jocelyn Yow, mayor of Eastvale in 2021, is legislative advocacy director of Ignite, a young women’s political leadership program based in Oakland.
America continues to be one of the few nations in the world that doesn’t offer paid family leave.
As a country we need to do more to ensure that family leave is adopted, as proposed in the Build Back Better bill. Without paid family leave, the potential of women’s leadership will remain untapped.
As the first woman to serve as the mayor of Eastvale, and a new mom, I know firsthand that without national family leave policies, the cost to our country will be great. I also have seen how the country can learn a few lessons from California’s progress on this score.
I’m mentioning a bill proposed by a Democratic president, but actually, paid leave is a true bipartisan issue with support on both sides. More than 80% of Americans support paid family leave. Yet, when I rotated into the mayor’s office in 2020 – every councilmember in Eastvale serves a year as mayor – there were no changing tables for infants at City Hall. People asked me if I’d have time to serve as the mayor, assuming that as a new mother my responsibilities lay elsewhere. They would never have asked the same question of a new father.
With cultural biases like this too often unchallenged it’s no wonder that on the national level, women still account for about one-third of people in elected office.
I often speak with young women who don’t think of themselves as political. They’ve been discouraged from seeing themselves as leaders in that way. They also don’t see enough role models like me in office to show them what a woman in political leadership looks like. It is a chicken-and-egg challenge.
I use this issue as an example of why young women’s political involvement matters. If you’re not in political power then things are going to get decided for you, I tell them, and you won’t get the chance to participate. I tell them that it’s in their power to change America’s idea of what a political leader looks like, and that by running for political office they can help change things. This is also a bipartisan issue. If we want gender parity in elected office, we need women to get elected across the political spectrum.
We’re lucky in California to have a state law offering 60% of a salary for paid family leave. But the reality for me, giving birth to my son in 2020, was that I could not afford to take it. So, I took six weeks of saved-up vacation time and went right back to work.
Build Back Better’s family leave plan was based on a progressive system, to ensure people in lower income brackets would get close to 100% of their wages. In California, former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez tried to push for a better system where everyone taking family leave would get nearly the full amount. Unfortunately, her bill was vetoed.
Such policies help everyone. They are not just for mothers. They are for people trying to take care of elderly parents and foster children, and their families. It is frustrating to have a conversation about equity in the workplace without equity at home, too.
Research shows that even women who work outside the home end up doing more of the household chores. We need men to be allies and to pass these kinds of laws to help us all succeed – and that extends from the laundry room to the Legislature.