In my study of the root causes of the gender wage gap, one of the areas that I identified as being a contributing factor is the fact that women are far more likely than men to choose to take extended absences from work. Whether for the birth of a child, care for a sick family member, their own health condition or that of an elderly parent, women bear the brunt of that work. As a result of doing so, often with no pay protection in place, their lifetime earning potential is diminished.
In a talk that I gave earlier this week, I addressed the patchwork of leave laws in our country, and demonstrated that, thus far, there has been no significant impact on wage parity in the states that have enacted them. I do believe that we should consider taking a longitudinal study on this matter and determine the differences ten or more years after these laws are enacted, as I don't feel enough time has passed to really see an effect. Here's a clip from my talk:
The stigma I mentioned that still plagues working men is that, even though they may want to use the leave available to them, they decline it because they fear the repercussions if they do. In an article in Fast Company, the author sites a number of statistics that demonstrate that 41% of men feel that taking leave would cause them to lose opportunities for projects, and 57% of men feel as if taking time that is available to them could put their job itself on the line.
What we have here is a two-fold problem: perception and treatment. It's hard to know which is the true, or in fact bigger, culprit, as it is likely that both play a part. Men perceive that there is a significant downside to taking these leaves. Companies must also examine whether they actually are treating these individuals differently when they request the leaves. Intangibles and latent biases such as these are what keep a real solution to the gender wage gap elusive.