Paid parental leave: It's a win-win for people and companies.

It was big news when media giant Netflix announced it was giving its employees unlimited maternity and paternity leave for the first year after a child's birth or adoption.

Fortune called Netflix's move "game-changing," and several companies followed the streaming company's lead, including Microsoft, which improved its parental leave policy within 24 hours of Netflix's announcement.

Despite the move being good news for children and great news for parents, it's 2016. Generous parental leave policies shouldn't really be big news for the world.


Child-rear and chill? Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

America is the only industrialized nation in the world without mandatory paid maternity leave.

That is to say, there's no law in the United States requiring it — which puts us in the company of just a couple other countries in the world, like Papua New Guinea and Suriname.

The closest thing we have is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which offers job protection to those who have to spend time away from work for family-related reasons. Pregnancy and adoption are among those reasons, as well as foster care placement, but the time off is unpaid.

That means that, yes, it's still big news when a company takes it upon itself to financially support employees who are starting or continuing their families.

The better news, however, is that when companies have generous parental leave policies, things tend to go really well for everyone.

Offering paid parental leave tends to help companies much more than it hurts them, studies show.

Like any benefit, parental leave is an investment that a company makes in its employees. Ideally, the short-term cost of paid parental leave (which is often funded by a small payroll tax, similar to Social Security) should be outweighed by the long-term benefits, such as increased productivity, improved employee morale, and better retention of great employees.

“If you lose someone, you might need to spend more time and energy and money on recruiting someone than you would obviously if you’re able to retain excellent employees,” Marie Danzig, head of creative and delivery at Blue State Digital, explained to ThinkProgress, noting how important employee retention is to companies like hers.

Marie Danzig speaking in San Fransisco in 2015. Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for LinkedIn.

It's easy to see how a brand-new parent, when afforded the opportunity to take some time off to stay at home and, you know, be a parent to their new child or children, would be more likely to stay at their job for a long time.

"There’s something about sitting with your family in a nice cozy house, not having to go to work, and getting a paycheck to pay for all the things that you need," Matt Ipcar, executive creative director and senior vice president at Blue State, told ThinkProgress. "In the back of your mind you’re constantly like, ‘Wow, my company is really great.'"

Offering paid parental leave also helps promote gender equality and even potentially addresses the problem of the gender wage gap.

A new study of 22,000 companies in 91 countries found that companies offering more paternity leave for new dads also have more women in their boardrooms and holding executive positions.

Essentially, when parents are treated as parents (regardless of their gender) and everybody gets time off to bond with and parent their children, people of all genders see more equal opportunities arise.

“In countries that are more family-friendly and have greater support for child-bearing and rearing, women experience less disruptions in their careers and are more likely to make it to the top,” Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told the Huffington Post.


Chart via Catalyst.

As of 2015, only 1.4% of CEOs in the finance/insurance S&P 500 were women. A large and often-cited reason for the lack of women in CEO positions is that women are often expected to take on child-care duties, while men are not. When companies offer new dads as much paid time off as they offer new moms, things tend to balance out all the way to the top.

By the way, companies with more women in leadership tend to perform better and become more profitable. Just sayin'.

Basically, parental leave is good for everyone.

Paid parental leave is good for parents, who get to spend valuable bonding time with their children; it's great for children who get valuable time with their parents; and it's great for the companies that offer it. By treating their employees well, companies can improve their overall performance by retaining their best employees.

There's no good reason to be against parental leave for parents of any gender.

That is, I guess, unless you just really enjoy being in an exclusive club with Papua New Guinea, which is cool — I hear they have a great rugby team. But that's not how we should be making important parental leave policy decisions.

As someone whose complete and utter terror at the prospect of having kids is slowly fading into a marginally milder terror, can I just say: It's 2016. Let's make parental leave a priority. OK? It's just the right thing to do.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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