By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been felt around the country. Her name is synonymous with women’s rights and gender equality. To say that many women feel shaken by this loss is an understatement to say the least.
The news of her death shook so many women, including myself, because her life had such a direct impact on our day to day lives. My social feeds immediately filled with tributes honoring her life and recognition for her immense contributions.
One post on twitter by user @sairarahman started a flood of lists of those contributions, sharing “Things RBG has done for women: The right to sign a mortgage without a man. The right to have a bank account without a male co-signer. The right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender. The right for women to be pregnant/have kids and work.”
But what struck me was that Ginsburg was not solely focused on winning rights for women, but on establishing equal rights for both genders. Notably, she represented Charles Moritz, a man who was caring for his elderly mother but had been denied a caregiving tax deduction because he was an unmarried man. By demonstrating that sex discrimination hurts men as well, she won the case and paved the way for many more to follow.
So yes, Ginsburg is known for her unwavering support of women’s rights but she also firmly believed that men too should be given equal opportunity in their role as caregivers.
Yet today, most corporate policies continue to exclude men from the opportunity to step up to that responsibility right from the beginning. Yes, FMLA is available to all men and women but is unpaid, forcing families to make impossible tradeoffs. While we continue to fight for paid family and medical leave, we remain reliant on the patchwork of state and employer provided leave.
This patchwork is denying men their right to care for their baby and their family.
Alexis Ohanian recently reflected on his ability to take paternity leave sharing: “The implication that paternity leave is unimportant sets a dangerous precedent, one that suggests fathers are not an integral part of the child care unit, and perpetuates the antiquated belief that mothers alone should be the primary caregivers. Worse, explicitly (or implicitly) telling a male employee that they’re less of a man for taking time to be with their family after their child’s birth is as stupid as it is outdated. Showing up is exactly what fathers should be doing for their families. Now is the time to eliminate the stigma associated with paternity leave, once and for all.”
I couldn’t agree more and think all companies should take this opportunity to reflect on their policies, especially paid parental leave, to ensure critical policies no longer perpetuate gender bias and stereotypes that aren’t aligned with employees today. It goes beyond creating gender neutral policies that still require parents to designate themselves as primary or secondary caregivers and thereby receive limited, if any, benefit as a secondary parent. This continues to perpetuate stereotypical gender roles whereby: male = breadwinner and female = caregiver and denies men the opportunity to step into the caregiver role without fear of stigma.
But as a millennial woman, it’s not that I simply want men to have more opportunities to care for their children. It’s that I know that by shifting caregiving responsibilities more equally would allow more women the space to grow in their careers. It’s formal recognition that both work and caregiving are critical.
By removing the stigma, companies have an opportunity to promote more equality in caregiving and support all employees to grow personally and professionally. Reflecting on her personal partnership with her husband Martin Ginsberg, RBG shared,
“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.” (The Washington Post, 2014)
As Ginsberg knew and proved early on in her career, when we provide men and women equal opportunity to be caregivers, we also provide more equal footing in the workplace and improve women’s rights. So let’s honor her life and her work by shifting our mindsets and providing pathways for men to be caretakers too.