Center for Early Learning event with special guests elevates issue of paid family leave

U.S. Secretary, Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, with Avo Makdessian, Director of SVCF's Center for Early Learning, at the event about paid family leave on Jan. 27, 2016. 

Michelle Sioson Hyma
Sioson Hyman

Last Wednesday morning, I explained to my 7 year-old daughter, Cecelia, that I wouldn’t be home before her bedtime because I was coordinating an evening event about paid family leave as part of SVCF’s Center for Early Learning’s "Raising of Silicon Valley" series. The event’s purpose was to elevate the issue of paid family leave at national, state and local levels, with perspectives from U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez and representatives from several Silicon Valley businesses, including Facebook, ZenDesk, and SurveyMonkey.

After our conversation, Cecelia told me how “cool” it was I’d be meeting the Secretary and how she liked the idea of parents getting to spend time with their newborns.

At that moment, I realized two things:

  • It was such a big deal that the U.S. Secretary of Labor was speaking at our event that I could be considered “cool” in the eyes of a 7-year-old
  • Paid family leave is a simple concept that a 7-year-old can understand

Paid family leave seems fundamental, yet the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national policy. California is one of only three states with a state paid family leave policy. California provides six weeks of paid leave at 55 percent wage replacement. 

California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez

At our event on Jan. 27, Secretary Perez talked about how paid family leave is key to worker productivity and a policy could improve U.S. global competitiveness. He said that child care and paid leave are the two items limiting job growth. 

Silicon Valley businesses on the event panel echoed that in addition to paid family leave being a solid recruitment and retention tactic, leave policies for both mothers and fathers also improved worker productivity, leadership equality and actually increased their bottom lines. Perez lauded the work that California and Silicon Valley businesses are doing to lead on paid family leave, yet reminded us there is still more to be done. 

From left: Moderator Rebecca Rosen of Atlantic Monthly, with panelists Jennifer Dulski of and David Hanrahan of Zendesk

While California and Silicon Valley businesses are leading on paid family leave policies, SVCF’s Center for Early Learning believes there is more to be done. Only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to paid leave and most of those are high-wage workers. Additionally, California’s paid leave policy offers only 55 percent wage replacement, which puts low-wage workers at a disadvantage. It is likely that many California families cannot afford a 45 percent wage loss to take care of their newborns. This is an issue about equity. 

This is also an issue related to child development. Research confirms that paid family leave has numerous benefits: better parent-infant bonding, more parents taking children to well-baby doctors’ visits, complete immunizations and more. Parents, regardless of income, should not have to choose between putting food on the table and spending time with a new child.

As Secretary Perez said, “Doing something about paid family leave and child care is moral, ethical and economical. [Paid leave] is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do... The cost of doing nothing on family leave hurts kids, families and the U.S. economy.” 

We at SVCF’s Center for Early Learning agree, and will continue to explore how we can help lead on paid family leave here in Silicon Valley.