fresh voices from the front lines of change







Despite their generous philanthropy as they battle massive levels of student debt and a bleak job market, millennials are frequently misunderstood as narcissistic and social-media-obsessed. It might then come as a surprise that today’s young generation deeply cares about having a flexible work-life balance in order to foster strong families and careers. In the 2016 presidential race candidates would do well to understand the hardships millennials face in and outside of the office to further connect to these young voters.

A 2015 Ernst & Young study found that “Millennials appear to value increased flexibility and paid parental leave more than other generations and, if offered, are more likely to recommend that company to others (69 percent for millennials, 62 percent and 55 percent for Gen X and boomers).” Additionally, this study found millennial workers “are seeing their hours increase more in the last five years at a time when many are moving into management and also starting families.”

Given that 47 percent of millennials in management are seeing an increase in greater-than-40-hour work weeks, up from 38 percent for Gen X and 28 percent for Boomers, and the lower likelihood for millennials to take a career break after having a child, these young workers have to find ways to preserve their vital roles as parents while keeping pace in their careers.

One way millennials attempt to address this conflict is by advocating for an expansive paid parental leave system. When asked in a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs in January of 2016, the largest consensus among millennials for what the next president of the United States should prioritize first, at 35 percent, was “Economy / Jobs / Employment / Minimum Wage / Paid Leave.”

The Coca-Cola Company sets a prime example of how young workers can forge change for parental leave. To research ways in which Coca-Cola could “attract and maintain” millennial workers, a group of young employees established an initiative called “Coca-Cola Millennial Voices.”

This group’s work resulted in Coca-Cola offering a gender-neutral plan that allowed all eligible new parents, including fathers and newly adoptive parents, to take up to six weeks of paid parental leave. By making their policy gender-inclusive, Coca-Cola hopes the new strategy will lessen stigmas associated with parental leaves of absence and narrow gender differences in the workplace.

Before we begin to think Coca-Cola’s response to its workers proves the market can solve all of our problems, it is crucial to note that as of 2015 88 percent of working women still had no access to any paid parental leave in the U.S. To put this in perspective, out of the World Bank’s 32 highest income OEDC countries, the U.S. is the only country with no paid parental leave system. It is clear that our nation is far behind other developed countries on addressing the millions of working parents unable to take any time off upon having a new child.

In what seemed like an effort to support governmental action to help working parents, House Republicans have offered their Working Families Flexibility Act of 2015. House Republicans passed a version of this bill in 2013. Sold as legislation that would help families gain more flexibility with their schedules, this bill would actually give greater discretion to employers to impose more overtime hours on workers for less pay, using “comp time.” It is a vivid demonstration of the disconnect between House Republicans and the hardships of working families.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders should emphasize their proposals to federally enforce comprehensive parental and sick leave. Such policies would help ameliorate millennials’ concerns for both work-life balance and equal gender labor force conditions.

In 2015 Jessica Shortall, a successful philanthropist, strategy consultant and author discussing new-mothers’ reintegration into the workforce, gave a TED Talk addressing the need for the U.S. to enact federal paid family leave. As Shortall said, “Not one more working family should be told that the collision of their work, their needed work and their needed parenthood, is their problem alone.”

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