Is This A Paid Leave Plan That Can Actually Pass?

It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.

The wage gap and paid family leave are issues that impact women on both sides of the aisle. We all want to be fairly compensated for our work, and a majority of Americans support giving workers paid time off to care for themselves or a new child. Yet many key proposals to address these issues, including the creation of a national paid leave policy, have failed to attract GOP support in Congress.

So what do Republicans want to do?

Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, has introduced two bills of her own tackling the topics. The Strong Families Act would create a pilot program to offer tax credits to businesses that give employees at least two weeks of paid family leave. A second proposal, The Workplace Advancement Act, would protect employees from retaliation for sharing their salaries in certain circumstances. Each has attracted bipartisan support, either in current or past sessions of Congress.

To some advocates working on the issue, those approaches simply won't do enough to move the needle. “On the surface, it’s exciting that [Republicans] know what we know: that women are looking for some relief in this area," says Tracy Sturdivant, cofounder of Make It Work, which promotes economic security for women. "[But] it’s a weak attempt to give lip service, but not advance the issue."

Fischer says her bills are worth pursuing, at the very least, for one pragmatic reason: She believes they have a better chance at passing in the current political environment than broader fixes. She spoke to Refinery29 earlier this year about her legislation.

How could these proposals impact women in their 20s and 30s?
"When I travel the state of Nebraska, the thing I hear the most [from women and families] is they are feeling pretty stressed because they’re trying to juggle all sorts of responsibilities. They’re trying to juggle their life in the workplace and balance that with home. And then, if they have families, to balance that. If they’re taking care of older parents, they’re balancing that. We’re trying to figure out some proposals that will make it easier for them”

How specifically will these changes make it easier?
“With the Strong Families Act, it’s looking at providing flexibility for employees. It’s a [tax] credit that employers can use and it really targets hourly workers. An hourly employee can take off a couple of hours if they have a sick child and they need to take that child to the doctor, or they have a parent they need to check on. It really gives them that flexibility. What I hear from women is they want that flexibility in their life, so they can meet all the responsibilities that they have.”

It doesn’t matter what party you’re in. These are issues that affect [women's] lives.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer

How many businesses that aren’t offering that sort of paid leave now might actually do so given a tax credit like this one?
“I don’t know if we have a specific number of businesses that would take advantage of it."

You've introduced this before. What’s different this year, in this political climate, that makes you think this can pass now?
“I don’t know that anything’s different in the political climate. I just think when you have a good idea you need to keep putting it forward and keep working on it, keep the conversation going."

Do you think it’s especially important politically for Republicans to target these issues that impact young women?
“I think it’s important for all of us to bring these issues forward. It doesn’t matter what party you’re in. These are issues that affect [women's] lives. That’s why we have an equal pay bill out there as well. Women need to have knowledge of what other people are making in the same business, the same level they are at in the company, and advocate for an increase in their wages. It just builds confidence. They’ll be able to negotiate salaries they deserve to have."

Do you have any personal experiences of negotiating a raise or salary that you can share?
“[My husband and I] were self employed, but I can tell you just in working in politics or working on different boards that confidence means a lot. I always say women work harder, and it’s because we always want to make sure we have as much information as possible. I don't know if that’s just in our DNA, if it’s just in our makeup, but I do believe that women work harder so that we have all that information and that knowledge. That carries over into the business world, as well."

Democrats want to see a broader bill that would create a national system guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid family leave. Why not that approach, in your opinion?
“I believe it would be hard to get it passed. We’re looking at things we can get done. Get at the results and come back with facts and show that it really can make the difference.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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