When I was pregnant with my daughter Chelsea, I asked about the maternity leave policy at the law firm where I worked. I was surprised to find out that we didn’t have one. I soon learned why: No woman who worked in our office had ever come back to work full-time after having a baby.
Well, I wanted to come back. I loved what I did. And it was important to me to contribute to my family’s finances, especially now that we were having a baby.
Finally, as my due date approached, I decided to take matters into my own hands. When Chelsea was born, my employer agreed to grant me four months off to be home with her. I’d still earn an income, though it would be smaller; part of my income was determined by the fees I generated for the firm, which would fall to zero while I was on leave. That made sense to me. And it meant a lot that I could have that time with my new daughter, knowing that my job would be waiting for me when I came back.
These kinds of situations are commonplace today, with more women entering the workforce than ever before. Today, nearly half of all full-time employees are women. Through our contributions, talent, insights, and very presence, we’ve changed the workplace forever. There’s no going back to the days when women were fired for getting married or pregnant, or were excluded from entire professions. Thank goodness.
But let’s be real. We still have a long way to go. Our policies just haven’t kept up with the challenges women and families face today.
Too many women still aren’t paid fairly. On average, women earn 20% less than men do for full-time, year-round work. Women of color earn even less. And when a working mom or grandmother earns less than she deserves, she’s not the only one who pays the price. Her children or grandchildren—whoever’s counting on her salary—do, too.
Women also make up the majority of minimum-wage workers, which means they make as little as $14,500 a year for full-time work. That’s below the national poverty line. Many of those women are raising kids on that income. Raising the federal minimum wage would do a lot for those families.
Meanwhile, even though the number of women running companies, labs, universities, and philanthropies is growing, it’s still too small. So is the number of women serving in elected office. That means women aren’t always included in decision-making, and their needs and concerns aren’t always reflected in government policy or workplace norms.
And we’re making it too hard to balance work and family. That’s true for all parents, but especially mothers. Women are breadwinners in more households than ever, yet they still do the lion’s share of childcare.
Many are feeling the squeeze. I’ve had moms break down in tears as they describe the heartbreak of returning to work just a few days after delivering their baby, because they don’t have paid leave at their jobs. Staying with their child for a few months would mean losing too many paychecks, maybe even their job.
In April, I met a mom in Newton, Iowa, who held her four-and-a-half-month-old in her arms. She said to me, “I’m counting on you to know what it’s like to be a working mother. Please help us working mothers and fathers have more time with our babies.”
I’m not going to let her down.
One thing we can do is invest in affordable childcare. Right now, childcare is more expensive than college tuition in many states. Let’s make sure no family has to spend more than 10% of their income on childcare by making historic investments in childcare assistance and providing tax relief to working families.
Let’s finally join every other advanced economy in the world and guarantee paid leave. I’m proposing 12 weeks of paid medical leave to recover from a serious illness, and 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or a sick relative. After all, moms and dads both deserve to spend time with their babies.
Let’s encourage employers to adopt family-friendly work policies, like flexible and fair scheduling and tele-work, so parents can both work and be there for their families.
Let’s raise the minimum wage. No one who works full-time should be forced to raise their kids in poverty.
And at long last, let’s finally ensure equal pay for women. It’s time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act—which I cosponsored when I was in the Senate—to give women the tools they need to fight discrimination in the workforce. We also need to promote pay transparency so that women have the information they need to negotiate fairly for their wages.
These aren’t just women’s issues. They’re economic issues and family issues. And they need to be a top priority for our next president. If we’re going to build a globally competitive workforce, we can’t afford to leave any talent on the sidelines. We can’t keep short-changing working families.
I’ll never forget what it was like to be a mom at work. It wasn’t easy. And I was lucky: I had financial security, a supportive employer, and affordable childcare. Too many families don’t. I’ve met so many parents stuck in impossible situations, at their wits’ ends trying to make it all work. It just shouldn’t be this hard to work and have a family.
As president, it’ll be my mission to bring our economy and workplaces into the 21st century, so all of our contributions are respected—both women's and men's—and families can thrive.
Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president and a former secretary of state.