What Trump Can Do to Help Women Get Ahead
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office on Friday, we have only a limited perspective available on his policies toward the advancement of women. While this is concerning, it may also reflect that his team has not yet fully considered the opportunities where innovative policy focused on women will help to achieve his core campaign promise of enhancing the prosperity of our nation. Every president has the opportunity to be a champion for women, so leading on childcare, pay equity, and paid leave should be priorities for the Trump administration.
The only definitive policy of his campaign that addressed these issues focused on childcare. His proposal, which has been heralded by his daughter Ivanka Trump, is an important first step, yet does not go far enough in meeting the needs of American families. It diminishes fathers’ involvement by focusing on maternity leave, rather than parental leave in general. The proposal would allow parents to deduct from their taxes up to “the average cost of care for the state of residence.” Trump also wants to “ensure stay-at-home parents will receive the same tax deductions as working parents.” How such a provision would work has not been clarified.
Moreover, his childcare policy leaves out the poorest families. Approximately 45% of Americans do not earn enough to take the proposed tax deduction. Trump has committed to an expanded earned income tax credit childcare rebate of up to one-half of the total payroll tax. However, such a policy still does not provide any benefit to the poorest Americans, as they do not earn enough income to be eligible. Important additional supports could include universal pre-K and full-day kindergarten that would provide much-needed development for children and economic relief for parents.
In addition to outlining his policies on childcare, President-elect Trump appointed Goldman Sachs Foundation President Dina Powell to a senior White House role focused on women’s empowerment, perhaps signaling a future focus on these issues.
While Trump has offered ideas regarding childcare, we have yet to hear policy recommendations on two critical issues: pay equity and paid leave. Pay equity is well-aligned with his campaign promise to focus on economic growth. At present, women earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. The gap is even larger for African American (63 cents) and Hispanic (54 cents) women. The pay gap is not just a matter of fairness but a reflection of business risk, since its presence indicates that businesses have failed to optimize talent recruitment, retention, and promotion. Corporations, and ultimately nations, that fail to address this shortcoming will see consequences in financial performance and economic growth.
The climate for a policy initiative to address pay inequity is favorable. Polling data shows pay equity is overwhelmingly supported by voters, making the passage of relevant policy feasible. The administration could try approaches such as introducing policies that allow workers to share information about their wages, prohibiting hiring managers from seeking compensation history when determining salary offers to prospective employees, providing best practice resources for employers such as tools to assess internal wage gaps, and supporting salary negotiation training for hiring managers and employees.
Another priority area that has not yet been comprehensively addressed in a policy statement is paid leave. Just 13% of employees have access to paid family leave through their employers, despite accumulating data that paid leave benefits businesses and is legislatively achievable. Nearly four out of five voters support such policies. Experience with paid leave at corporations and in a number of states has demonstrated that policies that provide a portion of an individual’s salary to take time away from work to care for themselves or a family member are highly effective in improving retention and productivity without a significant negative impact on profitability.
We will have to wait to see if the administration plans to tackle these issues. Ivanka Trump has commented on the importance of “leveling the playing field for female entrepreneurs and job creators and unleashing the potential of women in the workplace,” perhaps signaling that paid leave and pay equity will emerge as priorities on the policy agenda. Expectations at the moment are low, but the incoming president surpassed expectations as a candidate. Let us hope that he does the same in implementing effective policies for the advancement of women.
Victoria A. Budson is the executive director and a founder of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University.