- PositionFormer Massachusetts Governor
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick answered questions from Fortune and Time’s Up via email. The following transcript of that exchange has been edited for length and clarity.
Fortune/Time’s Up: Do you believe that the United States should have comprehensive paid family and medical leave and, if so, what is your proposal to make it happen?
Patrick: As President, I would push for a federal mandatory paid family and medical leave program modeled on those already in place in some states like New York and Massachusetts. Paid leave should include parental leave for birth or adoption as well as leave for illness or caring for a family member. The program will be universal and gender-neutral, providing up to 12 weeks of leave, in addition to the paid sick leave or vacation leave that all employers should also offer.
It’s not enough to change our laws, however, if we do not change our culture as well. In a country where childcare still falls predominantly on women, we must make it the norm for both mothers and fathers to take time off so that women are not penalized in their careers for taking time off to have children.
How will you ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
I would provide working families with support for affordable childcare in the form of a tax credit or direct contribution, so that they are no longer faced with the choice between caring for their children at home or providing for their families by joining the full-time workforce. We will pay for it by asking corporations and the wealthy to pay more, by raising rates, closing loopholes, and treating all income like income.
Do you think institutions—from Congress to Fortune 500 companies—have done enough to address sexual harassment? What have you done, and what will you do, to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace?
Our businesses, our government, and our nation have failed to address the rampant sexual harassment and assault in our workplaces for far too long. As a result, not only are Americans at risk of harm, they are being denied the opportunity to prosper in safe and respectful workplaces.
An astounding proportion of women have reported experiencing sexual harassment at work—an unconscionable fact that would be a top priority of my administration to address. We must commit to making every workplace in every corner of the country and every occupation free and safe from sexual harassment or assault for every individual who works there. And we must not rest until we do.
I would work with Congress to pass legislation that protects against sexual harassment and assault through policies like prohibiting nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses, limiting mandatory arbitration agreements, expanding anti-retaliation laws, and requiring more disclosure on existing claims and settlements. However, we must go beyond these legislative proposals to address the root causes of sexual harassment and assault, especially the power imbalance that exists at so many organizations from the shop floor to the boardroom.
Women in the U.S. earn 80 cents on white men’s dollar in wages, a gap that gets even wider for black women, Latinas, and Native American women. What is your plan to work with employers to close the pay and opportunity gap for women, including women of color, LGBTQ women, and working mothers?
Men and women doing the same work should be paid the same. Period. This was the intent of the Equal Pay Act more than half a century ago, and this is the unfinished business we must take up. The gender pay gap hasn’t budged for 15 years, and we risk passing down this injustice to our children and our grandchildren.
I would crack down on employers who discriminate based on gender and push for new rules and laws making it easier for women to determine whether they are being underpaid compared to their male colleagues. Employers will have to justify pay discrepancies where they arise. Employers will be prohibited from asking about pay history, which often locks women or other identity groups into a lifetime of lower pay. I would also require workplaces to make accommodations for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, which is one of many barriers recent mothers face to succeeding in the workplace. And I would push for laws requiring pay gap data transparency from large employers.
I would ensure that Americans of every identity have the same access to meaningful careers and capital to start new companies. My administration would increase penalties and enforcement for firms that violate fair employment and civil rights laws, all of which will be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender expression.
Until we know the pay disparities that may exist, we cannot work to correct them. Many companies are already doing equal pay audits themselves, and most companies have the data to do so. We should require employers to report this pay data so that we can finally, properly enforce the Equal Pay Act and ensure that no one is paid less because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other aspect of their identity.
Do you support policies that require corporations to have women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why or why not?
Women and minorities are woefully underrepresented in our corporate world. I’ve spent much of my career fighting discrimination and ensuring fair employment practices at our largest corporations, including when I was appointed by a federal district court to lead Texaco’s Equality and Fairness Task Force after it was charged with discrimination in its workforce.
I know, just as most Americans know, that diversity and inclusion make companies stronger, more creative, and, ultimately, more successful. We must fight discrimination and bias in all its forms and put policies like paid family leave and universal, affordable childcare in place that will ensure that all our corporate leaders—including but not limited to corporate boards—represent all of us. To the extent that even these efforts fall short, I am open to more direct ways to enforce representation, including requirements for women or other minorities on boards as some other countries are currently trying.
Would you—and how would you—propose to strengthen protection for people who need accommodations to do their jobs while pregnant or who are discriminated against because of their pregnancies at work?
Research shows that the gender pay gap is oftentimes better described as the childbearing pay gap, as time off due to pregnancy, switching jobs after returning to the workforce, and discrimination related to being pregnant leads to lower lifetime earnings for mothers. In fact, researchers in other countries have found that this could explain up to 80% of the wage gap.
I would require all workplaces to make accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding women. But just as critically, I would ensure that mothers had the resources they needed—for example, through paid family and medical leave, childcare, and expanded child tax credits—to thrive. This should include programs that guarantee a living wage and flexible schedules from employers that are realistic for working families.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.