- PositionFormer Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro joined Fortune for a video interview before he ended his presidential campaign on Jan. 2; he has since endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The following transcript of that conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Fortune/Time’s Up: Do you believe the United States should have mandatory paid family leave and medical leave? And if so, how would you make that happen?
Castro: I believe the United States should join other countries around the world that offer paid family and medical leave for all families. I support at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. I would work with Congress to fund that and look at different ways that we can fund it, including raising the caps on the payroll tax and even looking at an additional payroll tax.
I also believe that one of the things we need to do is to catch up to how families live today. We have a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren as their own children. We have a lot of aunts and uncles in our communities out there that are raising their nieces and nephews. We need to recognize the importance of our families, and also recognize that our notion of family when we make laws is too often stuck in the past. I think about the LGBTQ community, for instance. We need to catch up with how families live today. And absolutely at least provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
What will you do to ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
One year of childcare can cost as much as a year of college in some places. And I want to make sure that every single child, every single family has the opportunity to avail themselves of good childcare. That’s why I’ve proposed in my Working Families Plan that we invest in universal childcare, where the most that anybody would pay would be 7% of their income. It would help ensure that no matter your resources, you’re able to actually avail yourself of good childcare for your children. I think that would not only be a tremendous opportunity for families—it would also help companies. It would make employees more productive and allow a lot of people who are not able to go into work today to be able to go in to work. It would help our workforce. So we get a double win there.
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?
There’s no question that most institutions have been completely behind the times when it comes to addressing sexual harassment in just about every way in terms of their written policies, and maybe most importantly, how seriously a lot of organizations have actually taken complaints about sexual harassment and even sexual assault. And the fact that oftentimes there’s a culture in a lot of places of employment where people are afraid to come forward and to bring a complaint because they’re concerned about the repercussions to their career. And one of the great things about the #MeToo movement is that it is slowly but surely changing that.
What’s important, though, is that we have to ensure that there’s legislation, that we make investments in opportunity for everyone. And also that companies change their policies and change their culture so that sexual harassment does not happen as frequently as it does today. And that if it does happen, that somebody who has been sexually harassed feels comfortable bringing that forward. And that there are consequences and accountability for people who engage in sexual harassment—for so long there has not been the right kind of accountability.
At the local government level, state government level, or federally, when we award government contracts, I believe that we should take a look at things like how is a company doing in terms of its policies related to sexual harassment to ensure that there is parity in the workplace for men and women.
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?
We absolutely need to close the pay gap and close the opportunity gap for women. I grew up watching my mother work very hard as a single mom to provide for me and my brother. So many women work hard out there, just as hard or harder than men do, but don’t get paid the same amount for that same work. That shouldn’t be the case in the United States.
We need to use both a carrot and a stick approach with our public sector and our private sector to pass legislation that will further address that gap, to use the power of the federal government in contracting, for instance, to scrutinize whether companies are living up to that parity. And also, in law to find ways to hold companies that are not living up to that parity accountable so that they move toward closing that pay gap. I would also ensure that we invest in opportunity for women and girls from the ground up.
I have a daughter Carina who is 10 years old, and I want to make sure that she can reach her dreams just like my son Christian. Oftentimes still in our education system, girls are at a disadvantage compared to boys. We have to be very intentional about ensuring that all the way through as they grow up that our girls are able to avail themselves of the same opportunity to get the same kind of education to reach for their dreams just like boys are.
The biggest benefit to closing that pay gap is justice, because I believe that if somebody’s doing the same work that they should get the same pay, no matter who they are. But there’s also of course a benefit to families; you have a lot of families that are being shortchanged right now because a woman is working just as hard as men do but she’s not getting paid what she should. There’s also an overall benefit to our economy. Study after study has shown that if we close that gender pay gap, we’re all going to benefit with a stronger economy.
Do you support legislation requiring companies to include women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why or why not?
I believe that the government should get involved in ensuring greater diversity and greater gender parity in terms of corporate boards, particularly for [public companies], and find ways to incentivize private companies to pursue gender parity.
Today, corporations are not doing nearly enough when you look at the statistics of who sits on these boards. I absolutely believe that they’ve had enough time to make the changes. They haven’t made those changes—it’s been very slow going. So I see a role for the federal government in a constructive way to ensure that we close that gap.
Of course it would be a tough fight to get that done. For different reasons—some people still hold old ideas; some folks are reluctant to change. But also of course you have people that very much believe in allowing the private sector to do what the private sector’s going to do.
I believe that we should have a robust private sector in our country, but I also believe that the federal government and state and local governments have a role to play in ensuring that everybody in this country has opportunity and everybody can prosper. Sometimes you need a little bit of steering and making sure that we’re closing that gender pay gap and representation on corporate boards and improving the policies that these corporations have. I believe that that’s within the wheelhouse of the federal government in the right way.
Would you—and how would you—propose strengthening protections for people who need accommodations to do their job while they’re pregnant? Or who are discriminated against because they’re pregnant while they’re at work?
We have a lot of folks in the workforce who are committed to their career—and they also want to start a family. We need companies that are going to be supportive of that, including making sure that accommodations exist in the workforce for them.
[That’s] expanding our laws that have dealt with ensuring that women are treated equally in the workplace. Laws that deal with accommodations that should be made, like in a different context for people who may have a disability. In the same vein, I think that we should shape our laws to protect people when they’re going through pregnancy so that they’re able, if they want to, to be able to work and to be comfortable as they do that.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.