Former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson joined Fortune for a video interview before she ended her campaign on Jan. 10. The following transcript of that conversation 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?
Williamson: We absolutely should have paid family leave. It should be at least three months—I wouldn’t have a problem with it going all the way to six months. And we could have a very, very tiny tax, something like two cents on every dollar, that would pay for at least 66% of people’s salary.
I think it’s very important that we ask ourselves as a society, both why we need paid family leave and why we don’t have it now. We need it because when a woman has to leave her child too quickly after giving birth, millions of years of evolution have gone into that woman knowing my baby still needs me. This is something that a woman’s cells feel.
When you allow fathers and mothers more time with children after the children are born, if you give that first six months to everything necessary for the deepest level of bonding between parents and children, there will be so much less societal dysfunction years later. What we have done is to allow very superficial business dictates—oh, we can’t afford that—to block the betterment of our society through the betterment of human beings.
How would you ensure that families have access to safe, affordable childcare?
When my daughter was born, because I am a writer and because I was a teacher, I realized that I had luxuries that other women don’t have because my workplace was none other than my home.
We should ask ourselves, what kind of a society do we want? The society that we want, I believe, is one in which it is mandated at large companies that childcare is present on the premises. We need to integrate our children into our lives more, into our society.
We’re having all this terrible dysfunction and chronic trauma among children because so many of them are not getting as much nurturing as they need. And that’s because we’ve developed a society in which those kinds of human needs are given short shrift. I’d like to see businesses have not only childcare on site, but real childcare, not just somebody who’s watching the kids. There should be culture, there should be art, there should be educational projects. What I’d like to see for women is just like you have it mandated that you have to have a lunch break, it should be mandated that sometime before lunch the woman can spend 30 minutes down in the childcare room with the kids, and 30 minutes later in the day as well.
The very fact that this seems like radical or out there shows what trouble we’re in. Why is it that we’re serving an economic system rather than remembering that the whole point of an economic system is to serve humanity?
Children should not just be tolerated. A mother having access to time spent with her children should not just be permitted, it should be invited, it should be embraced. And that’s how business should operate.
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?
We definitely have not done enough to address sexual harassment in the workplace. But one of the things we need to do is to ask ourselves what is happening in our society that sexual harassment is such an issue for women anyway?
Just like when you have signs in certain businesses where it is actually legally mandated that people know their rights in terms of worker’s compensation, we should have it legally mandated that every woman and every man knows what’s expected in this business and what is legal in this business.
Too many people don’t even know what constitutes sexual harassment. In large companies, there should be a training that everybody in the business goes through, whether it’s once a month or every three months. That is the only way for women to feel free. That is the only way for women to feel that we can relax in the workplace.
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?
One of the most important things we need to do is to pass the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. But this needs to stop—this idea of a pay gap between men and women needs to stop. The pay gap between blacks and whites needs to stop. This is once again something where we as a society need to take a stand.
A woman, when she makes less money, this has long-term repercussions on the Social Security that she gets later in life. One of the crises that we have is among older women who do, on average, receive far less Social Security. We have a problem here with so many women who are forced to work part-time in order to take care of their children—then they get less in terms of benefits. All of these deeper issues have to do with the fact that ultimately more and more of the burden of life, the economic burden, the social burden, is put onto the shoulders of those who make less money, onto women, onto people of color, and ultimately onto our children.
Do you support legislation requiring companies to appoint women and underrepresented groups to corporate boards? Why or why not?
We are living at a time where I think a lot of people within corporate America know that American capitalism in too many ways has lost its soul. American capitalism has lost its conscience. And there is a great correction going on right now. I admire corporate leaders who are voicing this. But we need to step it up. We need to go faster and we need to not ask for too little. There should be diversity, there should be more women on corporate boards, and there should be more workers on corporate boards.
But the thing is, not just for cosmetic purposes. The fact that it’s a woman on the board doesn’t in and of itself really change things fundamentally. That’s why I think these conversations are important. It’s important that we have these conversations that allow for a greater space of possibility once the woman gets on the board. If she gets on the board, but she’s expected basically to be little more than a good girl once she gets there, it just goes along with how things already are. But it begins with at least her being at the table. The second thing is that she has permission to say what she really thinks.
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?
It’s beginning to change—we’re beginning to have more and more of a welcoming attitude toward pregnant women, toward new mothers. But we need to have more, and more of that’s legally mandated.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.