Presidential candidate Tom Steyer joined Fortune for a video interview. 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?
Steyer: Our campaign stands for not just paid family leave, but specifically six months. We’re the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have paid family leave, that doesn’t enable families to have both parents, if there are two parents, continue to be in the workforce. Our paid family leave is for both parents, because otherwise there’s an implicit assumption that women are the people who will be doing the childcare.
So how are we going to make that happen? That is something that is going to have to be passed; it’s got to be in my mind a federal policy. And it’s one that we’re very aggressive and very serious about as part of a suite of policies that support the idea that women specifically deserve equal pay. And that’s something that has got to be enforced, that there is paid family leave.
How will you ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
We know that childcare costs on average something like $9,000 a year. And that is unaffordable for a lot of families. If we’re going to enable women to continue in their careers, then we’re going to have to subsidize that at the federal level.
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?
At our firm, we brought in lawyers 30 years ago to train everyone about sexual harassment. Maybe I was naive, I just didn’t think it existed in our firm. What I was worried about and what I was bringing people in to talk about and make sure we were sensitive to was what I would think of as creating an atmosphere, a threatening atmosphere for coworkers—along the lines of jokes or language or anything of that nature that would make people uncomfortable and make it a hostile atmosphere for people, specifically women, to work in.
So do I believe that corporate America has gone far enough on this? I don’t work in corporate America, but I can tell from reading the newspaper and from my past experience that I very much doubt they have. And that people have a right to work in a safe environment and not to be sexually harassed.
American citizens who are women, is it OK for them to be subject to harassment and implicit threat? And the answer is it’s not OK. And it’s not within a country mile of OK. And therefore we have got to stand up for what’s right, and the government has to lay down the law and enforce that.
I believe, from what I can tell reading stories in the paper, that this is a continuing issue. There’s definitely a place for the federal government in this to put forward regulations and to insist they’re being obeyed.
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?
There has to be a clear law that says equal pay for equal work. We need to make sure that there is open information between employees so that you can’t hide the fact of the pay gap within a corporation. We have to make sure that corporations don’t negotiate salaries based on previous salaries because that’s another place where discrimination, if it existed, continues. Information and openness is part of the answer to the pay gap, because once it’s obvious it ends.
There has been discrimination against women in terms of economic power almost from time immemorial. This is going to be part of a dramatic change in the relationship between the genders in the 21st century. As women get equal economic power, they actually will end up with equal power. And I think that’s why there’s been this discrimination. I’m not trying to justify it in any way, shape, or form. You ask me how, why do I think it happens, and it’s my belief that this is an attempt to enforce discrimination and to prevent women from achieving full equality and full power.
Do you support policies that require corporations to have women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why or why not?
If you look at our campaign, our campaign manager is a woman, over our campaign staff is female, and over half our campaign staff are people of color. If you look at the business that I started 35 years ago, three of my four first partners were women.
If I’m President I would insist on as much diversity as possible. Because I believe that’s who makes the best decisions, but also I think it’s more just. Do I believe that it should be mandated in American corporations? I haven’t gotten there yet. But I need to think about it more because I absolutely believe in the policy. I just don’t know if I’d go to a place where we put it into law and insisted that people do it. I know it’s the right thing to do.
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?
There’s no question that there has been discrimination against women for the possibility that they’ll get pregnant. And then for the actual occurrence of pregnancy. And I think that that’s absolutely discriminatory. It’s unlawful. That is the kind of thing that I think has got to be carefully watched, has got to be supervised, and has got to be prosecuted if people are discriminated against.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.