Making Parental Leave Better for Everyone with Raena Boston | Crooked Media
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April 19, 2023
Work Appropriate
Making Parental Leave Better for Everyone with Raena Boston

In This Episode

The state of paid parental leave in the U.S. is abysmal. And advocating for it, coordinating it, and scraping it together more often than not falls to mothers. Raena Boston, co-founder of Chamber of Mothers, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer questions from listeners about advocating for paid leave, how to plan for your leave, and whether you can start– or quit– a job while you’re pregnant.

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Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. This is Work Appropriate. And I’m your host Anne Helen Petersen. [music plays] This week we’re talking about parental leave, which let’s just set a foundation here is absolutely abysmal in the United States. If you work for a company with 50 or more employees, that company has to give you the option to take 12 weeks off. But those 12 weeks off, just to be clear, they are unpaid. If you work for a company with fewer than 50 employees, the company doesn’t have to give you any time off, even unpaid. Now, this is a little bit different from state to state. Of course, if you work for a company that offers paid leave, which, you know, a sliver of people do, different situation. But let’s talk about this whole like unpaid leave scenario. You might think, oh, that makes sense. The person isn’t working. They shouldn’t be paid. But having kids is part of life, right? It is part of how we [laughter] regenerate as a society. And the other thing is just like caring for a partner or a family member who needs intensive medical attention. Like this stuff happens. People have to take off work from time to time to care for people. And in other countries of similar wealth and development, they get this. We are the only country of the 38 OECD nations that does not mandate paid leave. We could talk for a long time about why this is. And we do cover some of the why in this episode. But the fact remains that most parents have to scrounge and scrap to put together parental leave, and parents are usually forced to go back to work before they’re even physically ready simply because they cannot afford not to. Most dads take very little leave at all, an average of just ten days. Again, totally abysmal. What’s more, the job of figuring out that leave, of caring about that leave of agitating for better leave. It’s still conceived of of the work of moms and moms alone. You’ll probably notice, for example, that all of our questions here are from moms. Even though we very consciously did a call out under the umbrella of parental leave, and that’s not because we only chose questions from moms. We only received questions from moms. But parental leave policy affects everyone, not just dads, not just the kids who are receiving care. Everyone. Better parental leave makes for a better workplace and it makes for a better society. And it behooves all of us, all of us [laughs] to agitate for mandatory paid leave policies. And as we do that, we can also figure out how to make life better, more survivable in our own workplaces. But I just want to say that if you think this conversation doesn’t apply to you because you’re not a parent, you’re wrong. This is a conversation that we all have to be paying attention to. So to talk about these issues, I wanted someone who’s gone through the parental leave process multiple times, but also someone who spends a lot of time thinking about what the status of paid leave is and advocating for change and talking to other people who are dealing with it on a daily basis. [music plays]


Raena Boston: Hey, I’m Raena Boston. In my day job, I’m an H.R. professional, and I also have two other jobs. I am a board member at Chamber of Mothers where we are focused on securing federal paid family leave, affordable and accessible child care, and improve maternal health outcomes. And I am a writer, so my creative space is called the Working Momtras. And I write a lot about working motherhood. And then my other unpaid labor is that I’m a mom of three, so my kids are seven, five and one. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So what’s your own story of parental leave and juggling a career and being a mom? 


Raena Boston: Oh, boy. Okay, so let’s begin at the beginning. Seven years ago with my son Aksel, I did not have any access to paid family leave. I live in Florida, which, you know, is abysmal for workers rights to begin with. So I was working in higher ed and I took my 12 weeks of FMLA unpaid and it just about broke us. And I experienced some postpartum something or the other. I don’t know what it was exactly because I didn’t get diagnosed cause I lied on the assessment because I was like, I don’t have time to be [laughter] depressed or anxious. The hell? I don’t have time for that. So we’re just going to hold this together with bubblegum and tape and no pay for 12 weeks. My husband also took some time off. I don’t remember if he took the full 12 weeks of FMLA, but he works in health care, which also is abysmal. They do not offer their workers any type of paid leave for the most part. And so that week was rough. I felt like I again, I felt like it was held together with bubblegum and tape and no money. And then I immediately went back to work and I felt like, well, if I’m going to be away from my kid, then I need to be like really crushing it in my career. So I got a job as a campus recruiter. I’ve been a campus recruiter in higher ed. I moved to professional services and it’s probably not a good idea to go from being depressed and anxious into a brand new job that’s a pressure cooker. [laughs] And so I made my way back to higher ed and I often call my kids my little Bob Ross happy accident [laughter] because ten months after having Aksel, I was pregnant with my son Asher and about, let’s see, at seven months pregnant, my next door neighbor who worked for the professional services firm where I work now, she was like, hey, we’re about to have all these positions open up. Are you interested? I’m like, huh, I’m seven months pregnant. Who was going to hire me? And she’s like, nobody cares. Just just interview. And so I did, and I did not think I was going to get hired. I waddled in there smelling like Thai food because I was so sure that nobody was going to hire me for this job. [laughter] And I got hired, which was a shock to me. But also one of the things that I was interested in is in professional services. Kind of the industry standard is paid family leave, parental leave, that sort of thing. And I knew that this was probably going to be my one shot to have this benefit and a job in in addition to like being able to grow my career in ways that you can’t in higher ed. So I took the job and the tenure requirement in order to qualify for paid leave is three months and I was there for two months. 


Anne Helen Petersen: No. 


Raena Boston: So I had to go back at six weeks and it was really brutal. I think I had even less time to be depressed and anxious. I mean, I still was. That’s like the baseline, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: But I had to go back to work so quickly. And we live in Florida where there are hurricanes. So I think Hurricane Irma, we were in the path for it and I’m just preparing like I’m back at work. I had been back at work not that long and we were predicted to have a direct hit and it shifted at the last minute. But we lost power. We lost everything. So all of the breastmilk that I had. Tirelessly—


Anne Helen Petersen: No. 


Raena Boston: —gathered, saved, cataloged, marked, froze. Gone. 


Anne Helen Petersen: No. 


Raena Boston: Yes. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Did you cry? 


Raena Boston: I was devastated. [laughter] I cried. I went on the internet to see if maybe I wanted to do informal milk sharing and meet with somebody in a parking lot and take their breast milk and ultimately decided, no, not for me. I did all the things. I was devastated. So I had a very short leave and it was very intense. And then that brings me to my third Bob Ross happy accident, my daughter. I knew going into this leave that I would have paid time off. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And that I would be able to take almost six months. And let me tell you, the depression and anxiety left my body like there was no there were no signs of it. [laughter] Who knew that having access to money for months at a time would mean it would help levels of anxiety and depression and us being having that leave paid allowed my husband to take almost the full 12 weeks of FMLA. So he was home for about nine weeks and. I know that that maternity leave is not a vacation. I’m not saying that it is. But when you have access to longer leaves, you are way more relaxed. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: And you have more time to. You’re not. You’re less worried, less anxious, less like. The clock is ticking a lot less loudly. And it was an amazing experience. Like the leave was just it was transformative and that. Having that time. I also watched Build Back Better happen and not happen, right? So I was on leave with my daughter. She was born in October. Build Back Better stuff was happening in November and I remember feeling so proud to be an American that we were about to have paid leave. So proud that it touched child care, so proud that, you know, affordable college was in there. And then I watched those things get yanked one by one with the last thing being paid leave. And then I just went from being upset to mad as hell and also like, what are we going to do? Because. Women carried this country on their backs during this pandemic. If it were not for women quitting their jobs, working in home schooling, what would have happened to our economy and our country if women didn’t just do that [laughter] without a thanks. And so then when that got taken away, I was like, hell no, there’s got to be something that we can do. And a lot of other people felt similarly in the online space. And so it was like, is it a union? Is it a strike? Is it you know what? What is it? What can we do? How can we organize? And that’s how Chamber of Mothers was formed. And we started in November of 2021. I’m a co-founder and we have just been focused on getting those pillars that I mentioned earlier accomplished. And I, I honestly think that. Experiencing paid leave and then feeling like, wow, everybody is going to get to feel this. Radicalized me in a way. Like, I already felt like, oh, man, why can’t we have a system like Scandinavian countries or, you know, what’s it going to take? Or all of those things kind of went through my mind. But the the feeling of it being in our clutches and then it being pulled away truly radicalized me in a way that I was like, no, we absolutely have to do something about it. And that’s how Chamber of Mothers was formed. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, let’s like just zoom out. I know the case for this and you know the case for this, but can you explain to someone who maybe hasn’t thought about it a ton why paid parental leave is so important? 


Raena Boston: Paid parental leave is so important for like basically any reason that you could think of. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes. 


Raena Boston: So, like, I just. I can’t think of a reason why we shouldn’t have paid parental leave. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: But, like, if you think about it on a person level, it allows you the space to recover from childbirth or bond with a baby or get your healing together. Like, for example, like I went to pelvic floor PT after I had my kid and I had the time to do it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: I hit my deductible. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: So I basically was going to personal training two times a week for $6 a visit. But like women, I think on average it takes them seven years after the birth of a child to go to pelvic floor PT. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: And so they’ve been living with back pain since then. Core pain, peeing problems, like all incontinence, you know, you name it. So like, paid leave allows you to recover physically. It allows you to bond with your baby, but also that people who do not have who maybe have access to FMLA but don’t have access to a paid leave, are less are going to take less time and less time off after the birth of a child leads to increased rates of depression and anxiety, decreased rates of breastfeeding if that’s something that the person wants to prioritize, you’re more likely to take your kids to their all of their well check visits that they have—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: —those aren’t getting missed. If somebody is at home and they’re paid. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Raena Boston: But like, the key component here is like we do not live in a society where people can be disconnected from pay for weeks and months at a time without a serious financial repercussion. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And we know financial wellness impacts mental health. And so those would be the main things I would say. 


Anne Helen Petersen: The other thing that I would plug that I always talk about when it comes to gender equity in heterosexual couples, that division of the mental load. 


Raena Boston: Yes. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Like when when the father takes leave, like just the outcomes, just woosh, it’s just so much better. 


Raena Boston: This is actually I was actually reading a McKinsey study about this, that fathers who take parental leave, their relationships with their partners are better. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: They feel more connected and bonded with their child. And it allows for men in these partnerships to take on more of the mental load because they have a greater appreciation and understanding for all of the work that it takes. So for example, my husband was home with me for our last leave and also my first leave, but like the last leave, like when you have one kid, it’s like you’re still able to get the stuff done. Three kids and it’s like [laughter] it’s impossible, right? So like, he was home and he could see, like all of the things that I was doing. It was not just taking care of a baby. It’s like the life is still living. 


Mm hmm. [laughs]


Raena Boston: Like there are still bills that need to be paid. There are still appointments that need to be made. There are still all of the things that need, like the other kids have to get off to school. So I got some pushback when Travis was on leave, and I talked about it a lot and there were a lot of people would say like, but what does he do all day? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, my God, Really? 


Raena Boston: And I’m like, I am not a damn cruise director and neither are you. He is taking my, ah, older children to school. He is driving me to all of our doctor’s appointments because I do not drive for like five or six weeks after I had my last kid. He is preparing the meals or ordering it on Uber Eats. He is doing any number of things, changing the baby, making sure I’ve had a shower. I mean, like, what do you mean? What does he do all day? [laughter] Like, is this grown man like, does he need to be entertained? 


Anne Helen Petersen: You have just described exactly why I wanted to have you on the podcast today. And we have some pretty difficult questions, in part because I think like parental leave in the US is just deeply, deeply fucked up. And we’re going to get into it in every single one of these today. So the first one comes from Brittany. 


Brittany: I work in a small company of about 30 people with mostly all women or non-binary people and three men. There is no parental leave. I’m new to this company, which was founded by women. But this is shocking to me. I love tips on how to address this with management as something to consider moving forward. Given that right now there doesn’t even seem to be a policy on it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So first, Raena, how common is this for a company to just not have any policy? 


Raena Boston: I think it you see it a lot in startups. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: Because they’re building the cars. They’re driving. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: I think that even in like larger, more established companies where it’s not the industry standard to offer it them or there’s not a union that’s saying we should have parental leave. It’s common. But I don’t know that I would say that the tide is turning on this, but I think that there is a lot of resources and there’s a lot of ways to advocate for a parental leave policy. So, for example, one of the organizations that Chamber of Mothers worked with was a group called Paid Leave US. They were a nonprofit focused on getting paid leave in the United States. They have since sunset, but they have all of their resources online for like create like a tool kit. They have templates. They have all of these different resources to help you get that going. So all of those resources still live there. Another thing I would recommend with paid leave is. Their strength in numbers. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: So get your colleagues on board with this. Whether if you have an employee resource group or even if you know that there are people who will need to take a leave at some point. Right. And this is also a good time to say paid leave isn’t just for parents, It’s for when you need to take care of yourself when you’re sick. It’s for when you need to take care of a loved one who is sick. Paid leave is for everybody. And so even just building that consensus and solidarity of like, yes, we need to have a parental leave policy, but we could make this gender neutral. We could apply this for a variety of different things that everybody is going to encounter as they are living person on this planet. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I to your point that this happens in startups. When I worked at BuzzFeed, we didn’t have a policy until one of my friends got pregnant. Part of the reason BuzzFeed didn’t have a policy, it’s just that no one had personally become pregnant, or at least no one on the news side. And so the other people who had parental obligations had just kind of been like, oh, I guess I’ll take two weeks. Right. Hadn’t forced the issue. And so, like, when my friend became pregnant, like they had to write the policy. And I think, like, I love the way you point out that you should get other people who are not pregnant, right. Or who who maybe don’t ever want to be pregnant involved. Like if you think of this as something that is much more than just about like parental leave, I think you’re more likely also to get the sort of buy in that will be really powerful moving forward because I think there’s a lot of division in workplaces right now about like, oh, why are we there’s so much emphasis on parental leave? Like, why don’t we think about things like caregiving leave or bereavement leave, like it’s unfair, which I think we can talk about why that’s that’s a hard conversation to have. But there’s just a general tension, I think, in a lot of spheres between people who are parents and people who aren’t parents. So a great way to think about it is not just like, what does this do for parents, it’s what does this do for the culture of our entire organization? 


Raena Boston: Yeah, and another thing is you need to talk to people in the language of capitalism as well. And what that looks like is these are our competitors and this is what they offer. And like we’re behind if we want to retain people. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: Which is a company’s largest expenses are people, you need to do this. And it’s also, I think people think of and I really, truly loathe this from the depths of my soul, when people are like, my company is so generous, they are not generous [laughter] they’re smart, they’re doing what it takes to retain people, to maintain and keep an engaged workforce, to retain women. They’re not being generous, they’re being smart, they’re being savvy. And we need to stop talking about leave like it’s just some benefactor is giving you this thing. When have you ever in your the history of your life heard a man say, oh, my company is so generous [laughter] with their 401k. Please like, let’s just stop it right there. [laughter] And then also, like, my thoughts are all over the place. But like, as I’m thinking about the leave policy itself in, in some ways not having one is a is a great place to start. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And you don’t have like, well, this is how it’s always been. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: Or this is what we’re going to cover. You could say, hey, it needs to be gender neutral from jump, okay. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: Because it creates pay equity. It creates a lot of things that we we could be leaders on. But it is also an opportunity to advocate for things like miscarriage leave and child, infant loss leave as well, because sometimes those get left behind and there’s this weird gray area that is truly just so sad that people could get missed for something that would obviously require that they take some time off. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And then the other thing that I would add is a leave policy it allows care work to be normalized and treated like work because it is work. And the more that we can have this conversation of it should be normal to take care of a baby. It should be normal for in a heterosexual relationship for the dad to take leave. It should be normal for if my aging parent is sick, but I take the time off to help them or sibling is sick, things like that. Or if you yourself are ill, you’re not like trying to work while you are sick. I mean, leave allows us to do all of those things and also normalizes that life happens. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: Good things happen. Babies come, but also shit happens. Like people get sick or your parents get sick or somebody needs help with something. And we really need to do our best to normalize that as well. 


Anne Helen Petersen: First of all, I love that you point out that you can speak in the language of capitalism. It doesn’t mean that you have to, like, buy into it, but you can speak in that language in order to get your employer to buy into it. And I also think the other thing that would work well here is flattery being like even though I 100% agree with you that like talking about how generous a company is, like outside of the earshot of your employer is silly. But you could be like as a company, we are leaders in innovation and we are people first, you know, using all of this language that the companies themselves use and say, how can we reflect that in our policy? 


Raena Boston: Yes. And people get so grumpy when I’m like, you need to talk to them in the language they speak. They truly look at where we are. We are in 2023. They haven’t given one shit [laughter] that you need to take care of yourself after you have a baby now. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: Like, why would you like you have to talk to them in a language that they understand and what they understand is money and how it’s going to impact their bottom line. And in all of that. And that does not discount the bonding benefits, the mental health, the physical health benefits, all of those things are still true. You’re just, as they say in corporate America, flexing your style [laughter] to the audience and who you’re speaking to. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is about when there’s technically a policy in place, but no real support for the practical side of making that wave happen. Let’s hear from Allie. 


Allie: I have just started maternity leave and my question is about what I can do when I’m back at work to ensure other pregnant people in my large nonprofit have an easier time planning for their leave. After watching our boss take zero concrete action toward planning for my coworkers leave last year and the disasters that followed while she was out, I knew I had to push for a solid maternity leave plan for myself. My supervisor is in the C-suite. I busted my butt and got way too stressed to get ahead of my deadlines that would come up while I was out. But about 25% of my job is grant reporting, and that can’t happen ahead of time. If I hadn’t actively sought out a temp, I don’t think coverage would have happened. I don’t think the mat leave situation is much better in other departments. So what kind of conversations can I start with H.R. or otherwise to improve this and not put it on the pregnant people? I could spend a bit of social capital on this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So let’s start by thinking about how this leave would have gone differently if it had gone well, if the impetus wasn’t on the pregnant person to plan it. Like, what’s the scenario, the ideal scenario here? 


Raena Boston: The ideal scenario would be that the manager on the team would say something like, hey, we want to make sure that you are able to be really disconnected during your leave, that you have the time that you need and also that we keep things humming in your absence. How can we set all this up for success? And I think that that’s like a collaborative conversation. It would be an ongoing early conversation that you talk about. And then also, and this is the part where it should it shouldn’t definitely not be on the employee to figure this out. But like it’s on the manager and the human resources department. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: To figure out if it’s a temp that’s covering. If it, we’re going to reassign this work to somebody on the team and pay them a bonus to do more work. Or it’s we’re going to give somebody an opportunity in an area of the business that is maybe quieter and like this person needs a stretch assignment. They need to they want to get gain more skills in a particular area. How can we have them rotate? It’s stuff like that. It’s like actually thinking creatively about the situation. But I think so much of it is like, let’s just pretend that it’s not happening. Let me just like cover my ears and not think about like the actual logistics that need to happen. And maybe it’s because it feels too big or maybe it feels overwhelming. But I just I don’t think that this has to be hard. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Raena Boston: Like either pay somebody, pay somebody on your team, pay a temp, or think creatively about what can be done to solve the situation. And that should not be incumbent on the person who’s going on leave to figure that out. It’s the person on leave’s maybe not responsibility, but like maybe responsibility is the word I’m looking for to say this is what I do. And if somebody were to come in and do this like these are the things that they would need to cover. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And please make that happen. I would also say that this is another good example for an employee resource group. Like, again, it’s scary. To do this stuff on your own and to advocate for these things on your own. But if there’s an ERG that’s saying something like, hey, we want to collaborate with H.R. on how to make leave less of a nightmare and how can we make it so that we’re not overall burnt out and overwhelmed by the fact that somebody is having a life event? [laughter] Like, I just don’t understand. Like, life events happen every single day, so, like, why are we still confused? 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Because it used to be men who they never had to deal with life events. 


Raena Boston: That’s true. 


Anne Helen Petersen: The responsibility for dealing with those life events, unless it happened to them personally, was offboarded. You know the one thing that strikes me is that she says she’s working for a nonprofit and so chances are high, not 100%, but high, that she’s probably not getting paid leave. Just in my experience of people who’ve worked in nonprofits. So it’s not like the company or the organization would be paying someone twice if they hired a temp or if they did. 


Raena Boston: Exactly. 


Anne Helen Petersen: They would just be paying the same thing. But I think that a lot of nonprofits are like, oh, this person is going on leave. This is a cost cutting benefit, right? [laughs] Even though I think if you actually had the ability to chart the way that that work piles up on other people who did not anticipate that work or do not have the capacity for that work, even with a bonus, you’re actually seeing lower productivity. You’re seeing like it gums up the works. 


Raena Boston: Mm hmm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So you might be saving up three months of salary, but you’re screwing things up and you’re creating animosity unintentionally by sometimes there’s this resentment that like, oh, will this person take leave? And now I’m doing all of this work and I am so exhausted and I don’t think that the person taking leave should have to bear the responsibility for that animosity. 


Raena Boston: You’re exactly right. And also leave should not be a reason for resentment to crop up. 


Anne Helen Petersen: No. 


Raena Boston: At all. Like we we should again normalize care work and taking care of oneself as a normal part of life. It should not be viewed as an inconvenience to take care of yourself or someone else when they need it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And I think it is an opportunity. This is like another thing you can say when you’re talking to your an employer. We have an opportunity—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: —to make it so that it’s not a burden or make it so that it’s less of a burden or make it so that we’re just like, oh, so-and-so’s having a baby. Okay, they’re going to this is this is what’s going to happen. These are the options that are available to us. And they’re and we won’t be burned out because we have thought through this because life events happen every single day. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So our concrete advice to this question asker is if they have an Employee Resource Group, you know, that’s a great place to do this advocacy. She says that she is willing to spend some social capital, it seems like, advocating to to leadership. And so like you said, saying like, here is an opportunity for us to create a structure, to create guardrails around how this happens in the future. So the impetus isn’t on the person who is taking the leave to like, advocate to find their own temp, plus do all of the work ahead of time. Like what a nightmare. It’s like, you know [laughs] when you you were talking at the beginning of the episode about how stressed out you felt during your unpaid leaves, those early leaves because you knew how quickly they were ending the way that this person had to prepare. Reminds me, too, of how people often have to prepare before they go on PTO in any capacity. 


Raena Boston: Oh yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Because they don’t want to come back to a shit show. So how can we make it so that people aren’t coming back from leave to a shit show either? 


Raena Boston: Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: That’s all part of this conversation. 


Raena Boston: And I also think it’s an opportunity to build this once right, and share it with other departments and normalize it of like, hey, I am the creator of this document or this thing. We’ve been through it on my team. It’s going to look a little bit different for your team, but here is the template. Here is the resource. And it could live with H.R., it could live with any however you decide to do it. I feel like H.R. can very much be focused on like compliance with the law and not all the time have the space and capacity to do like innovative policies. But like, that’s a win for, like your manager to have been a part of something like this. And then it’s a win for the organization. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I love that framing of it. It’s just like, how can we make this into a win instead of this are the things that I wish we would have done differently with my leave. It’s it’s how can this be something that, like everyone can be proud of moving forward? 




Anne Helen Petersen: So our next question is about just how stuck in a job you are and for how long when you’re pregnant. This question comes from Stephanie and our colleague Caroline is going to read it. 


Stephanie: My friend and I are pregnant and debating job searching. Our debate turned into a conversation about how soon to be parents are mostly stuck in whatever job they currently have because most employers do not provide day one parental leave, assuming their company has any paid leave policy at all. So I’d love to know your thoughts. If someone was pregnant and job searching, at what point do you ask them about their policies in the interview process if they’re not readily available on their website? And when do you disclose that you’re pregnant yourself in the hiring process? Does this protect you legally if they went with another candidate or do you not say anything in case it does hurt your candidacy? What are the ethics around it? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So I feel like this question was tailor made for you, not just from your experience, but also as an H.R. professional. So let’s take the practical part first. If someone is pregnant and job searching, what step by step advice would you give them. 


Raena Boston: As somebody who has done this, my advice is to when i went and interviewed when I was seven months pregnant, I did not say a word about that baby bump. [laughter] I didn’t say a word. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Raena Boston: It was just like they are in the room with us. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: Smelling like Thai food. You do not legally have to say anything about your pregnancy, and I don’t think you should personally, I think that when they make an offer and you accept the offer, like disclose that information, then. But you don’t have to disclose it in the interview process. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I mean, if someone’s parent was struggling with a disease, like you wouldn’t disclose that when you walk into an interview process. 


Raena Boston: Or if you were sick or any like or you were dealing with a health issue, it’s not like, oh, hey, Jim. Yeah, by the way, I have to have gallbladder surgery, too. Like in this interview, no, no. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, like I have fibroids. I just want to get that on the table. [laughter] You know, It’s just not. But I do think that we treat pregnancy like this weird thing that, like, somehow you should not talk about it at all until a certain point. And then, like, it’s everyone’s business somehow, but it’s not. And legally, they cannot ask you if you’re pregnant. Right. 


Raena Boston: Right. That’s correct. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. You can tell them after you’ve accepted the offer and then try to figure that out. So then what do you think about the ethics? 


Raena Boston: I just need to take a deep sigh there, like. [laughter] These companies are not ethical in any way, shape or form. I feel like. You need to do what you need to do to survive late stage capitalism. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: I am just here thinking about the fact that, you know, Google attracted all of these people with these world class benefits, laid them off via email, and now are refusing to honor people paid leave. They’re not going to pay them out beyond a certain point. And is that ethical? Is it ethical that companies could just fire you for no reason? Is it ethical that they’re not thinking about the fact that people have mortgages or anything? So, like, in a lot of ways, I think we should remove ethics from this conversation because it also signifies to me that we treat caring for ourselves or others as an inconvenience. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: And that somehow we are are getting over on somebody or acting maliciously for having a life event. I’m baffled. So, no, I don’t think that there’s anything. I just don’t I think ethics is like the wrong lens to apply to the situation. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I’ll also, note, especially since you brought up Google, you know, part of the reason that they, like, algorithmically fired people in the middle of the night was so that they would not have to deal with suits from people that claim discrimination because of pregnancy, any sort of other care leave because they offloaded it onto an algorithm that then decided who would be laid off. And that included people who had been there for decades, that included people who were on leave. Is that ethical? Asking if someone’s individual behavior is ethical presumes an ethical system right like that they are acting within a larger paradigm where ethics matter. And I think that the way that corporations behave now, even nonprofits, we cannot presume that others are also attempting to act ethically. 


Raena Boston: Yeah. And then the person also asked if you disclosed would it protect you legally if they went with another candidate, the burden of proof is so high on that you would have to know that they were like they would have to say in an email—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: —or like tell you, we are going with this person because you are pregnant. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: And then yes, sue the hell out of them. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. [laughs]


Raena Boston: But they’re not. Most companies are not—


Anne Helen Petersen: That seems like like Elon Musk might do that, but like, I don’t think anyone else. [laughter] 


Raena Boston: Right muskrat like that’s textbook muskrat. But even when you like. So when you start the job and disclosure, you’re pregnant, you’re a protected class, and a company could still say that they were firing you, not because you’re pregnant. I mean, like so, like the legal burden of proof of, like that type of thing is, is very high. But I’m also not saying, like, if somebody does something illegal sue them. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So I’m going to go to our next question because I think it’s a it’s a nice continuation of this previous question. So this is from Rosie. And our colleague Ashley is going to read it. 


Rosie: I’ve been contemplating taking a career pause to prioritize my family. And I just found out that I’m pregnant with our third child due at the end of the summer. This seems like as good a time as any to make this idea a reality. However, I have health insurance through my job and between my employer and my state’s paid family leave policy. I’ll have a decent parental leave. My question is, would it be unethical to take my leave before giving notice since I’ll need health insurance and would receive a portion of my salary while I am on leave? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. What do you think about this again? 


Raena Boston: Again no, I do not believe that it is unethical. People change their mind all the time. That’s one. The other thing is with state leave, you’re paying into the system. This is like another one of those things like where we have like, put this weird morality—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: —in like this entire process. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: Like people will be like, oh, there’s no possible way I could collect unemployment. It’s like, babe, you paid into the system. It’s it’s insurance. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. [laughs] 


Raena Boston: It’s not they are not just giving this to you. You paid into the system. You it’s an insurance program. Now, there is a caveat to this with paid leave sometimes in states again, Florida doesn’t have this so I don’t run into this very often, but with companies for sure, there can be a claw back in your contract. So if you leave, like at the end of your leave period, they could say, okay, I want all your health insurance premiums that we paid. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Raena Boston: They could say, depending on your employment contract with your company, your paid leave could have a claw back if they offer a paid leave within the company and they could say you owe us X amount of dollars, X amount of months, whatever it is, if you don’t come back, which like is that ethical? Like, I do not personally do not believe that’s ethical, you’re either going to give me the leave or you’re not. The way of getting around this sometimes is if you come back for 30 days. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Uh huh. 


Raena Boston: And then put your your notice, then you’re fine, you’re protected. But no, I do not think it’s unethical. I think that you’re doing something that makes sense for you in your life, just like a company would do something that makes sense for them. And again, we all have to do what we need to do to survive late stage capitalism. 


Anne Helen Petersen: How could someone figure out if there is a claw back? In their organization or their state. 


Raena Boston: So. They need to know the policy. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: So that’s also one of those things that is kind of tricky, right? But what I would do is this is for anybody, whether you have paid leave or not, you need to understand if your company offers FMLA, if you are a part of a like qualify for FMLA, if you have concurrent leave. So state leave, that is happening at the same time. What does that cover? If you have short term disability, is that a part of your leave? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Raena Boston: Like I would understand all of those different components and it is complex. I would also look at your like if you have an employment agreement or a contract or like an offer or something that would spell out those contractual details that will have that information in there. You could also ask your H.R.. 


Anne Helen Petersen: This is something that if you hired an employment lawyer to look at your contract, is that something that could be worthwhile? Or even just like a friend who might know more—


Raena Boston: Yeah, you could do that. I am going to plug one of my chamber co-founders here, Daphne Delvaux. She is the @mamaattorney on Instagram. She is an employment attorney in California, and she like sues people when they screw over moms, essentially. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: But she also has, like an academy where you can, like, learn like the legal or the law things to be looking for and also like things to do to navigate your leave a little bit better too. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. So our advice overall is that like this is not screwing the system, right? You’ve paid into the system, but also to look at your contract and see what it is. I would say like someone might feel a little weird about like, oh, if I go back for 30 days and then I leave, is that weird? But if your company is going to do the claw back, if you don’t go back for 30 days, that’s weird, right? Like, you’re just trying— [laughter] 


Raena Boston: You’re just talking to them in the language of capitalism. If you are going to have the stupid ass rule, then we’re going to just play the stupid game. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: And then at the end of my 30 days, I’ll see you later. Have a nice time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Do you know anyone who’s done something similar to this and how did that work out for them? 


Raena Boston: Not that I can think of. I feel like a lot of the people that I know, like it has been an economic necessity to go back to work. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: For a lot of people, leave crystallizes some things for them too right. Like I do not want to go back to this place. I do not want to have to pump and do all these things. I want to work part time. I want to do something completely unrelated that is going to give me the flexibility that I need to be my favorite self. And I think that sometimes that time off allows you to see what it is that you want to do or not do or like even like that’s been the journey with the panini times or the pandemic times is like how many people are just like, I’ve changed my mind about what matters. And like for me in 2020, it was like, I’ve changed my mind about the type of working mom I want to be. I’ve changed my mind about doing it all and having it all and being it all because if I’m doing it all and being it all and having it all like. What’s left and where is there room for me? 


Raena Boston: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: We really need to give ourselves the space to decide what enough is and what that looks like or what needs to shift. And I think that leave can truly illuminate that for people, even though it is work and even though there are so many things going on. Just that space of not also having to be worried about work can give you the clarity to see what matters most. And maybe that is like working, or maybe it is like all of these things, right? But like people need the space to be able to explore that and leave allows people to, to do that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: The other thing that I just want to add, just for people who are like, okay, if it’s so acknowledged that this is such a good thing, if so many of every developed country also has paid leave, like why are we so regressive here? And I would just go back to the idea that conservative lawmakers are still legislating in a way that aims to preserve this notion that, like there should be a mom at home in every family. And there’s this idea that if they legislate in a way that actually protects the way that the family is organized now that they are promoting that organization. And so in some ways, it’s like a punitive. It’s like a way to punish people where moms work outside the family. And it’s just so fucked up. Like, I just cannot get over it. But that is the ideology. 


Raena Boston: I feel like the rage just like creeping up. [laughter] And I think about that buffoon J.D. Vance [laughter] who essentially said that right, is like, we don’t want to encourage this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: We don’t want to encourage. And it’s like again. Have you not seen the state of capitalism like there most families, most people have to work in order to make this whole thing like go [laughter] you know, like, have you seen the student loans? Have you seen the housing prices? Have you seen the cost of food? Like what? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I like sometimes I just think that they’re just at home watching, like Leave It to Beaver on reruns or something, because that’s the only way that you could believe that that this is like still the way that family is organized. 


Raena Boston: But also it feels even more insidious because it’s like if you cannot make that happen for yourself—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: —you’re the problem. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right, right, right.


Raena Boston: It’s not the institutions. It’s not you know, you should have pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, your fallopian tubes, whatever. [laughter] You should have pulled yourself up by those things a little harder and married up or done this or done that. Or like you just somebody somebody not the woman needs to be working harder. And so, again, I it just truly baffles me that it seems to be a complete lack of being able to live in the real world. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah and even like Leave It to Beaver, there’s a reason it was on TV that was a fantasy that for like 20 years, some middle class families, mostly white families, were able to uphold. And it hasn’t been that way for so long. So, yeah, I just think like when we talk about this, we just have to remember that is why there is this resistance. And it’s one of those things that’s like very popular. Like we could get a ton of people. A ton of people already are on board, but because we don’t live in a representative democracy, we can’t get it through. 


Raena Boston: I think it’s something like 84% of people in the United States. I could have the statistic wrong, support paid leave. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: It is there’s bipartisan support. And so when we say bipartisan support, we mean like people who identify with either political party in the United States, but their politicians that represent them do not. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Raena Boston: So we don’t have it. And then I also think like, well, what kind of families because like Black folks have always been two people working like. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Raena Boston: What? Again, it’s just like the whole the whole thing. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I almost didn’t bring it up because I knew that we both would like start shaking a little bit. 


Raena Boston: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But but it’s good to put that out there as like for us to understand why it hasn’t happened if it makes so much sense. 


Raena Boston: Yeah. Yeah. Because we have buffoons in power. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been an utter delight. Where can people find you on the internet if they want to? 


Raena Boston: Okay. You can find me on I mostly hang out on Instagram, my handle is @theworkingmomtras like mantra, but mom. M o m t r a s. And I have a website I would love it if you joined us a Chamber of Mothers which is also on Instagram and just Excited to get to know anybody that finds me via this episode. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Awesome. [music plays] Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you need help figuring out. Get in touch. Some ideas we’re thinking about include neurodivergents at work, breakdowns in communication and preparing for layoffs. You can find submission guidelines at or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. And you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study And if you like what we’re doing here, leave us a review. It really helps others find the show and makes us feel very good about ourselves. [laughs] Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. Next week we’re talking about problems specific to hybrid and remote work. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it.