January 07, 2020
Katie Bethell and PL+US: Family Matters

There are three nations in the United Nations that do not require employers to provide paid time off for new parents: United States, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. Yes, you read that correctly. In the developed world, we are dead last when it comes to federally mandated paid family leave. Paid Leave US (PL+US) is on a mission to change that by 2022.

Why is this more important than ever? With a growing number of dual-income families and an aging parent and grandparent population (go ahead and say it- OK, boomer), paid family leave is imperative to supporting our nation's families. And while in the corporate world, paid leave might seem like a standard, unfortunately 1 in 4 women is back to work after 2 (TWO!!) weeks of giving birth. 

 We sat down with Katie Bethell, Founder and Executive Director of PL+US. In 2014 she was named one of Fortune's Most Creative People in Business and now we know why. Read on to learn what inspires Katie, for some amazing leadership tactics, and how you can help in the fight.


PS: Every Superkin order comes with an opportunity to give $10 cash to a charity of your choice, and PL+US is one of our personal favorites!



Katie Bethell Paid Leave US Director
Katie Bethell, PL+US Executive Director

Tell us about your career journey! What inspired you to fight for paid family leave for everyone, and launch PL+US?

Family is very important to me: I got my start as an organizer working on paid family leave (PFL). When you talk about paid family leave you connect with people in a totally different way. You’re learning about the most important things that happened in their lives: from birth stories to the care they gave their father in his final days. 

This also comes from my own experience: after a terrible birth experience, postpartum depression, and caring for sick family members, it felt personal.

As a business leader, I held roles in HR and helped to implement PFL at a tech company. In 2012 we created a policy giving 16 weeks and I was really pleased. As a manager of a team of 25 people, I then she saw firsthand what it means for people to actually use that policy in an organization on a tactical and operational level. It was clear that this policy that valued people also delivered significant value to the organization.

Around that time, it became clear that PFL was ready to pop. Companies were doing press releases about their new policies, there seemed to be a cultural shift in the works. So I sat down and wrote a strategy for winning, and I decided to jump in and put it to work. 

What are some of the most staggering numbers about family leave that are most powerful for you.

There are so many!!! For parental leave, in the US one of every four women are back at work within two weeks of giving birth, Your body isn’t ready and you’re still healing. 

Paid Family Leave is also a strong illustration of the inequality that we face in the US: 83% of Americans don’t have a single day of paid family leave available to them, nor do 94% of people making the lowest wages. This time and benefits inequality impacts our most vulnerable population, with paid leave only available to higher wage brackets. 

Parental leave is critically important, but only about 25% of people who are taking leave are doing so because they had a baby. Life events like personal medical leave, taking care of a sick loved one, or any other kind of care are actually the majority. 1 in 4 millennials have a family caregiving responsibility that’s not parenting. So there’s a big need that’s not being met from a public or company policy perspective. 

And of course, the mic drop: If we had 26 weeks of maternity leave in the US, we would add $500Bn to the economy every year, due to the increase in workforce participation.

How are you tackling this issue? What are the top initiatives for your team this year? What are ways PL+US will reach their goal?

My goal is to be out of a job by 2022.  Major national politicians are talking about it as part of the discourse and an essential part of their platform. We worked with Kamala Harris’ campaign to create a plan for 6 weeks of PFL, she was the first presidential candidate to do so. We quickly rolled out a scorecard of the presidential candidates: first there was only one A, and they now have seven candidates with an A, and each candidate did something to improve their score. 

Our recent Day of Action with the Dove Men Plus Care featured #dadvocates - 10 dads from across the country, Unilever (the parent company of Dove) executives, and of course Alexis Ohanian who has been an amazing partner in this fight.  We met with key legislators and presented a cohesive and powerful argument for paid family leave for everyone. A sanitation worker explained his current set of benefits, a business executive talked about the benefits of paid family leave, and an investor who is investing in certain districts and states all made a strong case.

PL+US has won leave for 6 million people through private campaigns, in addition to the individual states that have enhanced their policies. We partnered with Walmart, the largest employer in the US, to roll out a policy that offers new moms and dads 16 weeks of paid family leave. 

What have been some surprising or unexpected things (good or bad) to come from PL+US?

The most pleasant surprise has been how willing businesses are to come to the table on this issue. We had a hypothesis that there was a new willingness to engage, and it was clear when we had Unilever lobby congress with us that we were really building something bigger.

What can parents, managers and executives do within their own companies to move the needle? If they can’t make major changes, are there any small wins they can work toward?

The cornerstone of PLUS’ work with businesses is an annual report about private companies.Through this work, we have a built a toolbox and a network of experts in the space and we hope that individuals will use these tools to impact policy at their own company. The Family Leave workshop is a slide deck that was put together by female reporters from the NY Times. As a former HR exec, I can tell you that it’s welcomed for employees to bring tools and resources to the table to solve for issues like this. And, how cool is it to implement a policy that helps your colleague take care of their family?

As a parent, what has worked for you to juggle work and family?

It’s a lifelong process of letting go of perfection.  In moments when I feel overwhelmed, it’s because I’m living in the future and worried about how things are going to get done. I remind myself that I am enough, I have everything I need to face this next challenge and it’s OK if it’s not perfect. 

Fortune magazine named you one of the world’s most creative leaders. What principles of leadership and management are most important to you?

I’m pretty focused on transparent, collaborative systems and processes. Our team mantra is high impact low ego. My role is to foster spaces where people can raise their hands and speak up, and then we make a decision and let’s go. I believe this enables the best outcomes by taking fear out of the room and allowing people too disagree in a collaborative way.

In the beginning, I hired people to help with the things that I didn’t know how to do myself. If I could do it differently, I would have hired people to do the things I knew how to do - because I knew how to manage that function- and take more time to learn new things.


To learn more about PL+US, head to their website and find ways to donate and get involved!