June 11, 2024

Q&A with Dawn Huckelbridge, Founding Director of Paid Leave for All 

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Get to know paid leave champion Dawn Huckelbridge, founding director of Paid Leave for All, and the drive behind her dedication to implementing paid leave policies nationwide. 

From her personal experience to her biggest challenges, Dawn shares how the push for paid leave benefits whole communities and brings us closer to equality for all.

Dawn recently spoke at the City Club of Cleveland as part of the “Paid Leave for All” forum, for which Collaborate Cleveland was a programming partner. Watch the event recording here.

Having played pivotal roles in various gender policy and political organizing initiatives, what drew you to focus specifically on paid family and medical leave?

I had studied paid leave in grad school and done a little bit of work on it at the state and local level, but like many people say, it wasn’t until I experienced the need for paid leave myself that I understood what a crisis it is to not have a federal paid leave program in place. 

I was lucky that when I had a child, we were both healthy and I had a lot of support, but I still found it shockingly difficult. And it opened my eyes to how this country treats mothers and families in a very personal, painful way. But once I learned more about paid family and medical leave, I realized this policy is so tremendously impactful and could change the game for women. 

I also realized it is about so much more than motherhood or gender; it’s a tool for public health, economic growth, and racial equity. It improves mental and physical health outcomes for whole families and communities. It leads to greater financial security and even entrepreneurship. It allows us healing, recovery, and peace of mind. And it allows all of us to be there for the most important moments of our lives. I believe passing paid leave for all could — will — transform this country.

What are the most compelling arguments or data points that you think have influenced policymakers to consider or adopt paid leave policies?

The United States is one of only seven countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee any form of paid leave for its workers. And only one in four of us have paid family leave from our jobs in the private sector. This means that every year, families lose more than $22 billion in wages without it. 

Meanwhile, the economic data in support of paid leave are overwhelming. In states that have paid leave programs, it has a positive return on investment — it retains talented workers, reduces turnover and training costs, and leads to greater performance, productivity, and profitability. 

Healthier, happier workers lead to thriving businesses. A state or federal program is particularly important for small businesses because it helps them compete with larger corporations and employers. In fact, if we passed federal paid leave with other care policies that kept more of us in the workforce, it would yield millions of jobs, billions in wages, and trillions in GDP. 

While we’ve tackled so much of it, there’s also research I’d still like to do — I believe that passing paid leave for all would have a powerful impact on the maternal mortality rate, which is unconscionable in the United States, particularly for Black women.

What have been some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in pushing for policy changes at both the state and federal levels?

I love that states and cities can often be laboratories of innovation. They’re also much better at getting things done and across party lines than Washington. Federal policy is often hard and slow, with a lot of moneyed interests, and the culture of obstructionism seems to only be growing. 

Also — the United States Congress is still not a diverse place. Sexism and racism, and also a generational divide, hinder a lot of progress. But we all lose as a result, which is why I’ve worked in both policy and politics throughout my career. Electing more women, more people of color, more young people, and simply people with more life experiences produces better and more progressive policies. We’re seeing this play out locally across the country – look at Cleveland.

If you could send one message to the world about paid leave policies, what would it be?

We all need paid leave and we all benefit when it’s universal. Every one of us will need to give and receive care in our lives, and increasingly we are caring for multiple people and generations at once. Our need for this policy will only grow and if we want to be resilient as communities and competitive as a country, every working person needs access to comprehensive and inclusive paid leave.

How can we help support and join your fight to establish more comprehensive paid leave policies in the U.S.?

Stay involved in coalitions and efforts in your city and state, but also engage in the federal fight so we all have this protection, no matter where we live or work, or who we love. You can follow Paid Leave for All on social media for actions (and we’d love your signature on our current petition with Glamour!)

You are an inspiration to so many! Who inspires you?

People who do hard and often quiet work for the right reasons. Whether it’s my friend Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who’s one of the few elected officials I’ve never lost faith in, or advocates like here in Cleveland who are fighting to get paid leave policies passed.

Dawn Huckelbridge has served as Founding Director of Paid Leave for All since 2019. She has spent her career in gender policy, political organizing, communications, and building early-stage programs and campaigns. Dawn most recently served as Communications Director for Supermajority during its launch and as the Senior Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative at American Bridge.

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