Takumi #Unfiltered Ep1: Dawn Huckelbridge, Paid Leave For All
Takumi #Unfiltered Ep1: Dawn Huckelbridge, Paid Leave For All

Mary: Welcome, Dawn-  it’s wonderful to meet you!

Dawn: It’s wonderful to meet you! Thank you for having me Mary.


Mary: Perhaps you can tell me and the listeners a bit more about paid leave for all?

Dawn: I’m happy to. So, Paid Leave For All is a growing collaborative of organisations fighting together to pass a national paid leave policy in the United States. We were born a little over a year ago as a formal public facing campaign, but I think it’s important to say that the work had been going on for years and decades before that.

It’s actually fairly coincidental that we launched at the end of 2019, with a belief that there would be a window to finally get this done in the US- to pass a national family and medical leave law. Then, not knowing that we were about to be hit with a pandemic, and that while this certainly had already been a crisis for families in this country and a greater crisis in the making, we didn’t realise that this would be put into such sharp focus and would be magnified in such a powerful way. That was obviously an ongoing tragedy, but there was this new window of understanding in this country of how important it is to be there for our families… something that is simply a given in most places in the world.

Mary: What do you think has been at work in terms of the psychological thinking here? When I first came to the United States, I didn’t really fully understand just how different the system is in the USA (compared to the UK). I wonder whether you could give us an understanding of that?

Dawn: You know, there are lots of theories about why this has taken so long to pass in this country, I’m sure I could spend hours analysing it with you!

Certainly in the United States we have had this ‘go it alone’ approach; Americans take pride in this individualistic culture and some libertarian streaks. 

I think what this pandemic showed us is that none of us ever goes it alone; that we are so interconnected, whether we want to be or not.

If we have paid leave, but our bus driver doesn’t; our delivery driver, our neighbour, anyone that we interact with- our teacher, the person filling our prescriptions or checking our temperature at the hospital- if they don’t have paid leave, that will put all of us at risk. So I think it’s something that other countries perhaps for various reasons have had a more innate understanding of for a long time, and this is something that we have to face.

I think there is an opportunity now to do it, and we have a mandate now. We can’t go through another pandemic and not put these protections into place. Particularly when you think about frontline workers who are some of the least likely to have paid leave and other protections.

If we get through this and don’t thank them with proper policy and structural changes, that will be a huge loss.

Mary: So basically, your contention is that it’s in everybody’s best interests that paid leave comes to pass, for everybody, is that right?

Dawn: Absolutely, and there’s evidence of that because we have passed some paid leave laws in the States, as you’ve mentioned- there has been a little bit of work done and I will say that it was one victory we saw last year. We did pass our first national paid leave policy of any kind called Families First, which was the Coronavirus response act… but it was temporary and it expired at the end of last year, at the height of the pandemic.

I should say that it left out over a hundred million workers, many of them frontline and central workers- many of them people of colour and women- the folks risking their lives to carry us through and keep the economy going. That’s not enough and it’s not acceptable, so we are working day and night to make sure that we don’t lose this opportunity.

Mary: So what can employers and employees do to actually help support this?

Dawn: I think it’s speaking out to your members of Congress- to your senators. We have all kinds of easy tools on our website, social media, phone numbers, petitions you can sign. But actually I just realised that I didn’t answer your earlier question which was is this good for everybody?

And the answer is that it is absolutely good for everybody.

It’s good for every working family in this country, and it’s also really important to know that it’s really good for business. We know that from evidence and research and looking at what’s happening in the states that have passed paid leave laws. We have actual evidence that there is a return on investment- there is a positive ROI for businesses that implement it. It makes people simply more productive- there’s higher performance, people are happier. Turns out that happier workers, it tends to work out for everybody! So yeah , it is a win-win!

Mary: I completely agree, on a personal level and a professional level as a female leader… life is very complex. Getting sick is not on the agenda, even more so when you’re talking about the pressures of the pandemic. In the U.S, do you see that there’s going to be a legacy of change following the pandemic?

Dawn: I certainly hope so. I will say I am heartened by our new administration; by the commitment that Biden and Harris have made to ‘Building Back Better’.

Right now there are more than 30 million workers in the US that don’t have access to a single paid sick day. 4 in 5 do not have access to paid family leave through their work. That is a lot of people, and as we have seen… it’s not functional and it impacts each and every one of us.

We can’t go back, there is no returning to ‘normal’- that normal was not working for most people in this country. We have to use this opportunity and we have to pass some really common sense things.

Mary: How do you feel about tackling policies for creators, who by their very nature tend to be a part of the ‘gig economy’? Although, increasingly we’re finding in the United States and in Europe, that people are making a living out of being a creator. I’d love to understand what your views are on how we actually bring social policy to this new world order that we are all part of?

Dawn: When people aren’t at the mercy of their employers for everything that they need to be healthy and well- when they have certain givens and certainly when they have the guarantee of things like paid leave- it does open up creativity and opportunities for new businesses, and to be entrepreneurial.

At Paid Leave For All we believe in exactly that- paid leave for all working people. So whether you are part time, whether you’re full time, whether you’re a gig worker-we want to make sure that it’s something that everyone can access.


Mary: How do you mobilise people to take action?

Dawn: Well, the good news is that we are made up of more than 25 organisations on our steering committee, and we make use of all of them. Some of them have huge memberships and grassroots reach, some of them have really good digital memberships and social media impact.

Some of them do organising with workers, with small businesses, with different constituencies, with labour.. and we’re basically trying to harness all of that as much as possible to keep it all organised and coordinated, and brought to bare in this important moment.

I think that it’s been a massive effort , particularly in a pandemic when we don’t have the usual tools and the usual organising methods, that so much has to be virtual and remote. But that also is an opportunity that we try to rise to; try to be really creative and think about new ways to find people and reach people, new ways of using media and communications.

For us we think of it as enormous challenge and opportunity for organising and communications, and focusing all of the work that our partners and our members are doing to make sure that we are reinforcing to this administration and to congress that this can be done, finally…and it must be done.

Mary: I have read some critical arguments about paid leave for all- what do you say to people who very much classify this as being a social or racial justice issue?

Dawn: What I say is that it’s an everyone issue!  

It is indeed a racial justice issue and gender equity issue; it’s also a disability rights issue, it’s also a military families issue. It’s a rural issue. It’s a core economic recovery issue and public health issue.

People may want to call it different names, but at the end of the day this is one of the most broadly supported policies in the country.

Super majorities of Republicans and Democrats support it. This is not controversial or divisive.

We’ve done all kinds of research and polling in really competitive congressional districts and battleground states and it’s always the same- this is one of the top relief and recovery issues that voters wanted. This seems common sense to them. Everyone can understand that there are times in each of our lives when we will need to give or receive care, and we shouldn’t have to worry about losing a paycheck or a job because of that

It’s us and one other country that don’t have any form of national paid leave… Papua New Guinea!

Mary: My goodness! That is so surprising… and somewhat shocking for the most advanced nation on the planet?

Dawn: Exactly! Sometimes the talking point people say is that we are one of the only wealthy countries or one of the only industrialised countries…and I say well actually, we are one of the ONLY countries.

We are truly an outlier, and this is something that again is such common sense.

I did just want to say, about racial justice and gender, that this is an equaliser. This is something that will help make a more equitable economy. It will help keep women attached to their jobs; black and hispanic workers already have lower rates of paid leave and many of them were cut out of access to the paid emergency leave programme, so I think this is absolutely something that will address inequities that have long been in our country and in our economy. It will lift the economy as a whole, and that is going to be beneficial to all.

Mary: You’ve done so much and I’m sure there’s a lot more brilliant work from you to look forward to, but I just wondered whether you could share with our listeners any stories or lessons that you’ve learned from your past jobs, that you’ve brought with you into this space?

Dawn: I’ve always worked in some way in politics or in policy and organising. I care a lot about communications, about the art of it.. about storytelling and what it is that helps move people or change people or helps them take action.

I’ve done a lot within the gender space- some would say ‘women’s issues’- although I think a lot of these issues are issues that affect every one of us. 

One thing I’ve noticed that’s true wherever I am, is just not to make assumptions. When you go into another country to work on a policy issue, you should never assume that you know what they want or need. And that’s the same if you are going into a different community in the US, if you’re going into a different state. The same importance of not making assumptions and of being humble and of listening, and letting the people in their own communities decide what is best and what is helpful.

Mary: You’ve obviously been exposed to Washington and the whole political establishment. For those of us who have never been exposed to it, perhaps you could give us some feedback or some insights to understand what makes these guys tick?

Dawn: When I figure that out, maybe I would have passed Paid Leave! Policy change is slow, but then it can happen all at once to.

I think it’s important to know that there’s always been a body of work behind that- there’s been years of organising and unglamorous work, and slow and sometimes painful work. So I think, when we get frustrated with the pace of things- and certainly I get frustrated with Washington- but I do think it’s important to remember that that’s not necessarily new. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix it and figure out how we make the people we elect work for us. 

I think it’s so important that we have elected officials who have different lived experiences, or are more broadly representative of the people in this country. I believe in electing more women, and more people of colour and people of different ages and different geographies- but I think also it’s just about having a different kind of life, and knowing what it means to have to worry about a paid sick day or to worry about taking enough time off after you’ve given birth or adopted a child. I think if you’ve never lived that fear, it’s not going to be as easy to prioritise it. 

Having diversity where there’s decision making or creative processes, it always comes out with a better product… it’s better for the whole, it’s going to be richer in the end.

Mary: Finally, I just want to ask you, have there been any people that you’ve come across in your career or in your life that have inspired you or that you’ve aspired to perhaps?

Dawn: I mentioned that Paid Leave For All is a campaign of a number of organisations who all lead it alongside me, and a lot of them have been women caregivers who, when this pandemic hit, were in lockdown and caring for children and family members full time around the clock, and also trying to scramble to get something passed in this pandemic to try to protect more people. 

I call them my opps team; they inspire me. We were texting late into the night, first thing in the morning, meeting and going back and forth and dividing and conquering all day… while caretaking.

I think those women have really inspired me and there certainly have been leaders throughout the advocacy movement and the business movement who have inspired me too.

I think right now it’s a good time to appreciate those closest to you

Mary: Thank you listeners for joining us on TAKUMI #Unfiltered. If you enjoyed the podcast please subscribe, rate and review. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok at @takumihq. Goodbye!