PaidLeave.AI is bringing technology to a legal area of great social need: helping new parents understand how family leave laws affect them, and the goal is to use AI to uplift women in the workplace and beyond
As a new mom, my life was rocked when I had my daughter last June. In the most beautiful and chaotic way, my husband and I adjusted to those blackout months in the beginning in which you have sleepless nights, physical pains, and emotional long days that come with raising a little human being and trying to be the best parents we could.
What I learned quickly was, you have no time or bandwidth to process anything, let alone the thing you need most: flexibility with work leave and time to recuperate before one or both parents must return to work. Even in the most organized fashion of planning months ahead, talking to my employer, insurer, the state, etc., I still felt unorganized, unsure, and faced a lack of both communication and support to take maternity leave. I could not understand what policies applied and how much paid leave and unpaid leave I would be getting. For someone with experience in leave laws, I still did not know what personally applied to me and my situation. I did not know what leaves would be paid or unpaid and how I would receive those benefits.
In that moment I realized, without the support system I had in place, how do other moms deal with this? How can we help the millions of mothers who go through this on a regular basis and feel uninformed and uneducated about their needed leave?
Reshma Saujani did just that. As a leading activist and the founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First (formerly Marshall Plan for Moms), Saujani has spent more than a decade building movements to fight for women and girls’ economic empowerment, working to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and most recently advocating for policies to support moms impacted by the pandemic.
She launched PaidLeave.AI, which integrated technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and maternity leave questions & answers all in one place. In fact, her chatbot and tool helps parents access paid leave, with support from OpenAI’s Sam Altman.
“One-in-four new mothers goes back to work within two weeks of giving birth and more than 90% of Americans who are low-income don’t have a single day of paid leave — that is unconscionable,” Saujani explains. “At Moms First, we are on a mission to win paid leave and affordable childcare for as many moms in as many places as possible. But if we are going to win these fights, we need to do things differently — we need to innovate, we need to utilize generative AI (Gen AI).”
Saujani adds that at a time when parents desperately need support, benefits like paid leave are challenging to access. “If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of the handful of states, like New York, where paid leave is offered, you still need to jump through hoops, navigate insurance paperwork, and decipher convoluted websites to access your benefits,” she says.
Saujani explains that she started PaidLeave.AI to simplify that process. She explains that users who go on the website get an action plan, making the process easy and simple to navigate. It tells parents whether they are eligible, how much money they can put in their pockets, and how best they can get their benefits.
While many people are cautious about the impact of Gen AI, Saujani and her team are working on creating impactful social and economic change by bringing AI to the places that need the most help. It will also help close the gender pay gap, as more moms will be getting money in their pockets that would normally be unclaimed.
Further, this tool will be allowing millions of women to become more educated on leave laws. “When we don’t use these benefits, legislators have a leg to stand on that they should be eliminated,” Saujani says.
Expanding access to leave
As of March 2023, 27% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave, and 90% had access to unpaid family leave, levels that were similar among private industry workers and state and local government workers.
In parallel with expanding access to leaves, New York Governor Kathy Hochul proposed in January to offer pregnant women 40 hours of paid leave to attend prenatal medical appointments, which she said would make New York the first state in the country to offer such benefits. The proposal was part of a six-point plan to improve maternal and neonatal health at a time when US maternal mortality rates are growing with each generation as the country falls way behind other developed nations.
Currently, 13 states offer paid family leave, and all state programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes with some being partially funded by employer-paid payroll taxes. The Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a newborn or a sick family member.
The United States does not mandate paid family leave nationwide. In other countries such as Finland, Denmark, and Norway, new mothers are paid for extended paid maternity leave following the birth of their child. Yet in the US, only a relatively small percentage of private-industry workers have access to any type of paid maternity leave. Therefore, employees have to figure out which type of leave to which they are entitled: FMLA, employer leave, short-term or long-term disability, paid family leave, child bonding, and others.
To note, some of these leaves run concurrently and some do not, so you must figure out which ones overlap, and which benefits provide the mother with paid leave (which can equal about two-thirds of the mother’s pay, although there are maximum limits on that amount as well.)
However, the stress of unpaid maternity leave can take a real toll on mothers and families, and that is why this tool really can revolutionize the sharing of information in this space. Saujani’s PaidLeave.AI is decreasing the hours new mothers and fathers have to spend to go through leave policies, leave laws, and employer handbooks in order to understand the intricacies of what leaves are available to them and how they best can be accessed.
This is a terrific example of AI being used to create robust social changes, and we can only imagine what the future holds as more AI innovation is leveraged to solve the world’s problems.