Points of departure: family leave policy and women’s representation in management in U.S. workplaces

Eunmi Mun, Shawna Vican, Erin L Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper theorizes the interplay of public and organizational policies by investigating whether the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) shifted patterns of gender inequality within U.S. workplaces. Did this leave law increase women’s representation in positions of authority (moving more women into management jobs)? We argue that the impact of public policies will vary by organizational context, hypothesizing different effects by organizations’ points of departure—the corporate policies in place when public policy changes. Analyzing establishment-level panel data from approximately 800 U.S. private-sector establishments in 1990–1997, we found that women’s representation in managerial positions increased in the years immediately after the FMLA. Importantly, women’s representation in management increased the most in workplaces that provided more generous leave benefits even before the FMLA. The increase in managerial representation was most prominent for women of color. Consistent with relational inequality theory, these findings suggest that women may find it easier to make claims for leave and for career advancement when both legal and organizational policies lend legitimacy to their claims. More broadly, this study points to the need to explicitly evaluate how policy impacts vary by organizational norms and commitments.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbersoae080
JournalSocial Forces
StateE-pub ahead of print - Jun 9 2024


Dive into the research topics of 'Points of departure: family leave policy and women’s representation in management in U.S. workplaces'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this