Episode 06

Your right to paid leave, simplified with AI

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In the interest of speed, we’re going to spare the long-form writeup and get straight to the point because this episode is THAT good.

Reshma Saujani, CEO of Moms First & Girls Who Code, joined us this week to share HUGE news announced today: The launch of a new tool called Paidleave.ai.

What is Paidleave.ai?!

PaidLeave.ai utilizes generative AI to ease the burden of applying for and accessing paid family leave for families in New York state, increasing families’ economic stability and building a movement of parent advocates primed to support the future passage of federal paid leave.

This tool will change the game for expecting parents - and HR leaders - who are navigating the paid family leave process, starting with New York.


Disclaimer: This podcast transcript is autogenerated and may contain minor errors or discrepancies. 

Allison: Welcome to an emergency podcast episode for the false trade-off. I am thrilled to be joined today by Reshma Saujani, who is the founder of Girls Who Code and also Marshall Plan for Moms, which is now called Moms First. We are here to talk about their latest innovation, PaidLeave.ai. Thank you so much for joining me, Reshma.

Reshma: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

Allison: Okay, I've got a lot to cover in a short amount of time. And so I'm gonna dive in right away. So hot off the presses, we got the press release paidleave.ai is, according to the press release, an AI powered solution that guides expecting parents and caregivers through the paid leave eligibility and application process. First in the state of New York eventually, hopefully other states as well, through the tool.

Users get checklists and other guidance to keep them on track to obtain the maximum benefits and time off they need to care for their families. We're going to talk more about what this is, how people can use it, but before we get into that I wanted to start with why did you build this? What is the problem you're trying to solve here?

Reshma: Yeah, well at Moms First we're on a mission to win paid leave and affordable child care everywhere. In as many states, as many workplaces as possible. And we know that in order to do this we have to innovate. And we have to look at this problem in a different way. And we need to engage as many people as we possibly can. And so the reality is that there are, amazingly, 13 states that do offer paid leave, even though we live in the only industrialized nation that doesn't offer paid leave.

So one out of four women go back to work, one out of four women don't have access to paid leave and they lose as much as $10,000 during that time period in wages. And so many moms today are having to pick between quite frequently taking care of their children and going to work, which is unconscionable. And we also know that the states that do offer paid leave, when you go onto their websites and you try to access these benefits, it's complicated, it's cumbersome.

And if you are a busy mom, especially if you are a single mom of color working in retail, you know what I mean, barely having the time, you know, quite frequently to take care of what's happening in your family, much less go on a government website that like isn't helpful, you often give up and you lose those wages. You lose that money that you desperately need to feed your family.

And so we wanted to change this. Now I wear, you know, I have two hats, I'm founder of Girls Who Code and you know, founder of Moms First. It's like my two worlds kind of collided and came together. And as I started looking at generative AI and talking to people like Sam Altman or Sethi Nadella, you know, a lot of what we talked about was like the power of generative AI to actually help real people, you know, to really play a role in public sector problems, like the uptake of paid leave. And so paidleave.ai was really born out of that mission, of like, how can we get as many families as possible in New York state access to paid leave? And how can we use generative AI to make it less cumbersome?

Allison: And so let's move into the solution. You've built this tool, right now it's just in New York. I believe eventually you want this to be for all of the states that have paid leave. How does it work? How can people go and actually use this? And how is it different than going to chat GPT, for example?

Reshma: Yeah, well, we launched paidleave.ai with Novi and Craig Newmark philanthropies. Craig Newmark, for example, and talk about like the amount of men that we have in this space, I think that are champions for families. I mean, both Craig, Demetrius, Demetrian, Elias are just incredible people and all, you know, dedicated their time, quite frankly, pro bono to help us create this solution. And our goal is simple is to, if you're a parent, to go on this website and be able to know, am I eligible for paid leave?

How much money am I going to get? And give you an action plan. So you leave with something, you know what I mean? When you know exactly what you need to do next. And so when you go to the paid leave website, for any state, quite frankly, it is not that simple. When you generate AI, you use LLM. So we took all of the information from the paid leave state website, from Google, et cetera, and put it, you know what I mean? Basically put it into this tool. And so when you go on it, you can ask any question.

I'm a mom, I'm a single mom. I work at my job for the past two years. Am I eligible for paid leave? Or I'm gonna have a Syrian section. How does that change this? So any question that you quite frequently may have, and I think it's, remember, right, you know this, Alison, is that a lot of women in particular are not comfortable asking their employer because for fear of retribution.

So there's no one you can really ask, like, am I eligible, how do I access it, what forms do I need to fill out, what do I need to know? And so this is a website you can go to safely, you know what I mean, to answer your questions.

Allison: I think there's also an interesting aspect here around what a company provides and also what you are legally allowed to access. That's also interesting to me because I've seen a lot of people who work at companies where maybe they only receive eight weeks of paid leave from their employer and they have no idea that actually you could take 12 weeks and fine, it may not be a hundred percent paid because the state program doesn't pay a hundred percent for those additional time weeks that they take. But.

When I saw that you had built this, I thought that this was incredible because even for people who work at companies that get a lot of paid leave, they still struggle with this. Because a lot of companies leverage that state pay to allow them to offer paid leave.

Reshma: I mean, we make it so damn complicated, right? Because you got to have disability benefits, you get something from your state, you get something from your employer. And here's the great thing about this tool is you can ask all those questions. My company offers me six weeks. I am gonna have a C-section. So you know exactly how many weeks you have total and where it's coming from, which I think is really, really important. I felt like, I'm a lawyer, I thought, and I work in this space, I thought I knew everything. And then as we were kind of digging in and building this tool, I learned so much more about my own ability to understand what the benefits are, so I can explain it to a friend or a neighbor, etc.

So again, we make it so confusing. And in the here and the here, Allison, what I love about this, what I love about what we're doing is yes, it's about paid leave, but it's also about the fact that, you know, government sucks sometimes at customer service, and especially for people who need it the most, because this is paid leave today and Medicare tomorrow, or student loans, or...

Allison: Yeah.

Reshma: Again, there's so many benefits that families are entitled to, quite frankly, but we make it so hard for them to access them.

Allison: So what will success look like with this iteration of the tool?

Reshma: Well, I mean, success looks like one, a lot of people going on there and playing with it. And success also looks like other governors were already having a handful of conversations. Governor Hochul has been so supportive on this project. And we're talking to other governors in other states who are excited to see this tool and want it for their state. So it also means political leaders are kind of looking at this and saying, wow, like how can I apply this to other problems that I see?

And there's something like, there's a study that said, there's about 700 different ideas floating around in government about using generative AI to solve these kinds of public sector problems. And so the thing about generative AI right now, we're in this kind of conversation about, is it Terminator 2 or are we cheating on exams? There's all kind of safety concerns, understandably so, but it hasn't allowed us to take a step towards innovation.

And what I'm excited about this tool is people are like, oh, this is really smart. And I can use this towards this other issue that I face, in my state or in the country. And so I think it's going to spark more ideas for people. The other thing is we know that, especially in our space, that when you don't access benefits, so when you don't take advantage of paid leave, or you don't take advantage of pre-K seats, for example, here in New York…don't take advantage of a child tax credit, oftentimes people on the other side say, see, people don't really want them because they're available and people aren't taking advantage of it. And that hurts our case for a federal solution.

And so what we wanna do is not give that any more fire, right, and demonstrate how many parents desperately want this. I mean, we saw a poll that came out last week, right, that 95% of voters want paid leave to pass.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

Reshma: So our job at Moms First, you know, as a movement of over one million moms, is to build, you know, fly that revolutionary flag high and say it is time now. It is time now for a solution on paid leave and for a solution on childcare. And we just need to literally grow the troops. So millions of parents are going to come on this website. Hopefully they're going to get access to benefits that they didn't have before. And they're going to be like, I'm in. You know what I mean? What can I do in this fight?

And then also, parents are going to be in Texas or in other states that don't have paid leave passed yet and say, wait, what about me? I want this too. And reach out to their legislators.

Allison: Yeah, I love this. I know Moms First does a ton of work with governments and on the policy side. You also have done a lot of work with, for lack of a better term, employee advocates, allies, HR leaders, company leaders. So you're taking this interesting public and private approach to really all three pillars that you're working on. Have you thought about what the implications of this tool is for companies?

Reshma: It's a great question. I mean, because I would say that so much of our advocacy work right now is in the corporate space. You know, our national business coalition on child care, the private sector strategies that we're doing to get companies to start subsidizing and providing child care, making that economic case. The fact that women can't work unless they have child care, right? And showing that child care is not a personal problem for you to solve, but a business imperative. You know, we started with five companies two years ago, and we have now over 140.

The other thing that's really exciting that we're doing is we're providing training to, you know, moms and allies, you know, on the ground and companies to teach them how do they ask their employer for childcare? How do they ask their employer for paid leave? So that activism, you know, is really, really critical. I think that the role that this tool plays here is, again, another tool for HR leaders to tell moms or, you know, to basically tell their employees, moms and dads' families, to say, you know, this is available for you.

So like for example, Girls with Code, we literally do the work for our employees. So if you're an employee, you come in, you say I'm having a baby, we take you through, we fill out the forms, we file them, because that has been, this has been a number one priority for me. Even before New York State passed paid leave, we offered, you know, we offered, I think, 12 weeks of paid leave to all parents. So we know how critical this is for our workforce who are often growing their families, having children, that this benefit isn't really important. So we do that work, but for a lot of HR departments, they don't or they can't, right?

They don't have the resources to, or it's not the same priority that they have. So I think that this, so a lot of HR leaders need this tool themselves, you know what I mean, to help them, help them, one, understand how the process is. But then to again offer it as a resource for their employees, you know what I mean, to get them to access benefits.

Allison: I completely agree. When I saw that you had built this, I immediately thought of all of the HR folks that we work with that are doing one of two things.

They're building out entire teams to try and figure out all the legislation across the different states and make it equitable across all their employees. They're spending a ton of money doing that, or they're outsourcing to other experts to do that. I think that this has an incredible potential to allow these companies to provide a much better employee experience.

And honestly, my selfish hope for success here is that if more employees are getting access to paid leave, to all your points, we need a federal mandate. We need this to become something that is more supported by federal funds, because then companies will offer more paid leave or begin offering paid leave to begin with. And so.

Reshma: That's right. And it's like, you know, we need the pressure of business to kind of say to government leaders, you need to do something about this. And the interesting thing that we learned in our advocacy during the childcare cliff, you know, that the loudest leaders about the childcare cliff expiring were CEOs, you know, were business leaders because they finally understood the connection, you know, I mean, between why they were not retaining, you know, parents and the lack of benefits and support that we have.

And I also think it's incumbent upon us to figure out how we give these benefits to the most vulnerable, the people who have the least amount of time and need these resources the most.

Allison: Right, totally. Last question for you, because I know you're very busy and this is a big announcement, so you're talking to a lot of people today. What can we all do, and by we, I mean all of the allies, advocates that are listening, what can we do to help this become a success?

Reshma: Well, we got to tell every single parent that you know about it, you know, and not just ones that live in New York, but that live everywhere, right? Because we basically need to create a momentum, you know, for families that don't live in one of those 13 states. Well, first, if you live in New York, we want to make sure everybody knows about it and has access to it. And we think about like, I want a QR code with, you know, paidleave.ai at every single, you know, delivery room, you know, at every single hospital, you know, at every, you know, every single school.

Allison: Mm-hmm.

Reshma: Right. So people just know that this tool is available for them. You know, secondly, you know, we want to make sure that for the rest of the states that have paid leave benefits, that we get connected to the right people in those states to get them, you know what I mean, to get them thinking about how they can build this ASAP. Right.

Allison: The right people? Is this a political thing - are you looking for the governor?

Reshma: Great question. I mean, yeah, I think so in our case, the Department of Labor and the New York State is the one who had put the website together. So we reached out to the Governor, Governor Hochul and hopefully this provides, you know, finds a home, quite frankly, with, you know, the state, right, in making sure that everybody who has access to benefits gets them. But, you know, it's also, it's a great question, Allison, because I want to kind of see how this next couple weeks go, right?

Allison: Okay. Yeah.

Reshma: Because the question is, because we don't know enough about this yet in terms of the fact that even if governments, like for example, New York State just, New York City just released a small business tool using generative AI to kind of help, again, streamline the process and make it more clear. But the question is who should be managing it? You know, and I don't think we know yet. It's you maybe want to do a little bit of experimentation kind of in this period to kind of see.

Allison: Yeah, I've got some ideas. We won't explore them on a podcast in front of everyone, but I will get back to you with a few ideas because I am so excited about this. I think it's smart to say, let's put it out in the world. Let's see what happens.

Reshma: Okay, you need to do that. And as a result, we decided not to do all 13 and one to go, because we could have, and just to do New York and learn, and see what happens and what's the feedback that we get back and what would you do differently. Or is it perfect, which technology never is the first. So.

Allison: Great. Right. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Congratulations. This is huge. I mean, we live and breathe in the parental leave space. And so when I saw this, I was jumping out of my chair. Thank you.

Reshma: Thank you. We're really excited. I know, it's like literally I feel like this is one of the best things I've worked on, you know, in a while in terms of just how much I'm, I'm just so excited about the potential.

Allison: I mean, it's going to change so many people's lives. I can tell you that already. And like...

Reshma: It's going to put money in people's pockets. It's going to allow people to put food on the table, to pay for school, to pay for child care, you know, to again, like, give them more control over their future for themselves and their children. And I think that that's critical.

Allison: Yeah, this is a really, really big deal. I can't wait to see what happens. Thank you so much for your time today. And we will continue to be screaming about this from the rooftops to make sure that everybody knows that they have access to this. And yeah, thank you so much for your time today.

Reshma: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.