A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

Vicki Shabo is an expert on workplace gender equity and work/family policies in the United States, including paid family and medical leave and equal pay. As a strategist and analyst, she is steeped in both policy details and the political dynamics that typically surround policymakers’ consideration of these policies. Over the last decade, Vicki has been deeply involved in the development and enactment of federal, state and local workplace policies affecting tens of millions of working people. She interacts regularly with federal and state policymakers, business and industry leaders, advocates and researchers who share her interest in promoting more equitable workplaces.

Vicki is currently a senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at the New America Foundation’s Better Life Lab and is based in Washington, D.C. At New America, Vicki focuses on charting a path to winning paid family and medical leave for every working person in the United States, no matter where they live or work or the job they hold. From 2010-2019, Vicki led the National Partnership for Women & Families’ workplace policy initiatives, first as director and then as vice president. She and her team helped win dozens of state and local paid sick days, paid family leave, equal pay and pregnancy accommodations laws and moved national paid family and medical leave from a fringe issue to the mainstream of political and policy debates. Previously, she practiced law, served as a pollster for political candidates, media and nonprofit organizations, and worked on Capitol Hill.

Vicki has testified multiple times in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures as well as in front of the 2016 Democratic Party’s platform committee. Her perspective and analyses have been featured in opinion pieces and hundreds of news stories, including on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR and MSNBC, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and dozens of regional and state outlets. Vicki is a graduate Pomona College (B.A. politics, American Studies), University of Michigan (M.A., political science) the University of North Carolina School of Law (J.D.), where she served as editor in chief of the North Carolina Law Review. She is a board member of First Shift Justice Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides legal services to pregnant and parenting women with low incomes who face workplace discrimination.

She is co-raising a feminist son with a husband who does more than half the parenting, in a household that is passionate about promoting gender equity, slowing climate destruction and catering to the whims of two cats.


What inspires you to do the work you do?

I want to live in a country where cycles of privilege are interrupted to promote equitable opportunities for all. I became interested in winning a national paid leave standard after having my son and realizing that, even within the firm where I worked, the most highly-paid and highly-sought after employees had great paid parental leave benefits and the lowest-paid, hourly contractors likely had no paid leave at all. That seemed fundamentally unfair on its face and, when I learned more about the compounding effects of paid leave on child/maternal health, father’s engagement and women’s employment, I became even more committed to making change.

I also really love winning, and winning national paid leave should be achievable and not a Herculean task!

What are you most proud of?

I’m not sure I can take absolute credit for this, but I was pretty proud that my son was able to explain the gender-based wage gap as a kindergartner and counts the 2017 Women’s March as one of his favorite moments of activism.

If you could go on long walk with anyone, who would it be?

Bernadette Peters. I am a huge fan of Broadway musicals and don’t spend enough time cultivating that passion.