A Critical Analysis of Family Leave Policies Across U.S. Universities

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study is to critically examine family leave policies across universities in the United States to determine whether and to what degree they rely on traditional notions of motherhood and family. Conversations surrounding the lack of equitable and adequate family leave should be continued by researchers, advocates, and policymakers, but the inclusivity of current family leave policies warrants critical attention. The reliance on reproduction to define motherhood excludes individuals who cannot or choose not to give birth. This reliance also attaches mothering behaviors and norms to feminine bodies which works to reify gender inequalities. This project utilizes a mixed methods approach. Using a qualitative content analysis of family leave policies from different universities, I examine if and how they rely on aspects of physical birth, heteronormativity, and gendered language. I compare family leave policies across states that are (and are not) considered LGBTQ+ friendly. Secondly, I used a binary logistic regression analysis to test institutional isomorphism, specifically examining to what extent coercive and mimetic pressures affect family leave policy inclusiveness. I found that most policies are gender neutral and do not rely heavily on reproduction, but the implications of those that are highly gendered and rely on reproduction are enlightening. I found that only 8% of policies included LGBTQ+ specific protections. The regression model revealed that isomorphism is not the greatest predictor of policy inclusiveness, and that universities in less progressive states are more likely to have inclusive policies



gender, gender essentialism, institutional isomorphism, family leave policies