By Steve Flamisch
Just seven weeks after giving birth to her daughter in 2014, electrical engineer Karina Hershberg trudged back to her office and resumed the demanding work of designing power systems for 200,000-square-foot buildings.
The exhausted first-time mom preferred to stay home with her baby, but her employer’s short-term disability provider had issued its final check – a mere 40 percent of her salary after taxes – and her husband, a teacher, could not shoulder all of the family’s expenses alone.
They were living off savings.
“Even with insurance, you have a pretty big expense up front with labor and delivery and then you start paying for day care on the other end,” Hershberg said. “In the middle, you’re supposed to take 12 weeks off with little or no pay? It’s just not feasible for most families.”
Hershberg and her husband live in Oregon, one of the 47 states – soon to be 45 – that do not require employers to offer paid family leave benefits.
Though Hershberg praised her bosses for allowing her to return to a flexible, part-time schedule, she hoped they would eventually do more to relieve the financial strain on employees who are caring for a newborn or a sick family member.
She did not know it at the time, but change was coming.
A decorated military veteran, inspired by his labor education at Rutgers University—New Brunswick’s School of Management and Labor Relations, was about to introduce a transformative new policy.
His vision would position the firm at the leading edge of employee experience in STEM, while creating a road map for the industry to attract and retain more women in key roles.
Distinguished Military Service
Shiloh Butterworth’s long journey to becoming a champion for paid family leave began with a two-decade career in the U.S. Army and a humbling tour of duty.
After completing his basic training in the mid-1990s, the young solider from Portland, Oregon joined the white-gloved ranks of “The Old Guard,” the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the President of the United States.
Wearing a stoic expression and perfectly pressed wool dress uniform, he staffed White House arrival ceremonies for South African President Nelson Mandela and other foreign dignitaries– and he once accompanied President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Butterworth’s unit also played an important role in full honors funerals for active duty and retired service members at Arlington National Ceremony: marching alongside the horse-drawn caisson, carrying the flag-draped casket into and out of the church, performing the graveside service, folding the flag, and handing it to the family “on behalf of a grateful nation.” Performing up to four funerals daily in busy weeks, he worked hundreds over the course of four years.
“It is hallowed ground,” Butterworth said, his tone reflecting the solemn nature of the assignment. “It was a tremendous honor. We worked hard to make those ceremonies as perfect and honorable and respectful as we could.”
Later, after a three-year stint as a tough-talking drill instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia, Butterworth flew to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii to prepare for his first overseas deployment as a Company First Sergeant in the Army’s 2nd Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
Hitting the ground in Iraq at the height of President George W. Bush’s troop surge, Butterworth led and supervised daily combat patrols in the dangerous “Sunni Triangle” region north of Baghdad from 2008 to 2009.
Dodging routine mortar and rocket attacks, improved explosive devices, and sniper fire, Butterworth and his 125 troops were “responsible for taking more enemies off the battlefield than any other company” during that volatile time. His company received the Army’s Valorous Unit Award for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.
Butterworth’s second combat deployment brought him to Baqubah, a flashpoint for guerilla warfare in Central Iraq. From 2010 to 2011, his company of about 300 troops played a key role in assisting and advising Iraqi soldiers after the transition of authority, earning another unit citation in the process.
In both deployments, Butterworth’s companies came through largely unscathed – with no soldiers killed in action and none seriously wounded.
“We brought everybody back alive,” Butterworth said, his voice choking with emotion. “I’m very, very proud of what our soldiers and teams accomplished.”
Butterworth earned two Bronze Stars for his service in Iraq. Returning to Hawaii, he rose to the position of G3 Operations Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army Pacific -- the largest theater of operations in the world – before embarking on a new mission on the banks of the Old Raritan.
A Convergence of Big Ideas
After escorting heads of state to the White House, performing military funerals at Arlington, drilling new recruits at Fort Benning, and leading hundreds of successful combat patrols in Iraq, U.S. Army First Sergeant Shiloh Butterworth came to Rutgers University—New Brunswick in Fall 2012 as an Official Senior Military Instructor.
“The Army gave me several different options of where to go,” he said. “I chose Rutgers because of its academic reputation.”
Still on active duty, Butterworth taught Military Science and Leadership courses to a mix of general education and Rutgers Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students. Along the way, he became a student himself – with an eye on his next career move.
Butterworth enrolled in the Labor Studies and Employment Relations program at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. With many courses offered on weekday evenings and weekends, the program routinely draws large numbers of adult students who are balancing their studies with full-time employment. In addition, students may complete select courses online, in the classroom, or both.
The flexibility was important to Butterworth, but the content was even more enticing. The program’s focus on cultural organization and leadership formed a natural link between his military experience and his expected move into the private sector, while the discussions around income and equality gave him a new perspective.
“We talked about how minorities and women are impacted with respect to the workplace, the price of motherhood, the inequality of pay, and flexible work policies,” Butterworth said. “It was just a great education that helped me to refine some of the things I learned in my previous career and gave me a great platform to jump into my next career.”
Butterworth received his Bachelor of Science in Labor and Employment Relations in 2015, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. He retired from the Army and landed a job as Director of Employee Experience at PAE, a forward-thinking engineering firm with 215 employees in San Francisco; Seattle; Eugene, Oregon; and his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
He got right down to business.
A Plan for Paid Family Leave
Inspired by his Rutgers education, Butterworth proposed a “Wellness Leave” program that would give all full-time and part-time workers up to six weeks of company-paid time off to bond with a newborn or care for a family member with a serious illness.
Coupled with an improved short-term disability plan, Butterworth’s vision would enable new moms like Karina Hershberg to take up to 12 weeks of time-off with nearly full pay. Paternity leave would allow men to serve as equal caregivers and destigmatize family leave for women.
“Our engineering designs are years ahead of their time,” Butterworth said. “We want our people practices to be aligned.”
Paid family leave brings employees peace of mind and greater financial stability. A 2012 report by the Rutgers Center for Women and Work finds women who use paid leave for childbirth are more likely to stay in the workforce and earn higher wages in the future. This helps families remain self-sufficient; the report finds that both men and women who use paid leave to welcome a newborn are less likely to need food stamps or public assistance.
Yet, just 12 percent of Americans have access to this important benefit. The U.S. and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that do not mandate paid family leave, while only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have state laws – with New York and Washington joining the list in 2018 and 2020, respectively.
A firm that offers its own paid family leave plan, especially in a state where it is not mandated, may have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent – staving off burdensome employee replacement costs.
When Butterworth made his initial pitch, the firm’s president expressed support and the 15-member leadership team was open to the idea. But it would all come down to a vote, and the Rutgers alumnus had to address some lingering concerns in order to secure a majority.
The Leadership Team Votes
The fate of Butterworth’s proposal was still uncertain when Daniella Moreano Wahler learned she was pregnant in 2016.
A PAE Associate, Wahler is an experienced mechanical engineer who designs the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems for large buildings. She has a special knack for health care facilities; one notable project involved a nine-story patient tower in a children’s hospital.
Yet, she dreaded her own hospital visit because of the costs and the lack of paid leave.
“It would have meant tapping into our savings,” Wahler said. “We had six weeks of short-term disability and I would have taken six weeks of unpaid time. Looking at those numbers and what the hospital bills would be, our future financial goals would have been delayed by years.”
As a member of PAE’s Benefits Committee, Wahler was among several women who advised Butterworth in the run up to the vote. Week after week, he used research-based evidence to allay leaders’ concerns about negative impacts on business and possible misuse of the benefit.
The vote finally came in October 2016. After all the fact-finding and salesmanship, Butterworth’s determination paid off. The leadership team approved his proposal.
“I texted my husband immediately,” Wahler said, raising her voice as she channeled the excitement of that day. “I said, ‘This is amazing. This takes a huge stressor off us. We felt like we could breathe.’”
The new policy took effect on January 1, 2017. Her son, Mateo, was born a few months later.
Hershberg, pregnant with her second child at the time of the vote, shared Wahler’s sense of relief. After living off savings when Celeste was born in 2014, mom welcomed Adira in 2017 with six fully-paid weeks off and an additional six weeks at nearly 90 percent pay under the improved short-term disability plan.
“It changed the whole tone of my maternity leave,” Hershberg said. “It was just 100 percent focused on being home with baby. There wasn’t any stress about bills.”
“Innovative and Bold”
By June 1, six PAE employees had used the “Wellness Program.” Three women and one man welcomed newborns; one employee cared for an ailing parent; and another needed some time-off to recover from an injury. Nine more employees – seven women and two men – were scheduled to take maternity or paternity leave in the near future.
The success stories bring a smile to Butterworth’s face, but he reacts with the humility you might expect from a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army. And though he’s interested in attracting the best and brightest employees to his firm, Butterworth takes an even broader view.
Research shows the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) industry has struggled for decades to retain women. Butterworth, 42, hopes PAE’s new paid family leave policy will inspire other firms to take action, eventually reversing the trend.
“If you want to change an industry, you’ve got to be innovative and bold,” Butterworth said. “We think this is a significant start to making engineering more accommodating for women, and I have no doubt the education I received at Rutgers helped me to better understand what needed to happen for us to be innovators in this field.”