Paid Family Leave Research: Meet Ashley

Posted on March 26, 2018

A team of first year MPA students at the University of North Carolina are partnering with ELGL to conduct original research on North Carolina local governments and paid family leave. In this series of blog posts, we meet the research team and hear their perspectives on this project and topic.

Ashley Ownbey


What is the goal/purpose of this research project?
My name is Ashley Ownbey, and I am in my first year of a dual MPA/MCRP program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I grew up in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, a small town in the southwestern foothills of the state. I completed my undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill, and, after graduation, moved to Birmingham, Alabama to work with a nonprofit. After three years of “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle,” I found my way back to my beloved Tar Heel state.
I entered undergrad as an “undecided” major, and I remained undecided until I was forced to declare a major. Although, I was unsure of which field to study, I knew that public service was at the heart of my career aspirations. A commitment to public service is what led me to a nonprofit in Birmingham and is also what led me back to UNC to pursue a MPA with a focus in local government.
My desire to serve the public, however, should not equate to me not caring about my job’s pay rate or my organization’s paid leave policies.

The assumption that public servants will settle for less when it comes to their paychecks can ultimately cost a public organization.

Thus, when I was presented with the option to research the prevalence of paid family leave policies in North Carolina local governments, I quickly requested to work alongside ELGL in this research.  
We were not allowed to pick our team members for this course project, but I do not think a better team could have emerged. We work well together and have high expectations for the results of this project.
Our goal is to simply understand the current status of paid family leave at the local government level. We want to know which local governments in North Carolina are offering paid family leave policies that are distinctly separate from paid vacation and paid sick leave policies.
The current federal requirement arises from the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which entitles eligible employees to unpaid, job-protected leave for a list of circumstances that includes the birth of a child and the care of a seriously ill parent.

Our research is concerned with determining if any local governments are going beyond this requirement. Are they offering employees paid leave for these important life events?

Outside of learning which local governments in North Carolina have adopted paid family leave policies, we want to know why governments have chosen to offer these policies.
How are they benefiting from offering these policies?
What challenges are they facing?
We also hope to gain a better understanding of what prevents local governments from offering their employees paid family leave. Is paid family leave even on their radar?
By asking local governments these questions, we hope to start a conversation about why paid family leave policies matter and how they can exist in a local government setting.

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