The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced some big changes on Wednesday.
Church employees will now receive paid maternity and parental leave. Women employed by the Utah-based Christian church, who were previously required to wear skirts and dresses, are now permitted to wear “professional pantsuits or dress slacks,” according to a church memo. Mormon men who work for the church, known for their white shirt and tie uniforms, may now also wear light-colored dress shirts.
“Employees are expected to dress modestly and in a conservative, professional, business-appropriate manner that is consistent with the customs and standards of the country in which they work,” stated an article distributed to church employees on Wednesday.
In an April 2011 article quoted again by several outlets on Wednesday, Elder Quentin L. Cook, one of the church’s senior leaders, wrote: “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both men and women.”
But as several Mormon activists noted, giving parents paid leave and letting women wear pants isn’t exactly what being “at the forefront” looks like.
“The change by the Mormon Church to let women wear pants is an attempt on their part to casually sneak into the 21st Century, but like many things they do to attempt to make cosmetic changes to their image ― it ended up just highlighting how ridiculously behind the times they really are,” activist Kate Kelly ― who was excommunicated from the LDS Church for her efforts to raise the status of Mormon women ― said in an email to HuffPost.
“The men at the helm of the Mormon corporation are not stuck in the 1970s, they are stuck in the 1870s,” she said.
“The church is very slow to change, particularly on issues where it feels like the family might be threatened in any way,” Mormon writer Jana Riess told The Washington Post. “For this kind of holdout of not offering maternity leave for some time, probably that reflects the church’s ideal that women should be at home if they have children.”
Utah legislators have made several attempts in recent years to join states like California and New Jersey in mandating paid family leave. Kelly said she hopes the Wednesday’s announcement signals the church’s willingness to support similar state-wide measures.
Given the state legislature’s large LDS representation, Kelly added: “At the Utah State Capitol, what the Mormon Church says goes.”