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Duchess Meghan Defends Paid-Leave Lobbying: “I Will Always Stand Up for What’s Right”

The Duchess of Sussex is standing up for what’s right. Meghan joined the New York Times DealBook Online Summit for a conversation focused on how women can reach economic and professional parity. The Archewell Foundation cofounder opened up about her business experience, as well as her recent efforts campaigning for paid family leave, which saw her reach out to senators and Congress.

Though her efforts contributed to paid family leave being added back into President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better legislation, her activism came under scrutiny by sections of the press as commentators and palace aides claimed it clashed with the royal family’s policy of not getting involved in politics. But speaking to host and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, the duchess said the issue is far from political.

“I don’t see this as a political issue, frankly,” she said during the Minding the Gap session, where she appeared alongside co-CEO and President of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson. “Look, there’s certainly a precedent amongst my husband’s family and the royal family of not having any involvement in politics, but paid leave, from my standpoint, is a humanitarian issue.”

She continued, “My husband has always said, ‘With great privilege comes great responsibility,’ but even before I had any sort of privilege in my life, when my life and my lifestyle were very different, I always just stood up for what’s right.”

Meghan’s focus on paid parental leave, the mother and philanthropist revealed, came after moving back to California with Harry last year. “I had been gone from the U.S. for a really long time, I lived in Canada seven years for work, then moved to the U.K. and to come back and now be a mother of two, and to see that the U.S. is one of only six countries in the entire world to offer any form of national paid leave, just didn’t make sense,” she said. “I guess my approach was the same as it’s been since I was really young—when I was 11 and I saw something wrong on TV, I put pen to paper and wrote a letter about it. So on this, I thought, Well, let me write a letter and let me pick up the phone and make some calls and see if I can help. To me, it seems like a really obvious and logical thing for me to do, and I’m happy to support it.”

The duchess added, “We can all agree that people need support, certainly when they’ve just had a child. We have a five-month-old baby, and so it’s a really sensitive [issue] for us. We have the luxury of being able to have that time—not just for moms but for fathers as well—to be with our newborn. And I think if this entire country, you know, if we valued American families in that way, as we should, it sets us up for economic growth and success, but it also allows people to have that really sacred time as a family.”

During the conversation, Hobson and Meghan also a spoke about the double standard between women and men having ambition or talking about money. “Why is it, culturally, we are equipping women and girls to think that if you are ambitious, there’s something negative about that word?” the duchess asked.

Both women also opened up about being women of color in the workplace and in society. “What women and women of color have been experiencing for a long time—and I’ve witnessed it through the lens of my mom and now as an adult myself—is still staggering,” said Meghan—who wore a poppy pin to commemorate Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, which honors military members who have died at war. “But I think that we are making strides in right direction, and a lot of that comes down to mending part of the conversation, but also women being able to support each other. The reason Mellody and I know each other is because we have mutual friends who have said, ‘You have to know Mellody,’ because she could be such a great mentor. I think mentoring in that regard … isn’t just cheerleading each other through the process or through whatever discriminations they may face … but really being the person to say, ‘Let me make this phone call for you,’ or, ‘This is what you should be thinking about when you sign that contract,’ ‘This is when you should walk away from the table.’ … Someone who has seasoned experience who is able to guide you in a really strong way—that is part of how we are going to move the needle.”

Though the Sussexes stepped back from their royal roles only recently, the couple have gone on to find major success and financial independence in their new lives. As well as setting up the Archewell Foundation, the couple have signed landmark content deals with Netflix and Spotify, as well as established a number of business partnerships outside of the Archewell group. For Meghan, 40, she privately invested in the female-owned “super latte” brand Clevr Blends. But, she admitted during the online summit, her first-ever business venture actually took place more than 30 years ago. “I remember when I was really young—I must have been eight or nine—I started making scrunchies to sell,” she laughed. “I had my mom take me downtown to get scraps of fabric from the fabric stores and sell them, like, five for five bucks, who knows.”

She continued, “I remember the feeling of knowing that I had done something, I had invested in myself and done this labor and been compensated for it. There’s a sense of pride that comes from that.”

Meghan—who admitted she is feeling “much better about everything” since moving back to California—also shared a surprising detail about her new life: She’s a fan of online promo codes. Speaking about being taught financial literacy at a young age, the duchess explained, “Do they have coupons anymore? I don’t know—but I will never buy anything online without finding an online promo code first,” she admitted. “That’s still in there. It’s a modern version of the same thing.”

The conversation was also Meghan’s first time talking about her court case against the Mail on Sunday, which, in May, saw a High Court judge find the British tabloid guilty of copyright infringement and invasion of privacy after it printed a private letter that she sent to her father, Thomas Markle. However, the newspaper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, is this week appealing the decision in Britain’s Court of Appeal.

“In terms of the appeal, I won the case, and this issue has been going on [since] when I had no children at all. … It’s an arduous process, but, again, it’s just standing up for what’s right, which I think is important across the board, be it in this case or in the other things we have been talking about today,” Meghan said. “At a certain point, no matter how difficult it is, if you know the difference between right and wrong, you must stand up for what’s right, and that’s what I’m doing.”