The White House Council on Women and Girls hosted the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility today to “begin an urgently needed, national conversation” on a series of workplace flexibility issues that affect most Americans in the labor force today. The forum brought together a host of experts including representatives from companies who are on the cutting edge of implementing flexible workplace policies.
Workplaces from blue collar to white collar need to adapt to a changing (changed) workforce. Two-thirds of families in the U.S. are headed by either two parents who work or a single, working parent. Women now make up almost half of the entire work-force – 46.5% of all workers. Families struggle to maintain a semblance of some quality of life in the face of rigid workplace schedules, limited paid family or medical leave to care for a new baby or an aging parent, and a dearth of policies that support new mothers who breastfeed. It’s not only families who lose out, however, When companies and organizations do not respond to the needs of its workers, they risk overall productivity as well. Kate Corrigan, Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010, a public policy intiative hosted at Georgetown Law, says:
“The reality of today’s economy is that a majority of workers are struggling to succeed in the workplace while also fulfilling serious personal and family responsibilities. But the structure of the workplace has failed to adjust to that reality. And that failure has resulted millions of Americans struggling to balance work and family – as well as untold lost time and productivity in the workplace.”
And though President Obama, in his closing remarks today, was clear that workplace flexibility is not just a women’s issue – this is a critical issue for women in the United States. A very real wage gap exists between women and men in the workforce. In 2008, the median weekly earnings of women who were full-time wage and salary workers equaled 80 percent of men’s earnings. Women make up the majority of single parents in this country and yet still hold positions that offer less flexibility and thus less ability to maintain a work/life balance such as secretary, waitress, retail salesperson and cashier.
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Momsrising.org, a grassroots advocacy organization working to better the lives of mothers around the country goes one step further:
The wage gap is a direct reflection of bias against working mothers. This bias, in part, is because we don’t have family friendly policies to support the needs of working mothers and families like flexible work options, paid family leave, and accessible childcare.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were both on hand to share their own personal stories of being the recipients of workplace flexibility as well as helping to craft more family friendly policies as leaders in their respective workplaces over the years.
In her opening remarks, Michelle Obama noted,
“…as the parents of two beautiful young daughters, it is an issue that is particularly important to me and my husband, as you know…
And for many years before coming to Washington, I was a working mother, doing my best to juggle the demands of my job with the needs of my family, with a husband who has crazy ideas.”
Obama said she was lucky – especially when she found herself needing to bring Sascha, then a baby, to a job interview, adding that she was still breastfeeding as well. Ultimately, Obama said, as a manager herself she “…discovered that the more flexibility that I gave to my staff to be good parents, and I valued that, the happier my staff was likely to be and the greater chance they were to stay and not leave, because they knew they might not find the same kind of flexibility somewhere else.”
The First Lady also made sure to mention the administration’s support for the Healthy Families Act to provide for seven days sick leave annually for employees at certain-sized companies.
For his part, President Obama acknowledged that this is “an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy…”
You can watch web casts of the sessions and get more information here.