BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Grandpa’s Office Needs a Makeover

Posted by ehutch on August 5, 2009

WorkingMomLast week,  I attended a Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Capitol Hill about work/family  issues and how families are faring in the recession. As a young woman, when it comes to work and family I want to have my cake and eat it, too… and judging from this hearing, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and other members of the committee agree.

The panelists testifying spoke out about a variety of issues, but they all made one point crystal clear: This recession is hard on everyone. And as we all cope with the it, we now have the opportunity to progress and  create workplace standards that benefit working families and the bottom line itself.

Things to consider:

  • On average, Americans work  a month longer each year than in 1982.
  • 71% of women are in the workforce, and women bring in 44% of family income of couples that are working.
  • In 1970, 38% of women with school-age children were in the labor market. By the year 2000, more than 67% of them were on the job.
  • It is no longer the norm for a family’s wage to be paid to a single breadwinner.

More women in the workplace statistics.

What does this mean? Our current workplace policies shouldn’t reflect a demographic that has so dramatically shifted over the past fifty years. Now is the time for the next generation of standards!

Karen Nussbaum, founder and director of 9to5: The National Association of Working Women, spoke about the deteriorating work-family balance of the 21st century. She emphasized that “cafeteria benefits” such as child care or flextime for workers are reserved for well-off urban professionals, but it is imperative that they become basic benefits. Often, businesses view policies like flextime, telecommuting, and paid family leave as a pure compromise.. but according to research done by Ellen Galinsky, these policies increase productivity and satisfaction, improving the business as a whole.

Here are the key work/family standards that will move us forward:

  1. Paid sick days– they help reduce the spread of illness in workplaces, schools and and childcare facilities, yet 79% of low-income workers (the majority of whom are women) don’t have a single one. Support the Healthy Families Act!
  2. Paid family leave- the Family and Medical Leave Act has been a great success (since 1993, workers have used it over 100 million times), but half of the private-sector workforce is excluded from it.
  3. Control over flexible work hours– to help solve the conflict between lengthening work hours and family obligations.
  4. Paycheck fairnessH.R. 12 would close the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

I want more info on work-life balance policy.

Next, Cynthia Thomas Calvert of the Center for WorkLife Law spoke out about the increase in Family Responsibility Discrimination cases she’s heard on her hotline since the start of the recession.

Family Responsibility Discrimination (aka caregiver discrimination) is employment discrimination based on family care giving responsibilities. Examples include: refusing to hire pregnant women, not promoting mothers of young children, punishing male employees for taking time off to care for children, or giving unwarranted negative evaluations to employees who take leave to care for aging  parents.

She also campaigns for flexible work time and better communication, and insists that there’s an employer presumption that maintaining absolute control over an employee works to their benefit- but that’s not necessarily true. A high rate of caregiver bias means high costs for employers- in legal fees, but also in worker attrition, lower productivity, and unscheduled absenteeism.  

In past years of recession,  there have always been a few good things that end up blossoming in a bed of thorns:  Microsoft, MTV, and Disney were all formed in times of economic peril; hopefully influential reforms on work-life policies will be another positive aspect to add to the list.

Learn what is being done to transform today’s workplaces.


2 Responses to “Grandpa’s Office Needs a Makeover”

  1. <title="Work-Life Balance and Elected & Appointed Officials"

    I work at a national association that represents the needs of cities on Capitol Hill and conducts research on issues and best practices in municipal governments

    An interesting topic I hear bubbling up from both elected officials and city staff is the issue of their own work-life balance needs. From the perspective of local leaders, it is not simply that they are trying to carve out a balance between work and life but that their constituents have an expectation of 24/7 access.

    Local elected officials and municipal staff members have an odd mix of local celebrity and citizen expectation to add to their plate. They have to juggle this along with the normal work-life struggle.

    Especially in smaller communities where local elected officials are often volunteers, they must balance a busy volunteer role with a work role and family. When they visit the local grocery store on Saturday, for example, they may find a constituent walking up to them to discuss unfilled potholes. This same expectation is also felt by city managers or other staff who are often well-known in smaller communities.

    As we strive to find new ways to move this conversation forward, perhaps finding a way to acknowledge elected or appointed officials' own concerns about dealing with work-life balance may help work-life advocates. It might be interesting to enhance efforts for solutions developed at the local level and to find ways to encourage more cities to develop programs that encourage more flexible worksplaces–such as Houston's Flex in the City program.

    From conversations my organization has had, we see that the federal government does appear to be looking closely at local programs as examples of replicable initiatives. It might be another way to come at this never-ending dilemma.

    Just some fast facts: As of January 2009 only 11 of the mayors of America's largest cities were women and only 36 of the 246 cities over 100,000 population had female mayors.

    Since there is a great push to increase the number of local electeds who are women, one wonders what extra challenges they face in the work-life arena?

  2. Male feminist said

    I’d like to just make a shoutout to Claire Shipman and Katty Kay’s book “Womenomics”.

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