This is part of a series of essays about the issues facing working families in the 21st century, leading up to the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23, 2014.
Before coming to work at the White House, I was a practicing lawyer and experienced first-hand what it was like to grapple with raising young children as a single mom. While I had a demanding job that included late nights and lots of travel, I had the good fortune to have the resources to have wonderful childcare in my home that I trusted and who were always available for me and my kids. And I was also able to take full advantage of technological advances, as I could put my kids to bed at night and then go back to writing legal briefs that I could fax back in the middle of the night, and later, I could send in through my computer when that became possible. (Yes, I am old enough to remember when there was no such thing as the internet or a laptop computer).
But I also know that I was one of the lucky ones: Millions of working parents in America do not have these advantages and instead are struggling to hold jobs that make ends meet, while worrying about who is taking care of their kids. Many people have to choose between a job and sick child or parent, and many give up a career they trained long and hard for in order to meet the needs of their families.
It’s time for our workplaces to adapt to that changing workforce – and that is why I am so excited to be a part of the team putting together the White House Summit on Working Families.
On June 23rd of this year, the Department of Labor and Center for American Progress are teaming up with the White House Council on Women and Girls to host the Summit, and throughout the next few months, we will engage with groups and individuals across the country to identify initiatives that benefit America’s working families, American businesses and the American economy, because as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
On March 11, 2009, the President signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, in order to “ensure that each of the agencies in which they’re charged takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies they draft, the programs they create and the legislation they support.” As Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I am proud of all the work we have done on behalf of the women, girls, and families across the country, over these last five years, and I am determined to continue to push these issues forward. As a single, working mother, I know I am not alone when I say that I proud to be represented by a President, who understands the struggles that women and families are facing each and every day.
And I am thrilled to be in Chicago today participating in the Chicago Regional Forum on Working Families – one of many that we’re hosting around the country leading up to June 23rd. Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, and I, along with workers, researchers, and elected officials are talking about the importance of the changing dynamics of work, and how we can all come together to create policies and work environments that suit the needs of working families today.
We know that workplaces that adjust for a 21st century workforce by ensuring equal pay for equal work, helping families meet their work and home obligations, and promoting fairness and good employer practices are key to businesses’ bottom lines, the strength of our economy, and our global competitiveness. I meet workers every day who tell me that if they just had a little more flexibility in their work schedules, felt supported by their workplaces, or that they wouldn’t be reprimanded for leaving early for a soccer game, for a recital, or just for dinner with their family, that they would be much more productive.
We recently held a roundtable with caregivers of wounded warriors, and we heard directly from those who care for our returning veterans that these issues affect them just as much as everyone else. They need flexibility at work in order to bring those that they care for to doctor’s appointments, and support from their bosses and companies to do so. Many businesses already see the competitive advantage of organizing work to ensure that women and workers with families succeed. They know policies that support women and families lead to more productive workers and help business attract and retain their best talent, all while improving their bottom line.
We have heard thoughts from workers and activists, CEOs and elected officials, on key issues like workplace flexibility and paid leave, equal pay, career advancement and opportunities for workers up and down the wage scale. We hope to lift up promising ideas and best practices of leading companies and we look forward to developing solutions for bringing such practices to scale, across industries and for all types of workers. Thanks so much for all your interest in these issues, which I know, and the President knows, are so close to everyone’s lives.
Go to www.workingfamiliessummit.org to sign up for updates on the Summit or sign up to attend a regional lead-up forum. Together we can create an environment in workplaces that benefit workplaces bottom lines, where women and men are more productive, and families have the flexibility and stability they need to thrive. We look forward to seeing you in June!