This past Monday, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., President Obama met with several big swinging CEOs in a roundtable discussion to talk about ways to make the American workplace better for working families. The discussion was part of the first annual White House Summit on Working Families, and among the roundtable participants in attendance were Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti, Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky, PwC’s Bob Moritz, and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein. Obama, prior to speaking with these executives in a closed-door meeting, addressed a celebrity-filled audience, including Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks (who also spoke at the event, at least in part about playing a single, working mother on TV). Among other things, Obama talked about maternity leave, childcare, and fair wages—that is, about the egregious lack of these offerings at most American companies.
Speaking to a rapturous crowd at the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families Monday afternoon, Obama noted that “too often these issues are thought of as women’s issues, which I guess means you can kind of scoot them aside a little bit. “But, he said, “anything that makes life harder for women, makes life harder for families, and makes life harder for children.” Obama added, “This is about you too, men.” He conceded that there is a double standard for men’s participation in parenting, where men get cheered for attending parent-teacher conferences while women’s professional commitment gets questioned for doing the same.
Of course, the summit had much more in mind than American families—midterm elections are just around the corner, Obama’s approval rating on economic not to mention foreign policy issues are anything but encouraging, and the economy itself is still struggling to gain traction, which means Obama needs to connect with voters and connect strongly—but the message he sent to American companies was necessary and long overdue. For example, it’s indeed outrageous, as Obama pointed out, that the “United States is the only developed country without mandated paid maternity leave.”
As for the roundtable participants (the CEOs), according to the White House, Obama was to discuss with them how “to implement policies that benefit working families [and] identify ways that employers can measure their own progress and help ensure they have effective practices in place to respond to their workers' work-life needs.” In other words, Obama was planning to nudge these executives to get with the program and start offering more humane policies for working members of families.
In addition to the summit itself, Obama published on op-ed entitled “Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills—They're Basic Needs” in the Huffington Post on Monday morning. Here’s one of the many passages worth repeating:
And talented, hard-working people should be able to say yes to a great new opportunity without worrying that their families will pay the price. Nearly half of all working parents surveyed say they've chosen to turn down a job not because they didn't want it, but because it would be too hard on their families. When that many members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something's wrong.
Later in the piece, Obama singled out a few companies for its exemplary policies. He mentioned Jet Blue’s “flexible work-from-home plan” and Cisco’s “telecommuting policies” that save the firm “over $275 million every year.” Perhaps most noteworthy, Obama mentioned that “Google increased its paid parental leave to five months—and the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half.” Which, despite all the buzz over Google’s unorthodox perks like on-site food trucks, bowling alleys, dance classes, and fisheries, sounds like the most important perk offered by the revered employer. (Though, it should be pointed out that Obama, in his op-ed, and during his address, more or less implied that a lengthy, paid family leave shouldn’t be a “perk” but standard practice.)
In any case, near the close of his op-ed, Obama got personal (always a good way to hammer home your point and connect with readers, listeners, voters, etc.).
I take this personally—as the son and grandson of some strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me; as the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our young ladies when my job often kept me away; and as the father of two beautiful girls, whom I want to be there for as much as I possibly can—and whom I hope will be able to have families and careers of their own one day.
To that end, although the country has a long way to go to creating an equal playing field for females in the workplace (maybe by the time Malia and Sasha graduate college, women will finally be paid on par with men) it’s perhaps a good sign of progress that, for the first time in the history of the country, the current odds-on favorite to be its next commander-in-chief is a woman.
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Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Are Not Frills—They're Basic Needs (HuffPo)
'Mad Men's' Christina Hendricks: Only place for Joan's story is TV (LATimes)
Remarks by President Obama at the White House Summit on Working Families (whitehouse.gov)
8 Years Later, Will America Really Be Ready for Hillary? (NYMag)
History of the Male-Female Salary Gap: A 95-Year-Old Problem (Vault)