White House Summit on Working Families — What You Need to Know

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

In the first-ever Summit on Working Families, President Obama came forward as an advocate for working parents, vowing to make working conditions in the United States more conducive to raising kids.

“When members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something’s wrong,” the President said in an op-ed released from the White House, which appeared in the Huffington Post.

The summit, held at the White House on Monday, June 23, featured an impressive variety of panelists. Sure, we heard from the inspiring powerhouses like Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi and CEOs like Alex Gorsky (Johnson and Johnson). But there were also 60 employers from companies of all sizes that have been recognized for creating “effective and flexible workplaces.”

Flexibility seems to be the number-one thing President Obama called for on Monday. If parents need to take “a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when [a] kid is sick,” they should be able to. But the President noted that flexibility isn’t always just a matter of a few hours. The obvious example? Maternity leave. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. The less-obvious examples? All different sorts of family leave issues, like taking extended time off to care for a disabled child or aging parent.

To combat these issues, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing federal government agencies to expand access to flexible work schedules. He credited businesses, like JetBlue and Google, who are already providing flexibility for employees. He directed Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to allocate $25 million towards childcare for people who need to attend job training. Mr. Obama also called for Congress to to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10, and to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Let’s pause right here. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aims to eliminate workplace discrimination when a woman’s day-to-day job tasks are limited by pregnancy. Think: the horror stories you’ve heard of pregnant women being fired for taking too many bathroom breaks — that would no longer be permissible. Here’s the thing; according to GovTrack.us –which tracks the progress of bills in Congress — the bill only has a 1 percent chance of actually getting passed.

Will the President’s call to action increase the success of the bill? Critics are worried that the whole Summit is just a lot of talk, albeit nice talk. Either way, something to keep in mind is that the Obamas can actually identify with the struggles of working parents. Michelle Obama related the story of her job interview at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mr. Obama was away and she had no babysitter, so baby Sasha came on the interview too.

“I thought, look, this is who I am. I’ve got a husband who’s away. I’ve got two little babies. They are my priority. If you want me to do the job, you’ve got to pay me to do the job and you’ve got to give me flexibility,” the First Lady said, adding that it was probably the worst time of her motherhood.

The Obamas admit that they were lucky. It worked out, and Michelle became one of the hospital’s vice presidents. But not all employers would be so understanding. That’s something that’s got to change.

What do you think has to happen to make the workplace more fair for families? 

Plus, more from The Bump:

The Truth About Being a Working Mom

The Back to Work Guide for New Moms

A Message From Michelle Obama for The Bump Moms (Really!)