Work-Life Balance Issues At Risk in the New Economy?

clip_image002_3Work-life issues have taken center stage in the first month of the country’s new administration. President Obama’s campaign platform included a specific “Plan to Support Working Families and Women,” and just a few weeks ago Michelle Obama appointed Jocelyn Frye, general counsel of the National Partnership for Woman and Families, as her Policy Director. Continue reading

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act Has Been Signed Into Law

President Barack Obama this morning signed the first bill of his presidency, a piece of legislation known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act that makes it easier for workers to sue after discovering what they believe to be pay discrimination.  For a bit more detail about the potential ramifications of the new law, see Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Will Become First Pro-Labor Legislation of 2009, Equal Pay Becomes Front Runner as Lilly Ledbetter Act Takes Center Stage, Equal Pay: Fair Pay Restoration Act Voted Down in Senate, More Fodder for the Fair Pay Debate, or A New Day for Employers.

Work-Life Issues Spotlighted by Michelle Obama’s Appointment of New Policy Director

michelle_obama_workPresident Obama’s commitment to work-family issues is a topic I’ve posted about previously.  I’ve also posted about the President’s campaign platform on work-life and work-family issues.  I’ve wondered, however, given the many larger issues on the President’s plate, whether these matters would truly be a focus once he was in office. Michelle Obama has made it clear it is a focus of hers, even while her husband is tending to other matters. She solidified her commitment to the issue by her appointment, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, of fellow attorney and Harvard Law School classmate Jocelyn Frye, general counsel of the National Partnership for Women and Families, as her Policy Director. Continue reading

Women Who Bully Women at Work

Bullying in the workplace has been a hot topic in the labor and employment world since 2007, when The Workplace Bullying Institute published a revealing survey on the topic. Since then, the subject of Jerks at Work has played a regular role in scholarly discussions about how employers can work to improve the working environment.  The attention, at least from legal scholars, has been focused on the overlap between unlawful harassment and the bullying epidemic.  So the theory goes, bullying conduct looks enough like harassing conduct that a jury could reasonably interpret the former as the latter. 

I speak frequently on the topic and, when making a case for the implementation and enforcement of anti-bullying policies, I explain it as a matter of simple business sense.  Happy people don’t sue.  (Most of the time.)  But pissed-off people make great plaintiffs.  Pick on someone long enough and be mean enough and it’s just a matter of time until the person reacts.  The reaction can come in a myriad of forms, all of which are adverse to the employer’s interest.   Workplace violence is one possible response to bullying experienced by workers.  Legal action is another. 

This topic also comes up when I give general employment discrimination training or harassment-prevention training.  When discussing the legal elements of harassment, I tell attendees that the harassing conduct must be because of a protected class.  If a male supervisor terminates a female employee, this is not gender discrimination.  For gender discrimination to exist, the termination decision must have been made because of the employee’s gender.  There is a principle in discrimination law that stands for the idea that, where the alleged discriminator is in the same protected class as the plaintiff-employee, it is less likely that discrimination occurred. 

At this point in the lecture, I laugh to myself because I know what comes next.  I give some examples of this principle at work.  If a worker alleges that he was not hired because of his age, the fact that the hiring manager was older than the candidate weighs against the candidate.  Similarly, if an employee complains that he was unlawfully terminated because of his race (Indian), the fact that the manager who made the decision to terminate also is of Indian origin will weigh in the employer’s favor.  I go on to give another example involving an employee who is not promoted and files a charge of discrimination alleging gender discrimination.  Just as in the other examples, if the manager who made the promotion decision also is a woman, this fact will weigh against the employee’s case.  I then say, “As any woman in this room will attest, this idea is ridiculous.  Women are treated the worst by other women.”  All the women in the room laugh–the truth is funny. 

If she had been in the training session, Peggy Klaus of the N.Y. Times would have laughed, too.  In her recent article, A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting, Klaus discusses the reality that exists among women at work. As she puts it, “we can be our own worst enemies at work.”  She cites the Workplace Bullying Institute’s study, which found that women bullies target other women 70% of the time, whereas male bullies are equal-opportunity abusers. 

Why is it that this dynamic is so true?  Why is it that women are most likely to pick on other women at work?  Although this certainly has been true for as long as women have had a seat at the table, I think that the tides have begun to turn and that women are comfortable enough in their seats so that they have no need to worry about someone kicking them out. 

Would the Economy Be Different If More Women Served on Boards?

Women who serve on a board of directors do so differently than their male counterparts.  According to two Harvard scholars, there are significant differences between boards with and without female officers. Some of the differences include:

  1. Women are less likely to have attendance problems than men.
  2. The more women on the board, the better behaved are the male directors. 
  3. Women are more likely to sit on monitoring-related committees than male directors. In particular, women are more likely to be assigned to audit, nominating, and corporate governance committees.
  4. Men are more likely than women to serve on compensation committees.
  5. Boards with gender diversity are more likely to hold CEOs accountable for poor stock price performance.

If these conclusions are accurate, would our country’s economy be in a better state if only there had been more female directors?  Would women have held corporations more accountable for their conduct?

Department of Labor Offers Financial Education to Gen Y and Gen X

Generation Y is not known for frugality. Savings is not something the Millennial Generation does very well at all, in fact.  Similarly, women are notoriously behind their male counterparts when it comes to saving for retirement.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), has begun an initiative targeted to both issues.   image

Wi$e Up is a financial education demonstration project targeted to Generation X and Y women.  The DOL’s Women’s Bureau heads the project, which pairs participants with mentors, who are recruited by local organizations.  There are several components to the program, including classroom portions, online teleconferences with feature speakers, and other interactive experiences designed to get women in this particular age group up to speed when it comes to understanding the importance of personal fiscal health and how to achieve it.

The Wi$e Up website offers lots of helpful tools and resources, as well as its monthly e-newsletter, which focuses directly on the financial issues facing Gen X and Gen Y women.  Also available on the website is a Financial Planning Handbook for Generation X Women.   The Handbook is 91 pages long and retails for just $15 ($9 is you purchase 10 or more).  The Handbook is described as:

Most women want to be more “money savvy” and feel they need to learn more about how to manage their money wisely. This publication is especially targeted to young women age 22 to 35. It will guide you in learning about the basics of money management, credit, savings, investments and achieving financial security.

Wi$e Up is an excellent resource to help guide women in the Gen X & Y age groups to navigate an important area of knowledge that historically has presented steep challenges to women and, more recently, to Generation Y.

Bringing Babies to Work Is a Bad Idea

Bringing babies to work is a bad idea.  Please, don’t do it.  Think of your colleagues and their hectic workdays at the office, where the phone rings about every 32 minutes, where the new-email alert pops up more than 200 times each time, and where the space just outside of their office door could easily be mistaken for La Guardia airport–everyone’s circling, waiting for a space on the runway to open up so they can land and unload their passengers. 

There is no sanity for your colleagues who have to deal with constant chaos–even if it’s well-managed chaos.  Crying babies, cute babies, either one would be too much. 

Yet, in an article on the NYT blog, Motherlode, Lisa Belkin interviews Carla Moquin, the founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, who claims that the bring-your-baby-to-work concept is a good one.  Thankfully, I am not alone. The bloggers at Ask the Manager agree, well, mostly, in the post, bringing babies to work.

Dear Governor Palin, Will You Support Working Moms? Check Yes or No

With the ever-increasing interest in alternative work schedules, Americans are curious how the candidates in this year’s election feel about work-life issues, particularly our first woman (and mother)  Vice Presidential nominee.  MomsRising.org is an advocacy organization lobbying for the need of a more family-friendly America. They have drafted the following letter they encourage you to sign and submit to Governor Palin. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Governor Palin,6a00d8341bf80c53ef00e54f6d38b18834-800wi

It was dazzling to see a mom on the stage at the Republican convention accepting  the Vice Presidential nomination.  There are too few mothers in the boardrooms and high levels of political office.  As members of MomsRising.org we celebrate your path from PTA to Vice Presidential candidate, but we didn’t hear much in your speech about what you and your party will do for mothers and families. 

Due to the economic downturn, mothers and families are struggling more than before.  A quarter of families with children under age six are living in poverty, and having a baby is a leading cause of a “poverty spell” in our nation–a time when income dips below what’s needed for food and rent.  Women get a huge wage hit when they have children: mothers make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and single moms make only about 60cents.  Countries with family-friendly policies and programs in place–like paid family leave and affordable childcare–have smaller wage gaps for mothers, healthier children, and spend less funds later on the criminal justice system, grade repetitions, healthcare, and much more.

Our nation can’t afford to ignore the issues of mothers and families any longer.  We want to know where you stand on the issues which are critical to mothers like healthcare, fair pay, paid family and medical leave, afterschool programs, childcare/early learning, paid sick days, and flexible work options.
With now three-quarters of American mothers in the labor force, but a societal structure which hasn’t caught up to that modern reality, we, as a nation, are at a crisis point for our families.  Bottom Line: Mothers want to ensure the well-being of their families.  No mother should have to choose between taking care of a sick child and feeding her child. And no mother should have to choose between taking her child to the doctor and paying rent.

Governor Palin, if elected Vice President of the United States, how will you support mothers and families? Mothers across the nation look forward to hearing where you stand on our issues.

To submit this letter, visit MomsRising.org , and simply sign your name electronically to the letter, which will then be submitted by the organization to Palin.

Update on the State of Women-Owned Businesses

The Center for Women’s Business Research recently testified at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. On Sept 9, 2008, Executive Direct Sharon Hadaray presented research on the issues faced by women-owned businesses, collected in the Center’s 9th biennial update. The hearing was held on the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act

The report submitted by the Center revealed a variety of interesting facts. Here’s a brief recap of Center for Women's Business Research[1]some of the highlights.

Statistics Relating to All Business Owned by Women:

· 40% of privately-held firms are owned by women

· 10.1 million firms in the U.S. that are 50% or more     women-owned

· Women-owned firms provided 13 million jobs

· Women-owned business generate nearly $2 trillion in revenues

· Between 1977 and 2002, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 824%.

Statistics Relating to Businesses In Which Women Hold a Majority Interest:

· 7.2 million firms that are majority (51%) owned by a woman,

· These firms provide 7.3 million jobs

· They generate $1.1 trillion in revenues.

Statistics Relating to Businesses Owned by Women of Color:

· 26% of all majority women-owned firms – up from only 20% just a few years ago.

· Women of color are starting businesses at three times the rate of all businesses.

The top industries for women-owned businesses are:

• Health care and social services (16%)

• Administrative support/waste management (15%)

• Professional, scientific and technical services (15%)

• Educational services (13%)

• Transportation and warehousing (9%)

Balancing Kids and Career, from the wOwosphere

Women with young children–bad idea to try to juggle a demanding job?  Or actually a great idea that, in the long-term, benefits the children who are raised to be independent and assertive?  Some famous women are discussing just this issue in the “wOwosphere,” a “party designed as a website” and created, run, and written by sixteen “independent-minded women,” including Candice Bergen, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lesley Stahl.  image

MSN.com has some good excerpts of the continuing discussion.  Here are a few:

Candice Bergen: OK. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I think if you are going to commit to the decision to have a child, you owe that child your best. And I think the old saying “Quality time is better than quantity time” is a self-justifying adage that over-worked women use to assuage their guilt. A guilt I think is valid. . . . I always made a point of showing and telling my daughter that she was the love of my life and I think she benefited from that. Obviously I made huge mistakes. And there were times I wasn’t there when I should have been. But not many. I do not think you can have it all without someone paying the price and that shouldn’t be your child.

Whoopi Goldberg: The truth is it is very hard to balance career and family. If you have money, of course it’s easier.  But it doesn’t compensate for birthdays, graduations and the like. If you don’t have money it is incredibly hard and you are constantly worried that you can’t cover whatever costs you have. The truth also is that each family is different and it may be easy for some, except for the guilt of not fitting the perfect mother pattern.

Judith Martin: I have been answering these very questions for more than 40 years. During that time, there was a great wave of feminism, and middle-class mothers entered the work force in large numbers. (That poor mothers have always worked is usually overlooked.) Wouldn’t you think that conditions might have changed just a little?

Then, as now, the working world was designed for people with no personal responsibilities, which originally meant men whose wives ran the entire domestic side of life for them. So both were short-changed: the mothers, who did unrelieved child-care during the years that they might have been building careers and were considered unemployable when the children had grown; and the fathers, who had little time to develop close relationships with their growing children. If anything, the work place is now worse, with ersatz socializing after hours and constant technological availability expected in many jobs. And then, as now, women who take care of their own children full-time were venerated but offered no help, while women who did it professionally were given little money and less respect.

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