Here’s where I come down on the issue: there are two ways to make flexibility a reality. The first is that you change the laws to make damn sure that workers have some baseline protections when flexibility is a necessity. This is where paid leave is important. This is where paid sick days are important. And — unless I missed something — there were no solid proposals offered today for doing that.
That’s an opportunity lost.
The second is that men have to be involved. And when I say, “involved,” it needs to be acknowledged that men need flexibility for themselves, not flexibility for their wives, not flexibility in a business-decision sense. When President Obama said, ” Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses,” he only gets halfway there. Unless and until men get personally invested in the fight for workplace flexibility, “flexibility” will continue to be a niche issue that’s easy to pass off as a narrow “mommy” concern. We need Daddy Wars in order to take this issue to the next level.
But all of the official stuff around today’s meeting implied that what we’re dealing with is still a mommy concern. The very first paragraph of the official report from the Council of Economic Advisers on this issue notes that women are now half of the labor force “… yet, children still need to be taken to the doctor.” Immediately, the issue is framed as one that arises from the decisions of women.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t talk of solutions. There was a ton of talk of solutions. (The Fork did a great job of outlining the ideas put forth.) But I didn’t hear much that was novel. Again, the solutions aren’t rocket science. It’s the implementation that’s tricky. And not just implementation at the top, but the work required to make flexibility a value that every boss on down the organizational chart subscribes to. Those problem bosses exist all over the place. And they weren’t watching today’s webcast.
I’m hoping that today was the first small step in continuing to build this dialogue. But time is going to tell, and it’s not clear to me how this momentum gets sustained.
There was one bright spot. The highest-ranking at-home dad in the nation, First Gentleman of Michigan Dan Granholm Mulhern, spoke at once of the breakout sessions and made clear that the language and focus of the discussion has to be broadened to men (and what’s best for the kids). This is not about gender, he said. And he’s right. Absolutely right.
Of course, I can even be cynical about that. Google News tells me that there were well in excess of 100 stories written about the event. Not a single one cited Mulhern. The struggle continues …