Tomorrow, the White House will host a Forum on Workplace Flexibility in which the President and the First Lady will “will discuss the importance of creating workplace practices that allow America’s working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families.” It’s a great sentiment, and I’m sure it will be an event that is long remembered by many.
Ellen Galinsky, who runs the Family and Work Institute, sees the meeting as a culmination of a decades-long fight for flexibility. Dooce will be there. So will outsourcers and gurus from the results-only work environment world. (Actually, the Twitter-o-sphere is kind of split on whether having Heather Armstrong at the White House is really cool or really dumb. My invite was apparently misplaced.)
Regardless of who says what, I’m pretty sure that we’ll wake up Thursday morning to a world in which work-life choices are still tightly constrained. Most dads will hit the snooze button a couple of times, then truck off to their 8-hour-plus workweeks. A growing handful will prepare for a day at home with the kids. And there aren’t now — and won’t be on Thursday — many other options available. There is still no paid federal leave. Sick days aren’t guaranteed by law. And getting fired for putting family first is neither reason for surprise or, it seems, for sympathy.
In short, I don’t expect high-quality, state-run childcare to suddenly emerge. I don’t expect European-style paid parental leave policies to get floated. I don’t even expect Obama to make good on his campaign promises to expand FMLA. All I want is a serious effort to get paid sick leave instituted. That’s all. It would be one small — one tiny — step for flexibility. And it’s not going to happen. Not in this Washington, not in this economy.
You can host all of the flexibility summits you want, but words only get you so far.
(UPDATE: The whole thing will be streamed to the Internet from the White House site. I still haven’t seen a list of speakers. I’m not sure I’m up for watching it, but I’m happy to hear your thoughts.)