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White House Summit on Working Families

by Kuae Mattox

Last week The White House hosted its first ever Summit on Working Families along with The Center for American Progress, an independent, educational, public policy research and advocacy organization. President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Dr. Jill Biden, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, members of Congress, activist Gloria Steinem and a host of senior officials, small and big business owners were on hand to talk about the importance of pushing for stronger public policies that help create flexible family friendly workplaces to support working families.  There was excitement and energy in the air as speakers shared their own personal stories, including challenges to working and caring for family. President Obama talked about his early days when he and Mrs. Obama struggled with balancing work and childcare.

Mrs. Obama told a story about taking her daughter Sasha to a job interview at the University of Chicago to highlight the need to balance career with childcare. Vice President Biden was candid about his reasons for missing some procedural votes when he was in Congress so he could be back home in Delaware for a PTA meeting, event or activity with his children. He said it is vital that businesses today recognize the need for family friendly policies because they reduce turnover, increase performance and improve productivity.

The important issues discussed during the Summit on Working Families have broad implications for women like us, whether you are working outside of the home or not. They not only speak to us as mothers, but to our husbands, fathers, other relatives and friends. They involve equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, including paid sick days and maternity leave, raising the minimum wage, offering flex time, telecommuting opportunities and changing the culture of a workplace that has for so long looked down upon the desire on the part of working Americans to make a decent living, care for and tend to the needs of our families without guilt or retribution. Almost unbelievably, the U.S. is the only developed nation that has no paid family leave. At the Summit on Working Families, President Obama and others pledged to see to it that this "moment" of discussion became a growing national movement.

In a breakout session on compensation which I attended, the talk was about helping women and mothers like us know our value and ask for it in the workplace. A recent Glamour Magazine survey found that only 18 percent of women actually negotiate their salaries. The rest appear to accept what they are offered. Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard, made some important points:

-Women can't negotiate unless they do the research and know their worth in the marketplace.
-Once you understand the facts, go and make the ask
-Even when women do negotiate, studies show that employees are left with an uncomfortable feeling when a woman asks. That's why it's important to figure out the best way to ask. But "we need to get to the place where women don't need a different script," she said.
-Data shows that men and women underpay women equally in our culture. "We have done an excellent job breaking barriers for entry, but we struggle with promotion," she said.
-Studies indicate that when a woman with a child works in the workplace, she is viewed as more absent and less a gaged, even if her behavior is no different.

In a breakout session on talent and retention, Sunil Kamar of the University of Chicago School of Business shared information from a recent study that indicated women with MBAs at graduation had near comparable salaries to men with MBAs, but that 15 years later the gap had widened. He said the three main factors contributing to the gap were:

-The student's performance at work before they got their MBA and their performance in the classroom
-Breaks in women's careers...they had a substantial and nonlinear impact on a woman's future compensation
-Reduction in work hours...they had a huge impact in creating the income gap.

According to Kamar, gender by itself is a small factor in wage gaps between men and women, but the breaks in career and reduction in work hours had the biggest impact.

We plan to keep you posted on this growing movement to implement policies to make the lives of working families better, and to allow women like us to make strong and smart decisions for our families.

For more information about the summit, visit

To share what your working family looks like, and how you'd be helped by 21st century workplace policies, visit to share your story online.

For the White House Summit on Working Families Fact Sheet, click here.  

For the White House Recap, click here.

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