OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: Screw Work/Life Balance, We Need Work/Life POLICY!

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer '10 panel: Change Agents: ROYO - Screw Work/Life Balance, We Need Work/Life POLICY! Click here for more info.

This panel took place on Saturday, August 7 at 1:30 pm and ends at 2:45 pm Eastern time.

When Michelle Obama visited the Department of Labor early this year, she extolled the balance of family-friendly workplaces. But when will things really change? There is a small but powerful group of women and men online, such as Stephanie Wilchfort and Morra Aarons-Mele, who are broadening their reach and blogging about how to change the way all Americans, men and women, work. We’re talking about shifting the conversation from one about work/life balance, since those inevitably reflect a struggle to adapt current family realities to the old world where one parent worked, one stayed at home. Change is hard – but bloggers have a platform from which to advocate, persuade and activate. Discuss how to harness our power as bloggers to change one of the most fundamental parts of our lives.

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TWITTER: #goodwork

We want results from this session. Our goal is to leave the session with two, actionable things that we, as bloggers, can do to improve work-life policy.

Morra's been blogging for six years. Came into the work-life stuff as a woman in the tech field. Then she had kids and work really changed.

Stephanie's been blogging for a year-and-a-half. She anticipates being in the corporate environment for the rest of her career. Since she had her son for years ago, and finds that wanting to achieve high career goals, and finds that as a mother, she has faced incredible challenges and barriers. She blogs about women, work, and the politics of motherhood.

Morra:
As a mother with my own company, I feel that I should have all the flexibility in the world. Except instead, I find myself incredibly overworked -- always responding to people at all hours. So we're going to talk about boundaries, too.

Anita from Moms Rising (momsrising.org): We advocate for policies that we know would support family economic security and well being. Paid sick days, paid family leave, open/flexible work policies. There's a lot happening at the federal and state level, and we try to get the word out about what's going on. We need to let our legislators know that we support these activities.

Personal story from a Moms Rising member: She wrote to us to say that because she wasn't able to afford sick time from her job, her child sustained permanent hearing loss. It was preventable, but she would have lost her job to have him cared for.

Paid family leave is another issue near and dear to our hearts. Paid leave is related to being able to breastfeed. It's also related to mortgage issues. It's absolutely critical.

Stephanie: Two things that are also critical for us to pay attention to.
1) Technology infrastructure. We can't work from home if our technology isn't available or working.
2) Transportation policy. Commuting is an enormous drain on our resources.
We need to think about these issues when we're thinking about our work-life and family policy arena.

Cali Yost doing audience poll about work-life flexibility. She has worked with companies on work-life balance/flexibility for 15 years. Went from male bosses giving moms some flexibility sometimes. Then it started to become policy, and then it started to piss off the men. Then it became evident that work-life flexibility impacts everyone, because everyone has a life. Having a policy on your company website is useless. It doesn't deal with the realities.

Morra: Obama said, "Never again will the Federal Government shut down because it snows."

Cali: As you think about what you can do, educate yourself about the benefits to the business. Flexible workers impact the business's ability to function. It's NOT about women who need a special thing. To advance the conversation, we need to talk about how to make it about everyone, and about business needs.

Morra: We need to stop framing this in terms of parenting.

AUDIENCE

Audience Question: Class issues related to this discussion: service workers can't work flexibly or from home. How do we make this something that is shared, not just for white, middle-class women?

Stephanie: Flex schedules are not going to work for every job. There are a host of OTHER policy issues that help workers of all types live better, healthier lives. We need to be a little bit careful when we talk about flex. Yes, people need to be minding the store some time. But there are supplemental policy issues that are helping women. Giving low-income women access to education is a hugely important policy issue.

Audience: We can be creative about how to solve the hourly worker problems and challenges.

Audience: My work policy is such that I can't use my sick days to stay home to care for my child when he's sick.

Stephanie: That is a perfect example of how a company could make a very small change to greatly improve all employees' lives.

Audience: I refuse to use the word "lucky" for those of us who are "allowed" to take time off for being with our kids or care for loved ones.

Cali: When companies involve employees in the discussion for what the work-life policies will be, great creative solutions can be found. We need to change company biases, like the idea that work-life balance is a woman's issue.

Morra: We need to shift the perception that telecommuters are lazy, undressed, off the grid.

Audience Question: What about the stigma of actually USING policy?

Audience: I was the first woman in the MBA program to take maternity leave. Ten years later, a woman in my group told me she didn't NEED to take maternity leave. If a woman has taken her leave before you, if there is policy in place, we owe it to ourselves (and to those who blazed these trails) to use the time. To use the policies.

Anita: The reality is that it DOES effect parents more.

Stephanie: The issues effect everybody. Women are discriminated against more.

Audience: In my field of space science, 90% of the women are married to other scientists. In our field, it IS actually family issues (not just women). We have found so many men who have lobbied for our lactation room with me. Once we got the men involved, the change happened.

Audience: I own a small business. Mostly engineers, mostly guys. I lived 12 years in Italy, so I got this beautiful 5 months of fully paid maternity leave. I moved here as a business owner, and had my 4th baby. I had no idea until then that I was in such an anti-family-friendly country! It seems like such a basic human right. Not family, not woman, just human. I was totally scandalized by current policy. Later, one of my female staff members gets pregnant. We agreed to give her five months of maternity leave; the staff took on little bits of her work. It was fantastic and bonded the team. Later, when one of the men became a soon-to-be father, we offered him five months. He took two. But we got sued by one of our employees. And I am out here on my own as a business owner.

Stephanie: Great example of how this can work in a small business environment. (Referencing "dumping" kids in daycare) -- we need to be careful about the language we use. Everyone has different "work-life" fits.

Audience: Are there studies out there about how flexibility and productivity go together?
Yes. Please blog them! [please see comments for links]

Audience: It's worth it to explore how to involve more people (not just women, not just moms) in the conversation. "If we give YOU the flexibility, then everyone will want it."

Audience: What ARE the steps to convincing the world/companies/men believe that being at home isn't "sitting at home eating bonbons?"

Audience: Men. My theory is that men want the same things we want, but they haven't been raised in a culture where they can say that. As bloggers, we can frame the conversation around economics.

Morra: I raised my rates. I'm expensive. We have a responsibility when we work from home to make sure we do so professionally.

Stephanie: We have to think about flexibility as a two-way street. I'm happy to have workers be wherever they are best at working, but they need to be responsive.

Audience: But what about those women who never switch off?

Audience: We need balance. Flex work is a good solution. As a business owner, it's really hard: we're a small company and we're all women. We don't have men there to help us with our decisions. As an employer, it's hard. I'm in Canada, where maternity leave is a year. And I have an employee who is coming back after a year and wants part-time, flex schedule. So after working a year without her, I now have to hire an additional person to manage what she used to do.

Audience: How do we get it to change? Some of it has to do with this next generation taking charge.

Audience: Two things that come to mind. We all have to step up and examine our own expectations and what we can contribute. Second is storytelling. In my 20s and early 30s, I helped my aunt who was dying of lung cancer and was able to get educated because of a flexible schedule. Access to education is critical.

ACTIONS

The movement needs to to a better job of reaching people of color. Needs to be reshaped as a balance (not flexibility) issue.

You need to ask for what you need. If you have to leave at 4:30 or 5, you have to ask. You need to be willing to be a pioneer. Take your leave. Use your policies.

As bloggers, we just need to talk about this more. Not just policy, but the "softer" stuff, too.

We need to talk about our worth. We are worth keeping.

Meet with your legislators and blog about it. They are watching! And when other people see you doing it, they might do it, too.

We need to develop a simple list of 25 or 50 things "you can do" to develop work-life policy. Make the list, put it on our blogs, pass it around.

Use Facebook. Model behavior and chat about it.

How do you make change at the senior levels? Change language from work-life balance to "work-life fit."

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