MONEY Careers

7 Ideas That Could Make Life Easier for Working Parents

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Alamy

Experts gathered Monday at The White House Summit on Working Families to discuss ways to reduce the conflicts between the office and home. One working mom thinks these seven ideas would make for a good start.

All that “girls can, too” stuff that was popular when I was growing up seems to have paid off.

Women now comprise 47% of U.S. workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 6 in 10 women are now the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families—echoing the results of Money’s own recent survey.

So great, we did it. Kudos to us. We are a new generation of women on top.

But for those of us who are also moms, working a double shift—at the office for the big cheese and then at home for the little bosses—doesn’t give us time to rest on our laurels. Or rest at all. Life is a constant juggling act, and one in which the balls are always dropping and the audience is booing.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg may make work-life balance sound like a cakewalk, but a $800 million pay package buys flexibility that’s not really available to those of us with less made-up sounding salaries, not to mention workers making the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

For most working moms like me, work and home are in near-constant conflict. While your family gets that you need to work in order to put dinner on the table, your employer may not make it easy for you to make it home in time to put that healthy meat-and-veg casserole in the oven. (Pizza again?) Or pick up your fifth grader from school. Or take care of a sick baby. (Did I mention that my son is home with a fever today? Insert mommy guilt here.) And then there’s child care, which presents special challenges this time of year when school lets out for summer. (Check out some ideas for saving here.)

Only 14% of Americans think our public policies and workplace policies are keeping up with the changes in the workforce, according to a Center for American Progress survey.

On Monday, the White House and the Center for American Progress convened an event—The White House Summit on Working Families—aimed at finding solutions for the challenges working families face. At the plenary session, Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University; Mark Weinberger, CEO of professional services firm EY; Makini Howell, owner of Seattle’s Plum Bistro Restaurant; and Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union; came together to offer their thoughts for what could help. These seven ideas caught my eye:

1. Make the school day more reflective of the work day. “There’s no reason school begins with a six-year-old,” said Goldin. “There isn’t any reason why it can’t start at three or four years old. There is no reason why school ends at 2 or 3 o’clock. And there is no reason—and sorry to all the kids—why it ends in June.”

2. Get parents at the top to set a standard. “When I was offered this job, I asked my kids, ‘Should I do this?'” recounted Weinberger, CEO of EY, which surveys its employees annually on flexibility. “My daughter asked ‘Will you still be able to keep the commitment to us?’ And I said absolutely, I was a father first.” Three months later, he said, he was in China giving his first speech as CEO when he was asked if he would be attending that evening’s dinner. Weinberger responded by saying that he had to leave for his daughter’s driving test. “Not a single person remembers my great speech, but I got hundreds of emails from people telling me what that freed them up to do.”

3. Require paid sick leave. “If I have a worker who dedicates five, 10 years of their life to my success and my small business, my question is why not pay a sick day?” says Howard, who helped pass paid sick leave legislation in Seattle. “When you care enough about your employees to provide a safety net, they don’t abuse what you offer…and if I can’t trust you to tell me when you’re sick, I should have more issues than you having a paid day off.”

4. Make paid maternity leave a must. “If someone who is working has a child or has a disability and has to leave that job, and then has to search for another job, that’s a cost for everyone in the system,” said Goldin, pointing to California’s law, which pays 55% of an employee’s base weekly wages for up to six weeks.

5. Boost wages for caregivers. “Childcare workers are building the brains of the next generation to be globally competitive,” said Henry. To that end, caregiving needs to be better rewarded as a profession, she said. “These need to become jobs people could raise their families on. Home-care and childcare workers could be the autoworkers and steelworkers of the future.”

6. Bump up minimum wage. “The number one issue is how do we drive wages up at the bottom of economy so that wage pressure on jobs in the middle can increase,” said Henry. “It’s not about whether we can make ends meet with one job, it’s about families doing three jobs and becoming ships passing in the night to care for children.” Howell, who was involved in helping bump Seattle’s minimum wage to $15, echoed this sentiment. “We have this race-to-the-bottom mentality in wages,” she said. “But raising the minimum to $15 puts more money into the economy since my workers are another business’s consumers.”

7. Encourage companies to invest in flexibility. “Many industries have become more flexible,” said Goldin. That’s in part due to technologies that allow employees to work remotely, she added, noting that she hopes other industries will follow.

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