Flex Policies Help Families and the Economy, White House Aide Says

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Flexible work policies are an economic imperative for American families as well as companies, said Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

“It’s not a perk. It’s not a corporate giveaway. It’s a hard-core economic, competitive, bottom-line issue that’s important for all workers up and down the wage scale,” Tchen told several hundred HR professionals gathered in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9, 2011, for the Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond conference, sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute.

Tchen, who also serves as chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, recalled her feelings of guilt as a single mother struggling to fulfill her obligations at work and at home. Before taking up her duties at the White House, Tchen was a partner in corporate litigation at the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. But she acknowledged that she had it easier than many. “I had the resources to make sure my kids were well cared for,” she said. “For millions and millions of workers, they don’t have that. They’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

They don’t have the ability to stay home when their children are sick, or to rearrange their work schedule when their elderly parents need assistance, Tchen added. “Especially in this challenging economic time, it’s more important than ever that they have these flexible arrangements.”

'In this challenging economic time, it’s more important
than ever that they have these flexible arrangements.'

--Tina Tchen

Federal Initiatives

Tchen cited the federal government’s efforts, including increasing teleworking by federal employees and conducting a pilot project of a “results-only” work environment at the Office of Personnel Management.

In September 2011, Michelle Obama and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced an initiative to allow more work flexibility for women and men in research careers, including the postponement of research grants up to one year for the birth or adoption of a child. The NSF is the leading source of federal grants for many fields crucial for technology development and job creation, including science, technology, engineering and math. The initiative is aimed at reducing the number of women who drop out of those careers.

In addition, Michelle Obama has highlighted the plight of military families with her “Joining Forces” campaign, encouraging businesses to hire military spouses and returning veterans.

Tchen cited a McKinsey & Co. study that concluded the U.S. economy would be 25 percent smaller without women in the workplace. In addition, studies have shown that when women are allowed to participate fully in the labor force, there are economic and societal benefits, including reduced poverty, improved health care and better child nutrition.

“We have all come a long way from the image of the nuclear family with one parent working and one parent who stays at home,” Tchen said. “We need to adapt to those changes. And if we achieve it, I believe this will be the most dramatic shift in the way we work in the last 100 years. It will touch everyone. … It will benefit us all individually and as a country.”

Dori Meinert is a senior writer for HR Magazine. Click here to read the original article.