At the White House Summit on Working Families this past June, the first ever national summit of its kind, a number of influential women, and some pretty important men, too, got together to talk about how working families can succeed today.
Setting the tone for the Summit, President Barack Obama penned a blog for the Huffington Post in which he wrote, "Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses—they should be the bottom line."
MAKERS, an initiative by AOL to be the largest collection of inspiring women’s stories, interviewed a number of key attendees of the Summit, and we’ve culled together some of the most insightful things these leaders had to say about a few of the issues women, families, and especially moms face in the workplace.
White House Summit: MAKERS Discuss Child Care
Let’s start off with a few facts: Women make up nearly half of the American workforce, and working married women bring home nearly half of their family’s income. What’s more, in almost three out of five married families with children, both parents work.
The overwhelming consensus of the Summit attendees is that it should be easier today for men and women to have children and a job. But when there is little funding for things like childcare, it’s hard for that dream to become a reality.
"The fact that our country has no public support for childcare, the fact that businesses and private companies don’t do anything to help women and men have flexibility in their careers is a big problem," says Lynn Povich, the first female senior editor at Newsweek.
Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. just doesn’t stack up when it comes to policies that would benefit working parents. America is the only country without any kind of mandatory, paid leave for new mothers. And according to data pulled by Princeton University’s Future of Children group, the U.S. provides a lower level of childcare support compared to many of its peer nations.
For example, only 5% of American children three years old or younger are in publicly supported childcare programs, whereas almost half of the children in the same age group in Denmark have publicly supported care. Continuing the comparison, while the Denmark government covers up to 80% of the childcare costs for this age group, the U.S. government covers up to 30%.
"We're living in a very complicated world today where economic issues are now women's issues," says Congresswoman Doris Matsui.
According to University of California psychologist Christina Maslach, burnout often reveals itself in one of three ways:
- Exhaustion: feeling over-extended by your work
- Depersonalization: feeling alienated from your work
- Personal accomplishment: feeling like you can never get enough done
Trying to do it all is just about the easiest way to burn out, which is especially easy to do when you're a working parent.
As Madeline Albright put it: "Women can do everything, they just can't do it all at the same time."
Christiane Amanpour can certainly vouch for that: she’s both a mother and a foreign correspondent/news anchor.
Either you're not going to be good enough at your profession or you're not going to be a good enough parent. And something's going to suffer.
Val Demings, the first female chief of police for the Orlando Police Department, offers a solution to burnout. She says she simply asks for help.
"We're so used to taking care of everybody else and everything else that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves," she says. "But there are so many people out there—family and friends—who want to help us."
Albright says she has felt the judgmental sting from other mothers who questioned her commitment to her children.
"'Don’t you miss waiting for your children in the carpool line?'" they would ask her.
This sounds oddly familiar. Matt Lauer, I'm looking at you.
And when pregnancy is concerned, the lack of supportive policies for expecting mothers isn't the only issue.
"I still think that there are employers who are concerned about hiring a woman because she’s going to have a baby," says Barbara Walters.
When Senior Vice President of YouTube Susan Wojcicki was four months pregnant in the late '90s, she questioned if she wanted to join a little startup called Google. At the time, it was just 10 guys she says, and the idea of joining a startup while pregnant had her seeking her friends' advice.
Their response: "You are really crazy. Why would you do that?"
Rather than shy away from the opportunity, however, Wojcicki decided to take the job, and even put her due date on the company calendar.
"I also realized that it was important for me as the first person at Google having a baby to set a tone that was going to be good for all the women that came after me."