The announcement of the departure of top presidential aide Karen Hughes from the White House in April reignited the age-old question of whether women can have it all. IWF President Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, appearing on FOX’s O’Reilly Factor, remarked, “I don’t think anybody can have it all. But [Hughes’ departure] has brought the country’s attention to the balancing act that working mothers have to play out every day of their lives.” As usual, IWF is actively involved in efforts to improve work/family balance for women to allow them to have as much as possible without sacrificing one for the other.
In an op-ed entitled “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Family-Friendly Work,” IWF Senior Researcher Manon McKinnon proffers some valuable suggestions: “Job sharing, telecommuting, reduced and compressed work week, and flexible time are but a few of the welcomed ideas to enter the labor force — along with vast numbers of women during the past decade. The possibilities are endless and the popularity of such arrangements is skyrocketing.
“According to the Employment Policy Foundation, a substantial number of employees value time as much as money. The Foundation cites a 1995 Penn & Schoen national poll finding that 74 percent of private sector employees favored an option of paid time off in lieu of overtime pay, and that compensatory time was most appealing to women. Robert Half International, a specialist in staffing services, found that a whopping 76 percent of workers were willing to give up rapid career advancement in favor of more flexibility; and the American Management Association discovered that many businesses ranked flexible schedules above stock-options, pay-for-performance, and bonuses as effective strategies for employee retention.”
Unfortunately, writes McKinnon, “our own laws actually deny flexibility to hourly wage workers — a huge percentage of the work force. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1938, established the 40-hour work week along with compensation of covered employees at time-and-a-half for overtime work, strictly computed on a weekly — not pay period — basis. This is the law that prohibits hourly wage earners from choosing compensatory time off in place of overtime pay — a law that unyieldingly decrees that the overtime requirement may not be waived by agreement between the employer and employees.”
In response to the growing concern of women who desire to — or must — continue working while raising a family, IWF has come out strongly in favor of utilizing technology to create opportunities for flexibility for women. IWF issued a special report by President Nancy M. Pfotenhauer and Jennifer C. Braceras, Senior Fellow for Legal Policy, entitled “Meddling with Microsoft: When Competitors Can’t Win in the Market, They Play in the Courts — and Women Lose.” Though many may not see the ongoing antitrust litigation against Microsoft as a women’s issue, in reality it has broad implications for working women.
“Why should this litigation matter to women?” write Pfotenhauer and Braceras. “The reason lies in the defining characteristic of the computer industry: innovation. Technological innovation enables workers — particularly women — to better balance the competing pressures of work and family life. Two decades ago, a working woman who gave birth to a child faced some very stark choices: Either leave work to stay home with the child or return to work full-time, entrusting the care of the child to others. Working from home or telecommuting was virtually unheard of.
“Today, the landscape is dramatically different. The proliferation of fax machines, the internet, compatible operating systems, and high speed modems has made telecommuting a reality for many employees. This has opened up a world of choices for parents with small children. Put simply: Consumers — particularly women with children — are able to work and live better when innovation in this industry thrives.”