Helping women succeed in the workplace, and balance family and professional demands, sometimes requires a change in attitude and a little flexibility.  People using a bit of commonsense can often find win-win solutions to the challenges that women face:  Bosses who greenlight more flexible arrangements—whether that’s allowing an employee to work from home when their child is sick, facilitating job sharing or telecommuting, or some other non-traditional work arrangement—will often find that they are rewarded with greater employee’ loyalty and efficiency.  Those who stubbornly refuse to work with employees to meet their needs will have trouble retaining valued workers.

Democrats, the official party of the traditional feminists, often talk about the need for a societal change to make corporations and other institutions more sensitive to women’s needs.  Yet when it comes to actually walking-the-walk of providing women a little bit of flexibility, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s response to a pregnant Member’s request to vote by proxy suggests that she just doesn’t get it and needs a change in attitude of her own. 

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (a Democrat representing Illinois’s 8th congressional district, who is also a war veteran who lost both her legs while serving) wanted to be able to vote in her party’s leadership elections next week by proxy because she was ordered by her doctor not to travel this late in her pregnancy (she is due with her first child next month).  Rep. Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership refused her request. 

News reports suggest that part of the decision is raw politics—Duckworth is expected to vote in a way not favored by Rep. Pelosi for a key committee slot.  Therefore, Pelosi may have nixed the request just to get the outcome she wanted in her party’s election.  Other factors certainly play into the decision:  Democrats likely feel they have little to lose from shutting down Duckworth’s request since the election is over.  Vocal feminist groups are Democrats steadfast allies, so are unlikely to kick up a real fuss.  And the mainstream media dutifully parrots the idea that Democrats are the party of working women so will likely just ignore this inconvenient little news story.

Yet this decision also provides a little window into how the Left views the issues surrounding women in the workplace.  One Democrat aide explained that they decided not to lift the ban on proxy votes for “slippery slope” reasons.  In other words, Democratic leaders claim that if they grant a proxy in this circumstance, it will be harder not to grant one the next time. 

Should the American people, and particularly Rep. Duckworth, accept this excuse? 

I say no.  Surely, the Democrat leadership is capable of considering requests on their merits.  After all, such decision making and use of discretion is one of the principles of leadership.  Every employer has to make such judgments:  Should I grant this leave request or authorize this expense?  To make such determinations, they consider the merits of the case and the record of the employee. 

A thinking person ought to be able to recognize that this is a circumstance—a Member approaching the end of pregnancy, who is having a baby relatively late in life and likely faces significant health risks—that merits accommodation.  Another situation, even health related, might not, if that Member still has the ability to travel or to change the date of a procedure.

Shouldn’t our political leaders be able to assess such situations and make such rational judgments? 

Apparently the answer is no, which may be why they are also champions of one-size-fits-all mandates that would eliminate all discretion for other employees and employers. The FAMILY Act, for example, would displace the current employment arrangement of all working Americans and create a federal leave entitlement so that all workers are eligible for 12 weeks of taxpayer-funded paid leave.

Such a generous paid leave policy may sound nice, until one considers both the actual costs and how this will work in practice for working women and employers. Employers faced with an employee who needs leave can no longer say, “Yes, you can work at home for the next three months while you take care of a personal situation, but I really need you to come in Wednesday afternoon to meet with the client.”  Women would be discouraged from considering alternative, part-time or non-traditional work-arrangements that might be more sustainable.  And of course, employers faced with rigid leave policies will also change how they view their employees.  Employers would have more reason to proceed cautiously in hiring, particularly in hiring women and mothers who could be expected to make greater use of the federal leave benefits.  This is hardly a policy that is likely to encourage companies to consider women for more significant, leadership positions.

Real flexibility doesn’t come from a federal mandate.  Real flexibility involves back-and-forth and the exercise of discretion and consideration on the part of both parties.  Rep. Pelosi may be acting hypocritical given all her “War on Women” rhetoric, but her decision with Rep. Duckworth epitomizes the inflexibility of the government policies she supports.


Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women's Forum.