The Obama Administration summoned thousands of women to a Washington, D.C., convention center yesterday to celebrate women and how much work they’ve done to advance our causes. Somehow IWF’s invitation must have been lost in the mail.
The" United States of Women" was a rah-rah session for women’s issues as seen by the Obama administration (domestically and internationally). The event featured hundreds of speakers and thousands of participants to share about how women are moving forward in work and life, but are also facing gender discrimination.
It addressed topics like equal pay, minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid family leave, and labor force participation. The event featured speeches by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. That’s right, very bi-partisan.
Sadly, for the participants who attended, we can only assume that they left feeling as if they are even more victims of a discriminatory society than when they arrived. The discussion was probably a slap to those women coming from truly oppressive regimes that impede girls from going to school and women from speaking publically.
Participants also got to hear from the most prominent feminist today as he described how he has been advancing the cause for women. (Yes, it’s a he):
“I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like,” Obama said, prompting cheers from the crowd of roughly 5,000.
The president proceeded to pay tribute to the contributions of women throughout history and gains made under his administration to advance women’s issues at the federal level.
But progress “is not inevitable”, Obama said, before laying out an agenda – which thus far enjoys support mostly among Democrats – targeted supposedly to improving the lives of women.
“This is not about big government, or expanding some fictional welfare-and-food-stamp state, the 47% mooching off the government,” Obama said, the latter a reference to the controversial remarks that helped sink Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations in 2012. “It is accounting for the realities of how people live now, today – the necessities of a 21st-century economy.”
Obama renewed his call for policies to address what he considers unequal pay for women rooted in gender discrimination, mandatory paid family and sick leave, affordable child care through more government intervention, and raising the minimum wage. He also bemoaned the absence of legally-mandated paid maternity and paternity leave.
What president Obama sees as his accomplishments, are popular among Democrats but don't actually help women and may inadvertently make women more expensive to hire, cut their hours, and in general substitute a one-size-fits-all and legally mandated system for things women do better negotiation themselves. Administration-generated regulations make it more difficult for entrepreneurial women to start their own businesses.
Women want the choice to climb the professional ladder or the flexibility to have a role that allows more time to her to care for her family. Both are eroded by one-size-fits-all policies that treat the needs of women as monolithic. We want different things at different times in our lives and careers, but such policies heralded by President Obama remove our ability to negotiate with our employers for what we want or don’t want.
IWF’s Working for Women agenda explains well the policies solutions that truly empower women:
- Reform the tax code to reduce tax burdens on families and businesses
- Fix tax brackets to address the marriage penalty
- Forego additional increases to the minimum wage and instead expand the current “sub-minimum wage.”
- Reform Licensing laws that prevent people from entering professions and starting businesses
- Create “Personal Care Accounts” to encourage saving pre-tax dollars for leave time
- Offer Tax Credits for Small Businesses that provide leave
- Eliminate current ambiguities in the Equal Pay Act to better protect workers and help employers treat their workers fairly.
These are just a few of the recommendations that could go farther for empowering women to earn more and be the bosses they desire to be. They were probably missing from yesterday's discussions.
The cornerstone of the White House event was the Equal Pay Pledge announced by the White House. Based on the faulty statistic that women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, this pledge asks private companies to review gender pay data annually and change their practices if there seem to be discrepancies.
We can only hope that next year’s summit – if there is one – will feature a broader perspective than what was on display. Women want more than big government solutions.