Family-Friendly Can Mean Politically Savvy Just in time for the Democratic National Convention, Working Mother Magazine and Corporate Voices for Working Families take a look at lawmakers who support family friendly employment practices — both in legislation and in their personal workplace. This week's Mocha Moms discuss the personal and political significance of family-friendly practices.
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Family-Friendly Can Mean Politically Savvy

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Family-Friendly Can Mean Politically Savvy

Family-Friendly Can Mean Politically Savvy

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is in Denver this week covering the Democratic National Convention. A little later in the program, a special beauty shop round table of women leaders in the Democratic Party about healing the rift between Hillary Clinton supporters and Barack Obama.

But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

And as we continue our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, we thought we'd get the moms to weigh in on what really makes a political leader family-friendly. Supporting policies like the family and medical leave act can help make working parents' lives more manageable, but which political leaders are willing to set policies to help working moms and dads on their staff?

Working Mother Magazine has the answer, its search for the members of Congress who support family-friendly work places in their legislation and in their own offices. Carol Evans is the founder of Working Mother Media, and she talked to host Michel Martin during this special Mocha Moms segment.

MICHEL MARTIN: Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. CAROL EVANS (Founder, Working Mother Media): Hi, Michel.

Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Mocha Mom): Hi, Michel.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Mom): Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Carol, let's start with you. How did you come up with the idea of this best of Congress list of family-friendly lawmakers, and how did members earn a spot on the list?

Ms. EVANS: Well, you know, we run our 100 Best Companies every year for working mothers in the October time frame, and we wanted to put the spotlight on what Congress is doing to support working moms and working dads just the same way that in October, we put the spotlight on what companies are doing. But what we were so excited about here was that Congress people have a lot at stake, both in how they vote and in how they treat their own employees, but most people just look at voting record.

So we were talking with Donna Klein, who is the founder of Corporate Voices for Working Families, which is a non-profit organization aimed at helping working families, of course. And we decided that, if we examined really the voting record and how representatives and senators treat their own staff, we might really be able to come up with a list that would highlight what should and could be done in this country to support working moms and dads.

MARTIN: So it had to be both voting record and the policies that people implement in their own offices. I mean, you were making the point when we were talking earlier that, in essence, every member of Congress' office is like a small business.

Ms. EVANS: It is. They have their own employee status, anywhere from, you know, as little as five people to over 75 people, and some of those staffs are subject to the family medical lead-back if they have more then 50 staff members. But otherwise, they might not even be subject to that. So they're making policies about flex time and about maternity leave and paternity leave just like any business owner is and any major corporation.

MARTIN: One thing I have to point out, it seems curious that neither Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, or Senator Obama was on the list. Why is that?

Ms. EVANS: Well, that was purposely done. We decided that we did not want to have this list affect the outcome of the nominating process, and so we withdrew their eligibility for the list. Everybody else was...

MARTIN: But why? I mean it seems logic - but I guess I don't really understand that because it seems logical that people would be curious to know whether these people, you know, talk the talk and walk the walk. I mean, isn't that relevant information?

Ms. EVANS: It is relevant, but they were playing on such a different stage that we felt like, if we had one of them apply and one of them didn't apply, you know, it would look like one was doing better than the other. And so, because it's an application process, that's what makes it so interesting because people have to feel like they really deserve to win this and then apply. And that was the standard that we came up with.

This was not just Working Mother on its own looking at how to handle this. This was corporate voices, and we had an all-star committee of people who were helping us as a steering committee, including Jane Swift, Ted Chiles, Pat Schroeder, and Patricia Kempthorne. So, you know, this was how we all as a group decided to handle the presidential election of our campaign. Because we are working so far...

MARTIN: A bi-partisan group.

Ms. EVANS: Yes. And we're working so far in advance at a magazine that, you know, things - news catches up very quickly, like, for example, Joe Biden is one of the winners of our list, and we had no idea he was going to be a vice presidential nominee when we organized this, but news catches up to magazines very quickly.

MARTIN: We'll talk in a minute a little bit more about who made the list.

Ms. EVANS: Mm hmm.

MARTIN: But first, I want to ask Jolene and Asra both, Jolene first because you are also, in addition to being a mom of five, a state legislator, a Democrat yourself. You represent a district in the state of Maryland. What does it mean, in your view, to be a family-friendly legislator or to have family-friendly policies?

Ms. IVEY: For me, it's to be flexible, and it's to be reasonable. I mean, what's important is getting the work done. It's not, did you get it done between nine and five? I mean, I understand that employers have to get their work done. I understand that, and employees have to follow up. But does it really matter if it gets done between nine and five? And I think that that's the important thing, is the employers are just reasonable about that, and I try to be that way in my own office.

MARTIN: Asra, I want to ask the same question of you. You are a working mom and a single parent, but you also work differently than a lot of other people do. I mean, you work as a freelancer. You teach. You put a lot of things together in a way that I think probably resembles the work lives of a lot of people these days who don't necessarily work for a big corporation with all the benefits in itself. What does a family-friendly policy look like to you?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, this lifestyle that I've created is because I think that corporate America and most of institutional America has failed us as mothers. I can't see a single one of these congressional offices where I feel like I could comfortably work in as this niche that is a reality of America today, the single, working, stay-at-home mom. You know, the mother who has to bring in the money but also get her child and is the only one who will get the child when he gets sick.

To me, flex hours and these telecommuting policies are critical. Overall, I feel like we as a nation has really failed in offering deep supports. I mean, these solutions that these offices offer, you know, with three-day work weeks and, you know, a certain amount of weeks of maternity leave fell far short of what I believe we really need. And some others like me, we end up completely pulling out of the work place and coming up with our own solutions.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm having our weekly visit with the Mocha Moms, but we're in Denver, and we're talking with Jolene Ivey, Asra Nomani, and Carol Evans of Working Mother magazine about what constitutes a family-friendly policy. But I want to hear more, though, Asra, from you about why is it you think none of these would work for you. I mean, a three-day work week wouldn't work for you and...

Ms. NOMANI: Well, I think the only person I...

MARTIN: You said, you don't think any of these places would allow you to work there...

Ms. NOMANI: I don't think...

MARTIN: And actually live the life you need to live.

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. I see like, in one of the senator's perks, she offers many staffers remote computer access to work from home in the evenings instead of staying at the office late. You know, Jolene could perhaps be my only boss in America because what she says is that it's our end product that matters, not how we do it and when we do it because we've got to cobble together a work day. And so I don't feel like any of these offer you that kind of flexibility. But otherwise...

MARTIN: Let me just pick up with Carol. I understand what you're saying. Let me pick up with Carol on that point because Asra is making a point that some jobs demand your presence. I mean, if you're a lawmaker, and if there's a vote, and you don't make that vote, that's going to come up in the next election, and your constituents may or may not be interested to know that you had a sick kid, you know what I mean?

I wondered if you had an opportunity to talk to lawmakers about the fact that those jobs are so time intensive, on the one hand, and yet, they have the desire to offer the kind of flexibility that people like Asra need and frankly, that many parents want. Did you talk to them about how they balance that?

Ms. EVANS: Well, we're not really looking for people to be providing the kind of flexibility that Asra is looking for. What we're talking about here is extreme jobs. Anybody who's in the Congress or in the House of Representatives, anybody who's working for a congressman or a congresswoman, these people know that they are on the extreme jobs of life. You know, these are intense jobs that require your presence, not just for the senator or representative themselves, but for their staff.

Not every job is made for everybody on earth, and we have to face facts and face reality about what we are willing to do and can do. I'm a CEO, and I have an enormous amount of requirements for being in places when I need to be there, and I relish it. You know, to me, that's exciting, and it's thrilling, and I feel very strongly that some of us want to do that, some of us don't. And this is what the beauty of our present day situation is, that we do have choice.

Ms. IVEY: And Carol makes a great point, that people who are in the legislature, you're in a powerful position, and it's up to you to decide how much work you're going to put in. I mean, a lot of it is just how good of a job you want to do, but the people who work for you or for me in this case, they don't have that choice. It's up to me to set the policy for them for what my expectations are for them, and I think that's the difference. I'm in the position as a legislator to make the choice for myself, but the people who aren't in that position of power, they need people like us to look out for them.

MARTIN: Carol, give me an example of - give me one Democrat and one Republican who made the list and why? You noted earlier that the Democratic vice presidential nominee or presumed nominee Senator Joe Biden made the list. Why did he make the list? So you pick somebody else if you want.

Ms. EVANS: Well, Joe Biden is a great example. But, you know, and he'll be a lot in the news with all of the work that he does. But let's just take an example that's, you know, somebody very familiar to people who work in this area, Christopher Dodd. He launched the FMLA, and he has policies for his employees that are very flexible. In fact, they go up and beyond a lot of what other small business people might be doing, and he allows his employees to have 24 hours off each year to go to class and school activities with their children or with their elderly parents, whatever it is, to just add up those hours anytime that they need to without explanation. That's the kind of fun flexibility that we're looking for, for people to offer to their employees.

On the Republican side, you could look at Senator Dole, or you could look at Kay Bailey Hutchison. And, you know, there's flexibility that they're offering to their employees, setting up work at home situations when needed. I think it was Senator Dole who had a woman who was on bed rest for months and months and months, and she set up a full office for her at home so that she could continue to do what she needed to do without leaving the house.

So, yeah, there's a lot of - a lot of this is like what we find with small business owners. They do things to satisfy their actual employees rather than some theoretical type of employee that big companies have to look at.

MARTIN: Here's a difficult question, though, Carol, that Republicans you highlighted tend to focus on tax relief as the best way to support working families. The Democrats tended to focus more on specific legislation that would require employers to make certain accommodations to their employees. That's a philosophical difference. Can you really mediate that?

Ms. EVANS: Yes, because, if you can't mediate that, then you can't do anything that's nonpartisan. And, you know, the magazine is very nonpartisan. I am a lifelong Democrat myself, personally, but we want to make sure that, out of our two-and-a-half million readers, that we don't make assumptions for them about their political preferences. But we can all gather around the idea that how employees are treated makes a big difference.

MARTIN: Asra, you have something to add.

Ms. NOMANI: Well, I just - I hate to rain on this parade, but every single day in the trenches, there's mothers that are leaving the workplace because I believe, socially, we are failing them. This Family and Medical Leave Act has been a failure, if you ask me. It barely gives parents what they need. I really...

MARTIN: I think the basic point though also - I think the basic point you're making is that people - Family and Medical Leave speaks to unpaid leave. There's really no sort of over arching support for people to get paid leave and they need to take them off for family issues.

Ms. NOMANI: And that's why it falls short of what we really need.

Ms. EVANS: But that's why we highlight companies. Like this same issue has the best law firms for women in it, and we're highlighting companies that go way above the FMLA, which we completely agree is totally inadequate. We want to have a required paid maternity and paternity leave and adoption leave as a basis point for starting this conversation with our country.

But we have to deal with what is as a magazine and encouraging not only employers to offer the types of benefits that go above and beyond the very low requirements that the government issues, but to also encourage employees, our two-and-a half million employee readers, to ask for what they need. You know, that really is accomplished by putting the spotlight on people who are going above and beyond the basic requirements.

MARTIN: We're down to our last couple of minutes - hold on a second - we're down to our last couple of minutes, and so I kind of want to hone in on the critical issues, Asra, because I think, in part, maybe because you spend a lot of time overseas and working in a lot of different countries, is it your basic view that, in this country, we think too narrowly about what's family-friendly, we just aren't ambitious enough, in your opinion, about we can do as a society to support working families?

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah, you put it really well. I think we have our - far way too low...

Ms. EVANS: Can I say, though, that millions...

MARTIN: Carol, sure.

Ms. EVANS: Millions of American women, 26 million women are working mothers, and millions of them are really excited about their careers. They're excited about their ambition. They're excited about contributing to their community, to their companies, and to their family finances. So, you know, I think that there's so much excitement about women's careers in this country, and I see it every day through our readers' notes and emails and calls.

MARTIN: Asra, you have a final thought? Go ahead, Asra.

Ms. NOMANI: Of course, we're excited. Of course, we're thrilled. Of course, every one wants to live on the extreme in terms of their professional dreams. But for two decades in the American workplace, I have seen the suffering of mothers especially, and these kind of laudatory, you know, certificates upon offices doesn't, I think, deal with the simple fact that we have fallen short as a nation.

And there's a reason why, you know, Mrs. Obama had to basically take a full-time leave from her work. Sure, her job is 24/7 right now as the candidate's wife, but at the end of the day, you know, we can't have that complete balance without having to also probably self-medicate or medicate on some level in a way that advertising appeals to.

MARTIN: Jolene, you have a final thought about - I don't know, where do you come out on this question? Do you think that...

Ms. IVEY: I think the basic problem, Michel, is we need more women in Congress.

Ms. EVANS: I agree with that.

Ms. IVEY: As long as we have men making the policy, they're going to put whatever their priorities are first. And we have great bills that have been around forever. There's a breast-feeding rights bill that Representative Carolyn Maloney has had for years. She can't get it through. And you know why? Because there aren't enough people who think it's a priority to make it easy for women to breastfeed their babies.

And we need these women to be in Congress. We need them to get off the sidelines and to get in office, and you've got to start at the lowest levels, you know. Women in their communities have to look at their school boards, look at the house of delegates, look at whatever they have available to them and start getting the experience so they can move up and get in the Congress. I think it's critical.

MARTIN: This list does include both men and women of both parties, and I think it'd be interesting to hear people's reaction to what it is that these folks thought was important and how they went about - what is the priority for them in terms of making a family-friendly policy. I think it's a really - it's an interesting question.

Mocha Mom Jolene Ivey joined us from KUVO in Denver. Asra Nomani joined us from NPR studios in Washington, and our guest mom Carol Evans joined us from our New York bureau. She's the CEO of Working Mother Media. You can find out more about the Best of Congress Awards from Working Mother magazine and Corporate Voices for Working Families at our website, npr.org/tellmemore. Ladies, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. NOMANI: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. EVANS: Thank you, Michel.

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