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At CBS, Les Moonves got away with ‘transactional’ sex. A working mom couldn’t get a schedule change.

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At CBS News, she asked for a role that would give her “some small measure of predictability” over her schedule so she could work while parenting a young son. From his corner office atop CBS, he was demanding that a different female employee be “on call” to perform oral sex.

She left her job. He made $69.3 million.

It’s a tale of two professional tracks at CBS: Of Julianna Goldman, a working mother trying — and ultimately failing — to adjust her workplace responsibilities so she could continue to do her job as her home life evolved, and of Les Moonves, the CEO and chairman whose reportedly rampant sexual violence was the centerpiece of a noxious, misogynistic network over which he reigned for decades.

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a report on Moonves’ obstruction of an investigation into his sexual misconduct at CBS. That obstruction may cut the strings on the golden parachute on which Moonves surely thought he’d gently float into an early retirement — which is a little like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, considering the gravity of Moonves’ alleged violence.

The Times report also included many new sickening details about Moonves’ “transactional” sexual relations with his female underlings:

“The outside lawyers were told by multiple people that CBS had an employee “who was ‘on call’ to perform oral sex” on Mr. Moonves. According to the draft report: “A number of employees were aware of this and believed that the woman was protected from discipline or termination as a result of it.”


The report found that, in addition to consensual relationships and affairs, “Moonves received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity.”

The report said that the lawyers weren’t able to speak with any of those women, but that “such a pattern arguably constitutes willful misfeasance and violation of the company’s sexual harassment policy.”

The Times piece comes a few months after Ronan Farrow first reported that Moonves had been accused by six women of sexual harassment and intimidation, while “dozens more” detailed abuse throughout the company Moonves ran. Further reporting revealed Moonves’ methodical destruction of female-driven shows. Thorough investigations into credible allegations brought to light the abuses of longtime TV host Charlie Rose, NCIS showrunner Brad Kern, senior vice president of talent for CBS Television Studios Vincent “Vinnie” Favale. A phalanx of sexist, abusive men flourished while women suffered, under Moonves’ eye.

Tuesday, Julianna Goldman wrote about her experience with CBS News for The Atlantic. She was a general-assignment correspondent with 15 years of experience who was essentially given a no-choice choice between a job that was obviously incompatible with parenting (last-minute travel for breaking news) and no job at all. She asked for a position with more predictability; she was told the offer on the table was “final.” She left and later realized she “was not alone”:

According to a report by the Women’s Media Center, television viewers are less likely to see women reporting the news today than just a few years ago. At the Big Three networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—combined, men were responsible for reporting 75 percent of the evening news broadcasts over three months in 2016, while women were responsible for reporting only 25 percent—a drop from 32 percent two years earlier.

It was “anti-mom” bias, in all its insidious manifestations: Assumptions made about a woman’s dedication and competence (meanwhile, men earn a “fatherhood premium” for every child they have); the fear of getting edged out while taking maternity leave and daring to be off-camera for all of three months; the exacting expectations for a woman’s appearance on television that make no allowances for a pregnant or postpartum body.

As Goldman argues, all citizens suffer when women and mothers are sidelined from the work they do so well. It is impossible to report the news fully, accurately, and with empathy, without without diversity of experience and insight on the part of those who report it. And of course the workplace discrimination she documents against pregnant women and mothers is appalling, all the more so forbeing so commonplace.

But there is something especially gross about seeing these two experiences — Goldman’s and Moonves’ — side by side.

What does it say about CBS, as an institution, that higher-ups decided it was simply unfathomable to meet Goldman’s minimal requests but that it was absolutely paramount to ensure Moonves every sexual whim be met on demand? What does it say about the board, that at least one of its members knew about an assault allegation against Moonves from 1999 and, rather than do anything meaningful with that information whatsoever, just… told no one, and did nothing, and stood up for Moonves even as more and more credible allegations came out?

Dr. Anne Peters says Moonves assaulted her in 1999. As she told CBS lawyers, she warned Arnold Kopelson, an Oscar-winning producer who was about to join the board, about Moonves. As Peters remembers it, Kopelson’s response was “that the incident happened a long time ago and was trivial, and said, in effect, ‘we all did that.’”

Kopelson joined the board in 2007 and, at a board meeting following the publication of Farrow’s investigation, kept on defending Moonves. “I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff,” he said. “Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.” (Kopelson died in October.)

How telling, that at CBS, it’s easier to make an office work for Moonves — and Rose, and Kern, and on, and on — than to make it work for a mother. That someone like Kopelson could say, of Moonves’ alleged criminal misconduct, “we all did that,” but that no one can look at working parents and say, “we all do that.”

This article was published at ThinkProgress on December 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

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Peaceful Revolution: Champion Real Workplace Flexibility

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Image: Netsy FiresteinThe White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility has generated an energetic buzz in work family advocacy circles across the nation. As a longtime advocate for family friendly workplaces, I am thrilled by First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama’s keen interest and commitment to build and promote flexible workplaces. I also commend the many businesses that are genuinely trying to create workplaces that reflect the current needs of America’s working families. But I am cautiously optimistic. For, I am also aware of the many “fake flex” policies that force workers to “flex” their lives to fit the job and not vice versa.

Workplace flexibility remains an elusive phenomenon in most American workplaces — the majority of such benefits are available only to the highly qualified and skilled professional workforce. And when flexible work arrangements are offered to service sector workers, they do little to address the workers’ needs but plenty for the company’s bottom-line. Creating a more “flexible” and cheaper workforce is a popular profit-making strategy of many large retail employers including big box chains like Walmart. In the name of flexibility, employers are capping wages, forcing full-time workers into part-time positions without benefits, and forcing them to work irregular and erratic work schedules, including working more nights and weekends. The demand that workers be available round the clock puts the company’s needs first and the needs of working families last. Such management-driven “fake flex” policies that penalize workers and give them little or no control give workplace flexibility a bad name.

As I see it, real workplace flexibility equals workers’ control over their job plus security. It is never forced on workers. It expands their choices by giving them the power to shape their work days, hours and schedules to achieve work family balance. A key task for the Obama Administration is to put existing flexible workplace policies through a sieve and champion only those policies that truly give workers control over their work time without risking their wages, benefits or job security.

We have made some advances in creating family friendly workplaces — but these have been worker by worker and workplace by workplace. For the most part, labor unions have been at the forefront of re-envisioning the workplace — the 8-hour work day, the weekend, safety standards, and important family friendly policies such as paid sick days, paid family leave and family health insurance (see Family-Friendly Workplaces: Do Unions Make a Difference?). In many industries, unions have regulated “flexibility” that is controlled by the employer and a burden on employees (see Real Flextime – Union Made). Any policy discussion on advancing workplace flexibility stands to gain from a strong union presence at the table.

Nearly 75 percent of all working adults in the United States have little or no control over their work schedules — lower paid workers (especially lower income women) have the least control. Arriving or leaving even a few minutes late can cost them their jobs. We continue to lag behind other developed nations in guaranteeing our workers important labor standards such as paid sick days and paid family leave. In his closing remarks at the Forum, President Obama said, “Caring for loved ones and raising the next generation is the single most important job we have.” It is indeed time we made this easier for our working families.

A Peaceful Revolution is a blog about innovative ideas to strengthen America’s families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with MomsRising.org, read a new post here each week.

*This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post on April 5, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Netsy Firestein is founder and Executive Director of the Labor Project for Working Families, a national non-profit organization that educates and empowers unions to organize, bargain and advocate for family friendly workplaces. Ms. Firestein is recognized as a national expert on labor and work family issues. For over 25 years, Ms. Firestein has worked with the labor movement to ensure that work family issues are an integral part of labor’s organizing, bargaining and advocacy efforts.  Ms. Firestein has also helped forge important partnerships between labor and community groups to advocate for statewide and national work family policies.

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Companies That Care About Workers’ Rights: Apply Now to be Named a 2010 Top Small Company Workplace

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Inc. magazine and the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, have partnered to find and recognize exemplary workplaces; those that motivate, engage and reward people. A model workplace can offer a critical competitive edge, ultimately retaining employees and boosting the bottom line.

Together, Inc. and Winning Workplaces will identify and honor those benchmark small and mid-sized businesses that offer truly innovative, supportive environments, thus achieving significant, sustainable business results.

“Growing, privately held companies have always excelled at competing based on the people they employ,” states Jane Berentson, Editor of Inc. magazine. “Their innate ability to innovate is woven throughout their cultures, including the way they manage and motivate their employees. Inc.’s partnership with Winning Workplaces is a great opportunity to fully recognize private company excellence in supporting their human capital.”

Click to apply for Top Small Company Workplaces 2010“Winning Workplaces is thrilled to partner with Inc. as we honor truly exemplary organizations who have created workplaces that are better for people; better for business; and better for society,” said Gaye van den Hombergh, President, Winning Workplaces. “These organizations are an inspiration to business leaders looking for ways to leverage their people practices to create more profitable and sustainable companies.”

The application process is open through January 22, 2010. To apply, go to tsw.winningworkplaces.org. The Top Small Company Workplaces will be announced in a special issue of Inc., which will be available on newsstands June 8, 2010, and on Inc.com in June. An awards ceremony, honoring the finalists and winners, will be held at the national Inc. On Leadership Conference in October 2010.

About Inc. magazine
Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) is the only major business magazine dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies that delivers real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. With a total paid circulation of 724,110, Inc. provides hands-on tools and market-tested strategies for managing people, finances, sales, marketing and technology.

About Winning Workplaces
Winning Workplaces (www.winningworkplaces.org) is an Evanston, IL-based not-for-profit, whose mission is to help the leaders of small and mid-sized organizations create great workplaces. Founded in 2001, Winning Workplaces serves as a clearinghouse of information on workplace best practices, provides seminars and workshops on workplace-related topics and inspires and awards top workplaces through its annual Top Small Company Workplaces initiative.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

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Towards a “New Normal” in the American Workplace – A Public Policy Platform on Flexible Work Arrangements

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On the heels of First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to find ways to encourage employers to provide more flexibility to employees, Workplace Flexibility 2010, a Georgetown Law-based think tank, has released a new report outlining a comprehensive set of policy solutions to expand Americans’ access to flexible work arrangements (FWAs) such as compressed workweeks, predictable schedules, and telework.  The common-ground solutions described in the report can benefit both working families and businesses.

The report draws on decades of research on changes in the American workforce – dual earner couples are now the norm; older workers need to work longer to save for retirement; men and women want to share caregiving responsibilities; many lower-wage workers work nonstandard schedules and multiple jobs to make ends meet; and more people with disabilities are working but may need a range of supports.

This increased diversity and complexity within the American workforce – combined with intensifying global competition in a 24/7 marketplace – have raised unprecedented organizational and societal challenges that impact both employers and employees.  And yet, our workplaces have not caught up in a systematic or sophisticated way to these new realities.  We live in a world of changing individuals and often unyielding institutions.

Flexible work arrangements support employees who struggle to meet the demands of work while also fulfilling personal responsibilities – caregiving for a loved one, volunteering, attending religious services, or obtaining job training.  At the same time, they have been shown to help employers support their workforce, meet their business objectives, and increase their competitive advantage.

Workplace Flexibility 2010’s policy platform represents the culmination of years of in-depth conversations with employers, employees, managers, labor, researchers and advocates in Washington and across the country.  It provides a detailed blueprint for advocates, the White House, Congress and other policymakers to build on innovative workplace flexibility strategies – and highlights numerous examples of effective business practices.

In order to make FWAs the “new normal” in the American workplace, the report recommends five complementary prongs:

Spur a national campaign to make FWAs compelling to both employers and employees by:

Launching a strategic multi-media public education campaign; providing awards to recognize and encourage businesses to offer and implement FWAs; and conducting research on the impact of FWA practices on employees, businesses and communities and disseminating the findings.

Provide employers and employees with the tools and training they need to make FWAs a standard way of working by:

Making training and technical assistance on how to implement FWAs readily available to both employers and employees; launching a comprehensive website with information about the needs and benefits of FWAs, FWA best practices, model policies and procedures, and federal laws and programs; clarifying perceived legal obstacles to FWAs; and removing or considering the removal of actual legal obstacles.

Support innovations in FWAs, learn from those efforts, and disseminate lessons learned by:
Experimenting with new ideas through pilot programs – including piloting a right to request in the federal workforce; piloting FWAs for low-wage workers employed by federal contractors; and piloting private sector innovations such as mass career customization and team scheduling with new industries and employers.

Lead by example, making the federal government a model employer by:

Demonstrating high-level support for FWAs in the federal workforce; including FWAs as a key component of the federal government’s human capital management agenda; providing training, technical assistance, and resources to support the implementation of FWAs within the federal government; and regularly assessing how FWAs are working and affecting employees, the workplace and the broader community.

Build an infrastructure of federal, state and community players to implement the first four prongs of the effort by:

Engaging all the players at the federal state and community level who will be key to a successful effort, and creating the infrastructure at each of these levels necessary for an effective partnership among these key players.

This report sets the stage for a national conversation among employee and employer groups, other stakeholders and policymakers about innovative solutions that work well for both employees and employers.  Engaging in this conversation and embarking on the necessary action steps are key to equipping our American workplaces to meet the challenges of our 21st century workforce.

The full report is available at www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.

About the Authors: Chai Feldblum is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Director of Georgetown’s Federal Legislation Clinic, and Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010.

Katie Corrigan is the Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010 where she, along with Chai Feldblum, is responsible for overseeing the strategy, legislative lawyering, policy research, media, and constituent outreach components of the effort.

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Not a Hobby

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They’re not like taking up skydiving.

I was subscribing to a business magazine for women in 2001. I remember the year because I got laid off and had to cancel all my subscriptions, though the magazine’s name is lost in the mists. Anyway, that was the verdict of an article they published on combining children and work, that having children isn’t a hobby like skydiving.

The author wrote about endless frustration with having employers act as though children are an inconvenient hobby to indulge, and a really far out hobby at that, instead of the only way you insure the existence of a future workforce.

Parenting is normal, but the business world still treats it like a disorder.

I didn’t have any children when I read that article, and don’t yet, but the author’s metaphor has always struck me as a desperate plea for mercy for working parents. I was in my mid-20s, single, working 60-80 hours a week and spending most of my weekends catching up on sleep. It was hard enough taking care of myself, why wouldn’t an employer get that having other people to take care of wasn’t just some whimsical pastime?

Then I started to notice that the receptionist at work got talked about as being unreliable because she had occasional childcare emergencies that she had to take off for. I wasn’t thought of in the same way when I took a half day for personal reasons and shifted my hours around to make up for it.

In our office hierarchy, I was a trusted, salaried professional. She was treated like an answering machine. Machines only get attention when they break.

It’s hard for everyone.

I thought about that article sometimes after I got laid off a couple months later. It made me more grateful that even when times were tough, it was just me that had got stuck in a difficult situation.

While I didn’t have kids, I had been one. My sibling and I weren’t a hobby to my parents. They’d worried and sacrificed for us, we were their world.

It’s been harder as women integrated into the workforce to assure that parents could still be there for their children. The idealized, standard model of an employee is still tilted towards a single person or a married male partnered with a full-time parent and homemaker.

The first generation of women who came to the workforce as parents had to do two jobs, as many, many people before me have pointed out. Not only was childcare still seen as women’s natural job, but because of ingrained wage discrimination, it hurt families more in the pocketbook for men to cut back on their work obligations to handle childcare.

You’ve probably heard all the reasons why this was bad for women, and it was, and they realized it quite quickly. Too bad it took such a long time for men to realize that the situation was bad for them as well and always had been.

Attitude adjustments happen.

The necessary flipside of expanding women’s roles in family and the society is expanding men’s roles. Yes, there are women who’d rather work more when the children are young, like Republican vice presidential nominee, Gov. Sarah Palin. There are also men who’d rather spend more time with their families when the children are young, like Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden.

Even as late as 2006, a state like California, which has a fairly progressive family leave policy saw relatively few men take advantage of it. The financial responsibilities men continue to be saddled with by cookie cutter gender expectations and wage inequality still leave many men feeling torn between paying the bills and staying away from their partners and new infants during an important and emotionally intense time.

You know how the saying goes. Who wishes on their deathbed that they’d spent more time at the office?

Fortunately for them, and their families, nearly 70 percent of men would consider staying home to be a caregiver if money wasn’t an issue. Those numbers reflect a society where women’s advances give men a greater range of acceptable options, but even though the numbers have increased, only around 330,000 men in the U.S. are stay-at-home dads.

That’s not even one percent of adult American men. I count it as yet another market failure, for there to be such a significant gap between what today’s families want and what they feel they’re able to handle.

And we aren’t talking about wanting extravagant perks out of life, this isn’t a call for free skydiving lessons for everyone. We’re talking about the ability of parents, both birth and adoptive parents, to provide healthy, secure relationships with their children and keep the basic necessities covered at the same time.

This is something fundamental to being human and you don’t need to have kids to appreciate it.

Where are our leaders?

The United States continues to be the only Western nation without paid family leave, with 163 other nations offering paid maternal leave and 45 providing paid leave for fathers.

Current law only forbids employers from treating women worse than men, who are themselves severely penalized if they want to give their families more of their time. Current business culture often looks at leave suspiciously, as a threat, a frivolity and an opportunity for employee cheating.

Both government and business are behind the times. More than that, they’re adding to the strain on families in a hard economy. And if I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a hundred times, you can’t have a healthy economy when your workforce is stretched to the breaking point.

This is a nation that needs, almost all of us, to spend more time with our families.

Meanwhile, our institutions include a business community that prioritizes executive bonuses and congressional pay raises over boosting living wages for typical families. Working and middle class families get squeezed for both money and time, and their basic quality of life suffers.

Even before the current financial crisis, only a third of Americans believed that the future would be better for their children than it was for them. Something has to give. People need some assurance that their children’s lives can be better than their own again, and a good start would be making it easier for families to meet both their caregiving and financial responsibilities. A good start would be paid leave and gracious accomodation for one of the most important family decisions many of us will ever make.

America’s families are the real fundamentals of our economy. Our leaders need to act like it.

About the Author: Natasha Chart has been blogging about the environment, social justice and various other political topics since 2002. She currently writes at MyDD.com and works as an online marketing consultant in Philadelphia.

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Workplace Flexibility – A New Standard for the American Workplace

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In today’s difficult economy, we are all more acutely aware of the changing nature of work in this country. American employees are increasingly concerned about job security and losing crucial benefits–while the demands on them in a 24/7, global marketplace have intensified exponentially. Many employees are working more hours than ever before, while others–especially low-wage workers and those in the growing contingent workforce–have little or no control over how many hours they will work in any given week.

As our workplaces have become more demanding, the demographics of the American workforce have shifted dramatically. For most American families, the reality of today’s economy is that both members of a couple must work full time–and even that leaves many families stretching to cover the rising costs of gas, groceries, and health care.

As a result, many American employees struggle to meet the demands of work while also meeting family responsibilities as critical as caring for a sick child. Indeed, the need for workplace flexibility among American employees of all ages, professions, and income levels is urgent. A significant majority of workers report that they do not have the flexibility they need to succeed at work and still fulfill serious personal obligations–be it caregiving for a child, a spouse, or a parent, volunteering in the community, attending religious services, or obtaining advanced training.

Workplace flexibility:  an approach that encompasses options from flexible work schedules and telecommuting to extended time off and phased retirement–is a solution at the crossroads of a myriad of pressures facing our workforce. Flexibility can help ease the intense strain felt by millions of American workers trying to balance work with the needs of their families. For example:

The benefits of these and other types of flexibility are already being seen in workplaces across the country–and workplace flexibility is now being used as a strategic management tool in a diverse range of industries. By reducing turnover rates, boosting recruitment, and enhancing efficiency and performance, a growing number of business leaders are recognizing that flexibility can actually increase their competitive advantage.

Workplace flexibility can support both employers and employees in meeting the demands of the 21st century economy. But in order to make workplace flexibility a new standard of the American workplace, we must not only encourage voluntary business practices–but also develop consensus-based, common-sense public policies that work for families and in the marketplace.

Over the last several decades, the policy debate around the intersection of work and family has been plagued by a political stalemate. But we believe that through meaningful dialogue with business leaders, labor representatives, family, aging and disability advocates–and policymakers from both sides of the aisle–we can develop comprehensive workplace flexibility solutions that bridge political divides in Washington and beyond.

As workplace flexibility becomes an integral part of the American workplace, we believe it will ultimately support more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families. And those are standards we can all agree on.

For more information on Workplace Flexibility 2010 and our consensus-building process, visit www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.

About the Authors: Chai R. Feldblum is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Director of Georgetown’s Federal Legislation Clinic, and Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010.

Katie Corrigan is the Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

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By Next Labor Day, Let’s Have Guaranteed Paid Sick Leave

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The first “labor day” celebration was a march—10,000 workers took an unpaid day off to demonstrate in New York’s Union Square in 1882 to promote the union cause. Now, the federal holiday is supposed to be a day of paying tribute to the American worker and recognizing the contributions that unions have made to American prosperity. It should remind us that we didn’t always have an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, pensions, or other reforms that are fundamental to the quality of life we enjoy as Americans.

Most of us probably spent Labor Day at a barbecue or an end-of-summer sale rather than a march, but we can’t forget that there’s still a lot to do to ensure fairness in the workplace. Today, too many workers can’t take a sick day without losing their pay or jeopardizing their jobs. A benefit considered standard by most professionals—paid sick time—is unavailable to millions of lower-paid workers, including 22 million women.

At Women Employed, we listen to the stories of women who have to choose between going to work sick and paying the bills. They have to send sick children to school to avoid losing a day’s pay—or losing their jobs.  Some work for companies with sick time policies, but they’re told by supervisors that if they take a sick day they’re entitled to, they shouldn’t come back. They face impossible choices. They’re among the 48 percent of private-sector workers who don’t have a single paid sick day to use for themselves or to care for an ill family member.

And it’s not just these workers who are paying a price. When workers come to work sick, they infect other people.  So do the kids they have to send to school sick. It’s a public health issue when people preparing food, working in hospitals, or coming to your office to fix the copier feel the pressure to go to work when they’re ill.  Experts estimate that “presenteeism”—coming to work sick—is costly for employers in terms of lost productivity. And research shows that paid sick leave policies reduce the rate of contagious infections by ensuring that sick workers stay home.

Bills have been introduced in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to establish basic sick leave requirements. The bills require employers who do not already provide paid sick leave to allow employees to accrue up to seven sick days per year that could be used when a worker is ill or needs to care for an ill family member, as well as for medical appointments. Leave under these laws would be earned over the year so employers would only pay if and when workers accrued time off and needed it.  These measures are modest and reasonable ways to improve the quality of our worklives and ensure better health for our families and communities. It’s time to add this simple guarantee to the list of workplace reforms that we enjoy today. Urge your elected representatives to honor workers by passing a guarantee of paid sick leave.  Next Labor Day, we’d really have something to celebrate.

About the Author: Anne Ladky is Executive Director of Women Employed, a 35-year-old organization whose mission is to improve women’s economic status. Women Employed is widely recognized for its groundbreaking work to ensure enforcement of affirmative action requirements, outlaw sexual harassment, and promote family-friendly policies. Today, Women Employed focuses on women in low-paying jobs; its priorities are to improve workplaces by fighting for paid sick time, fair schedules, and better pay; and expand access to and improve the quality of post-secondary education and training. Ladky was a founding member of Women Employed, joined the staff in 1977, and was named Executive Director in 1985. She is a nationally recognized expert on women’s employment issues, equal opportunity, and workforce development. For more information on Women Employed, visit www.womenemployed.org.

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Flexibility at Work: Asking it of our Leaders and Ourselves

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Many of us will have seen the neat educational drawing from the 1950’s: “eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for leisure” for a balanced life. It feels so quaint, and speaks to a phantom work-family life that is reality for few Americans.

Over 50 years ago most women did not work outside the home, and the prevailing philosophy of effective work was Taylor’s scientific management, which prescribed minimal worker control over time and task. On the plus side, workweeks were shorter and more regular. On the minus side, people had little control over their time at work.

Management theory in the following decades has led to an emphasis on worker control. As O’Toole and Lawler note in their 2006 study The New American Workplace, employees have much more choice than they did forty years ago: more choice in benefits and family care options, choice in work scheduling, team design, and project design. And yes, many Americans are working differently, making up schedules that fit their lives, often through trial and error.

Trial and error isn’t enough. For dual-earner couples with children, combined work hours are now 91 hours per week, up from 81 hours per week in 1977. For the first time, the 2007 census recorded more American households headed by singles rather than married people. According to the Labor Project for Working Families, 40% of people caring for elders also have childcare responsibilities.

Many business policies, programs, benefits, and practices in place today were designed for the needs of the “traditional family,” those people who make up only 20% of the actual workforce. National data shows that over 80% of workers polled would prefer more flexible work options and would use them if there were no negative consequences at work. And there’s the rub: if there were no negative consequences.

Work is still changing too slowly to fit our new culture, and so we make it fit around us, often with negative consequences. It’s a cliché, but how many times has your mind been fixated on the BlackBerry during family dinner?

The good news is that many employers are more flexible about implementing flexibility, but the majority of smaller firms, where most Americans now work, don’t offer such benefits to all employees. Terms are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Without public policy mandates, many companies are confused about how to implement change. In the 2008 National Study of Employers, those most likely to have implemented flexibility include employers with a large percentage of female senior management, companies in the nonprofit, finance, real estate and insurance industries, and those companies without union representation.

And what if employers are only part of the problem? The by-product of too many workers trying to do it all is stress on workers and their families. Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute says, “In my book Ask the Children, a nationally representative group of children ages eight to 18 were asked for their number one wish to improve their lives. The largest proportion wished that their parents were less tired and stressed, and one in three young people feels very stressed themselves.”

Politics has given workers a window: In perhaps the most significant signal that flexibility is on the agenda, in 2008, both the Democratic and Republican Party platforms state flexibility as a critical solution for helping families balance work and life.

Leaders and policy makers can help by looking to states and (gasp) other countries for models. They can help by raising awareness around these issues, and removing gender and class biases. Mandated time off for family needs enforces the message that leaving work is not for wimps and for lower wage workers, that it’s not a firing offense. For example, according to MomsRising.org, “Twelve states require employers to allow time for employees to participate in their childrens’ educational activities….California…gives parents 40 hours per year to participate in school activities.” (See MomsRising.org piece on Open Flexible Work.)

Motivated voters need to keep these issues on the agenda, and Democrats have an ideal ambassador in Michelle Obama, who has made better work-family policy her personal platform.

And what can we, the workers, do to make flexibility feasible? If we manage people, we can model change. We can be conscious about our choices and if we so choose, be willing to accept trade offs between life and work. Galinsky suggests,

Ask yourself: What decision will I wish I had made in five years? What will I remember in the future?  And make your decision accordingly.

We have to create our own boundaries, our own times when we turn it off. And it isn’t just turning off the electronics, it is turning off our minds going over our to-do lists for work.  Kids know when we aren’t focused. Many kids said they had techniques for seeing if their parents were really listening to them (throwing in a nonsense word in a middle of what they are saying to see if their parent noticed) or even putting their hands on our faces and saying: Earth to Mom or Earth to Dad.

I like to think Barack Obama modeled change when he took a family vacation right before the Convention. Hillary Clinton never took one day off during Primary season. That’s not a realistic or healthy example to set.

This Labor Day season, let’s think about how we can hold our leaders accountable to their promises to support more life-friendly work policies. But let’s also think about our role in managing work and life, what Joshua Halberstam, in his book Work: Making a Living and Making a Life, calls the important work of cultivating a leisure ethic.

About the Author: Morra Aarons-Mele specializes in work redesign and management training for the flexible workplace. Before focusing on organizational change, Morra worked for ten years on online campaigns for politics, advocacy groups, and corporations. Through her work as an Internet strategy consultant, she became committed to helping employers and employees create and manage programs that increase flexibility and self-directed work. Morra returned to graduate school and internships to learn this new field.

Morra writes weekly columns for BlogHer.com, the Huffington Post, and guardian.co.uk. She is also a frequent media commentator for CNN. Morra has a degree in Political Science from Brown University and a Master’s from the Harvard Kennedy School. Morra is active in local politics, and represented Washington, DC’s ANC for Ward 2B. She is married to Nicco Mele and lives near Boston.

Note: Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their own.

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