Is the government’s proper role to take care of gender inequality? Speakers believed so at the October 19, 2009 Shriver Report conference, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. The event, which is sponsored by the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP), featured multiple panels discussing the role of government in women’s lives.
Ellen Bravo, moderator of the panel The Government’s Role in Supporting Today’s Families and coordinator of the Families Values at Work Consortium, announced that the government has had far more roles than just governing: indeed, Ellen stated, it is part of the government’s role “to be a model employer,” “to gather and collect data” on women in the workplace, and “to showcase what can be.”
Ann O’Leary, a senior fellow at CAP, agreed with Bravo’s assessment, saying that “we’ve come a long way since 1978, but not far enough.” She recommended “drastic changes” to our current American employment scene, in order to make parenting easier in the modern age. This goal seems innocuous enough, but O’Leary’s specific suggestions included the government forcing employers to give up “rules that were created for men” in favor of rules that make employers cater to women generally and pregnant women specifically. “Our government doesn’t do enough [for pregnant women],” O’Leary accused. “This has to change.”
O’Leary also suggested a “comprehensive” child care plan for working parents, saying, “Government needs to step up [in providing child care for workers], not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good for business.” It is telling that while O’Leary mentioned government involvement in child care being good for business, she did not state that it was good for families.
Maria Echaveste, another fellow at CAP, took O’Leary’s arguments a step further, and put those arguments in the context of labor. “Why is it that we entrust our children, our parents, [and] our homes to people, and not respect?” she asked, arguing that a “significant number” of women who provide child care for others “do not have health insurance,” which to Echaveste is apparently a matter of respect. She argued that the time has come to “redefine the definitions” of workers’ rights, especially with regards to size of workplaces. She argued that it is unfair for women who work for smaller companies not to have the same benefits as women who work for larger companies, and suggested that the government get involved with correcting this perceived inequality.
Echaveste also expressed her concerns with inequalities in the workplace, noting that employers are often “less likely to be sympathetic” to unproductive women workers than to those women workers who are “valued” producers in the workplace. Bravo agreed, stating that “if you have a problem employee, you have every right to set goals and explain expectations,” but that it would be wrong for an employer to put an employee’s job on the line because of problems at work when there are problems at home, too. “Don’t wait until her mother is dying to let her know that she’s a problem employee,” Bravo said, with references to employers who reach their last straws when unproductive, or lazy, employees request extra time off for legitimate reasons.
“Government has a very important role to play,” said David Gray of the New America Foundation’s Workforce and Family Program, in getting what Echaveste termed “predictability of hours” for women, employer “regard for the lives [women] have.”
Allie Winegar Duzett is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.