Last week, I was a featured panelist at the NYC Regional White House Summit on Working Families. It was an amazing day filled with star power, inspiring speeches and a refreshing emphasis on the importance of supporting fatherhood. Here are some of my reflections on the day.
The concerns of fathers are sometimes under-represented in conversations about work and family. However, despite the fact that the Summit was organized by the Women’s Bureau of the US Department of Labor, I was very encouraged to see this was not the case- the concerns of fathers was front and center. Here are a few indicators:
- Carol Joyner, Director of the Labor Project for Working Families, showed a short video to demonstrate the importance of paid parental and sick leave for working families. The video focused on a father of preemie twins who needed extended care beyond the maternity leave his wife’s employer offered. He was able to use California’s parental leave policy to provide two additional months of at-home care for his kids, which was important in the near-term for the twins’ well-being, and in the long-term for his bond with his children and confidence as a fully involved parent. The dad stated, “I never thought I’d have inside jokes with my two-year-olds, but thanks to he time I had to care for and bond with my children, I have the gift of such an intimate relationship with my kids.” Simply perfect.
- Several prominent politicians spoke at the event (including NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio; US Representatives Jerry Nadler, Charles Rangel, Nita Lowey, and Jose Serrano; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; and Senior Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett) on a variety of topics supporting a Working Families agenda that includes a higher minimum wage, paid leave, equal pay for women, and increased funding for childcare and early childhood education. However, all speakers were mindful to specifically include the concerns of fathers and the need to support dads at some point during their speeches.
- Of particular note was the inspiriting US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. He spoke at length about working dads and his own work-family juggle working dads. He declared that “the most important family value is time with your family,” and that he was dedicated to supporting fathers with living wages and expanded leave policies to help dads have more time with their children. Perez also stated that, even with his demanding work schedule, he carves out the time to coach his children’s baseball and basketball teams. He recalled leaving a meeting to do so, when he was asked “How can you take the time to do that?” His response, “How can I not?”
- A consistent theme of the “public sector solutions” panel was the inclusion of dads in the state legislation for paid parental leave enacted in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and how dads benefit from the paid sick day legislation passed in NYC and many other municipalities. Panelists were consistent that dads had to be included in any effective legislative solution.
- Valerie Jarrett was the keynote speaker and then fielded audience questions for an additional half-hour. The first question asked was about the importance of supporting fathers with greater access to paternity leave (No, I didn’t plant a friend in the crowd). I made sure to chat with the questioner after the event and she told me about her husband’s paternity leave experience in which he was discouraged from taking it despite being employed at a company that is consistently ranked as one of the top 5 family-friendly, employee-oriented, flexible employers by various lists and media outlets. We need more brave men like the questioner’s husband to lead the way in Corporate America.
- I hope this doesn’t sound too immodest, but perhaps the strongest signal that the Summit was serious about working fathers’ concerns was my inclusion on the agenda. I was specifically invited to ensure that men’s issues would be adequately addressed during our “private sector solutions” panel and other discussions.
As it turns out, men’s concerns were well-represented even without me, demonstrating that, as a society, we are starting to get it. In all, I was incredibly encouraged that fathers concerns were woven throughout the Summit. After all, as I said during my panel:
— Allison Karl O’Kelly (@AllisonOKelly) May 12, 2014
What do you think about the concerns of working fathers? How else can we be included in these conversations? Let’s discuss in the comments section.
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Finally, please note, I’ll be on a family vacation and away from the blog until late next week. Thank you to all who have sacrificed for our country.