By Matt King
Director of Employment & Regional Services, YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish
“When women succeed, America succeeds.” It’s not just common sense; it was also the theme of the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23.
Too many working women and families live in poverty, and too often, working parents must choose between the demands of the workplace and the needs of their children. From the President and First Lady to Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Valerie Jarrett, Nancy Pelosi, and Gloria Steinem, the policy recommendations were consistent: affordable, high-quality child care; paid sick leave and family leave; a higher minimum wage; and flexible workplaces.
Business leaders discussed their efforts to create more family-friendly workplaces. Many business leaders, including CEOs of national corporations like BET’s Debra Lee and small business owners like Makini Howell of Seattle’s Plum Bistro, recognize that workplace policies that are good for women and families are also good for the bottom line.
But other employers resist efforts to increase workplace flexibility and improve pay and benefits. And as the President pointed out, the Administration’s proposed minimum wage hike and other legislative proposals have stalled in Congress. So what can we do to move these policies forward?
Think nationally, act locally. The President praised and encouraged local action as a way to create pressure on Congress to act at the national level. Here in Seattle, our community recently enacted a paid sick leave requirement and a higher minimum wage. And similar efforts have resulted in better policies for working women and families in a number of cities and states. The next step in Washington is to work with our state legislature to enact paid sick leave and the higher minimum wage statewide.
Cultivate a values shift. Maureen Conway of the Aspen Institute noted at the Summit that we accept as a given that many jobs offer crummy pay, unpredictable hours, and no benefits. That’s because we think of jobs in food service, hospitality, home health care, child care and retail sales as “stepping stones” rather than “real jobs.” But in reality, more adults than ever are supporting themselves and their families in these jobs, and these are the occupations with the greatest predicted employment growth. And, of course, the workforce in these sectors is disproportionately made up of women, particularly women of color.
It’s laudable to provide girls and women with the support they need to secure careers in higher paying sectors like science, technology, engineering and math. But many of the women we serve at the YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish are unlikely to enter those sectors for a number of reasons. Education and job training are only part of the solution.
We don’t have to accept that those who work as sales clerks, health care aides, child care providers and housekeepers will continue to work for near-poverty-level wages. The low pay and undesirable working conditions in these occupations reflect our values. The YWCA can be a leader in the effort to shift those values and improve the lives of the women who work in those jobs.