This week, the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families took place in Washington, D.C., at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The summit’s aim was to discuss the important of achieving work-family balance and to unveil ways corporations and the government can aid in the development of potentially forthcoming changes.
The fervor around the summit was built carefully by a series of events planned by President Obama’s administration throughout the year. NewsOne attended the last of these previous events, which focused on the needs and concerns of working fathers.
For the summit, a bevy of political figures opened the event. Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White Council on Women and Girls Tina Tchen, and President of the Center for American Progress Neera Tanden were the first to speak Monday morning.
The event got off to a slightly late start, and there were some logistical concerns in the facility. Still, the event was well-staffed and heavily attended.
NewsOne sat in on of the four simultaneously running “breakout” sessions, titled “Young Women Leaders.” The talk featured opening remarks from Jarrett, and was moderated by Tanden. Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts USA, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), and Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz Technology spoke to a large gathering mostly comprised of young women and recent college graduates who wish to become business executives.
Jarrett shared her story of when she was a single Mother and how achieving her goals as an attorney yet also caring for her daughter carried heavy importance to her. Rep. Edwards also echoed the struggles of parenthood while ascending in one’s career as a woman. Campbell’s portion of talk focused on the fact that she had to fight for respect from her male peers who didn’t even realize she was an executive at an earlier point of her career.
We spoke briefly with Chavez some time after the talk, and she shared that her role as CEO of Girl Scouts USA and being a woman of color was something she hoped instilled a sense of pride in other young women to also achieve their dreams.
NewsOne also spoke with attendees of the event, with many not wishing to leave their names with their quotes. One woman who came from Minnesota noted that there was a lack of topics and discussion geared toward people of color and Fathers. Another journalist stated that the lack of minority representation painted a poor picture of what the Summit claimed to be addressing regarding working families.
There was a very general topic approach to the talks, although they all featured vital information beneficial to anyone listening. Even the highlight of the Summit, the appearance of President Barack Obama, felt more like a pep rally than a serious intellectual debate on the need for businesses to protect the sanctity of parents both single and married in the workforce. However, the President did hit some high marks in his remarks.
From President Obama:
Part of the purpose of this summit is to make clear you’re not alone. Because here’s the thing: These problems are not typically the result of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being an even better parent. All too often, they are the results of outdated policies and old ways of thinking. Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society. That’s what we’re striving for.
The closing plenary of the day, “Career Ladders and Leadership,” featured more diversity with BET CEO Debra Lee, and Professor Katherine Phillips of the Columbia Business School featured in a panel. Moderated by MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, the topic of women of color finally had a forum and both Lee and Phillips took the challenge of answering questions around the matter.Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rounded out the spirited panel.
Closing remarks from First Lady Michelle Obama were another valued highlight of the summit as ABC’s Robin Roberts joined Mrs. Obama onstage while she shared her struggles as a young Mother trying to balance her career and motherhood. She told a well-known tale of how she took then-4-month-old Sasha to a job interview to highlight to her potential employer how she needed to be able to be both a solid employee but a Mother first.
“Who I was at that time was a breastfeeding Mother of a 4 month old. I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took Sasha to the interview with me,” said the First Lady. “And I thought, ‘Look, this is–this is who I am; I got a husband who’s away; I got two little babies, they are my priority. If you want me to do the job, you gotta pay me to do the job, and you’ve gotta give me flexibility.”
For more details on the White House Summit on Working Families, click here.