2006-01-18 22:13:07 UTC
COMMUNITY BOARD OF CONTRIBUTORS
Other Voices: Family-friendly policies provide long-term benefits
Workplaces need to give moms and dads more choices
By Safa Suleiman
For the Dayton Daily News
I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost two years, and recently gave
birth to my second baby boy. I consider myself one of millions of women
out there who have worked hard to succeed. I went to college, was
student body president, worked my way through school, earned two
bachelor's degrees and completed my master's degree. I landed a good
government job and was working my way up to have a wonderful career.
Did I ever think about getting married and having children? Sure I did.
I was committed to my profession, and after three years working, I
suspended my full-time career to stay home after the birth of my first
son. I plan on returning full time to work when my children are older.
Making ends meet with one income is difficult to accomplish nowadays. To
have the choice to stay home and rear my children is a true luxury. Many
women do not have this option because of economic necessity.
There is no doubt that my generation has accomplished and advanced
considerably, thanks in part to the feminist movement. Part of me
appreciates the women (and men) who fought to give women opportunities
to compete equally with men in the workplace. However, a paradox now
exists: the lack of attention to family life or the guilt of being home
after "all that time and money" were spent on our education and breaking
through the "glass ceiling."
Feminism has sidelined motherhood in the equality battle. What now? The
challenge is to change organizational culture in order to incorporate
family-life policies in the workplace. This demands a cultural shift.
As a nation, we are far behind other industrialized countries in the
development and integration of family-friendly policies. There is a true
lack of understanding of the fact that well-raised, confident, secure
and happy children and less guilty parents create savings in so many
different areas (mental and physical health, learning "difficulties," etc.).
For example, Finland pays a woman 75 percent of her salary for several
months after birth (and she's given four paid weeks off before the baby
is born — that can be significant in preventing preterm delivery).
Children are not even allowed in child care until they are 10 months old.
Of course, it's not perfect. There is some discrimination in employment
because employers know that if they hire a young woman, at some point,
they'll be paying her salary and benefits, as well as someone else's.
The whole point is that if we could look beyond the initial investment,
the long-term savings would be overwhelming.
Examples of family-friendly policies include:
• Part-time work — While working a reduced number of hours, a person has
the advantage of continuity of employment and pro-accrual of benefits.
• Job sharing — One full-time job is shared between two employees, with
each working part time on a permanent basis.
• Working from home — Telecommuting enables employees to spend part or
all of their working time at home, on a temporary or permanent basis.
Contact with the employer can be maintained via conference call, e-mail,
or scheduled face-to-face meetings in the workplace.
• Extended parental leave — This could be unpaid leave for an extended
period (greater than 12 months) or a longer period of paid leave.
• Child care provided by the employer — An employer negotiates with a
child-care provider to reserve places in a center for an agreed
contribution amount. Extended hours for child care and emergency-care
facilities may also be provided.
• Allow children at work in emergencies — Examples include providing a
room from which the staff member can work or employing a person able to
care for the child at the workplace.
• Part-year employment/purchased leave — Sometimes called 48/52 schemes,
these arrangements allow the employee to take a number of weeks of
unpaid leave in addition to standard holiday or long service leave.
• Comp time — Allow employees the option of taking time off instead of
being paid for additional or overtime hours that they have worked.
Work-life policies and practices have the potential to enhance
opportunities and productivity for women in the workplace and provide
opportunities for men to be more involved in family life. Ultimately,
employers, employees, families and communities benefit. It pays to care.
Safa Suleiman is the former Women's Treatment Coordinator for the
Wyoming Department of Health, Substance Abuse Division. She lives in the
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