Washington » Utahn Heather Armstrong rode to Internet fame blogging by the handle of Dooce about the intricacies of her life and motherhood. She now runs a successful home business with husband Jon, but only after he jettisoned his full-time gig and the family was left without health care.
Armstrong told that story Wednesday at the White House at a conference on workplace flexibility. More than a dozen other business leaders or government officials at the table agreed with Armstrong, that one of the bigger blockades for employees seeking work that allows flexibility to care for young children or aging parents is the ability to keep their health care plans.
The good news, Armstrong said, was that the law just signed by President Barack Obama meant her daughter, Leta Elise, would have access to health care.
"My daughter is going to get insurance because of the bill," she said to applause from the room.
Armstrong, named by Forbes magazine as one of the most influential women in media, sat on the front row later as Obama addressed a packed crowd of business owners, academics and officials from various government agencies.
"This disconnect between the needs of our families and the demands of our workplace also reflects a broader problem, that today, we as a society still see workplace flexibility policies as a special perk for women rather than a critical part of a workplace that can help all of us," Obama said. "There's still this perception out there that an employee who needs some time to tend to an aging parent or attend a parent-teachers conference isn't fully committed to his or her job; or that if you make a workplace more flexible, it necessarily will be less profitable."
Armstrong said the opportunity to visit the White House was fantastic and that it's important to use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of workplace flexibility issues. But as she pointed out in the breakout session, there comes a time when the federal government needs to require that employees be given more help. Canada, she noted, allows 52 weeks of maternity leave.
"I think the whole discussion in the group was all about stuff that employers should do," Armstrong said. "That's all good, but at some point the government should step in and say, 'This has to happen and here are some subsidies that would help.'"
Helen Morea, president of The Midtown group, a career consulting firm, added that as the economy recovers businesses may not be thinking about allowing more flexible time for their employees, but they should.
"What I think they're going to find is the talent pool is going to shrink and become more competitive," she said. "It's a great time for employers to be focused on this."