A recently published report on balancing work responsibilities and family life written by two MIT professors prompted Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to organize a roundtable discussion for representatives from national public policy and labor organizations.
Thomas A. Kochan, the George M. Bunker Professor of Management, and Lotte Bailyn, the T. Wilson Professor of Management, wrote the report with Robert Drago of Pennsylvania State University. In "Integrating Work and Family Life: a Holistic Approach," the authors call for employers, unions, government and communities to develop coordinated strategies to address the friction between the demands of work and family.
They recommend a national universal paid leave policy for employees; more options to work flexible hours or reduced hours; and giving employees a stronger voice in the formation of corporate work/family policies. They also recommend that councils be formed at the local, state and national levels, leading to a national summit that would evaluate practices and progress and keep the issues visible in the political arena.
"The first step is to form the councils and find a way to ensure that all employees have access to paid leave for family needs and family care," said Kochan. "It helps that there is a growing interest in these issues among policy makers."
Representatives from national public policy and labor organizations sat down together on Feb. 28 to analyze the report's recommendations in a roundtable cosponsored by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; the Sloan Foundation Work-Family Policy Network; and the National Policy Association.
"This is the first time I've seen these groups engage in a dialogue about the work/family conflict," said Kochan. "The roundtable was encouraging as a model for how we should proceed on a larger scale."
Panelists were Danielle Ewen of the Children's Defense Fund; Heidi Hartmann, president and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research; Renuka Raofield of the National Partnership for Women and Families; Karen Nussbaum of the Working Women's Department, AFL-CIO; and Ed Potter, president of the Employment Policy Foundation. Ann Bookman, executive director of the new MIT Workplace Center, also was a participant.
The audience included representatives from Sen. Kennedy's office, the co-sponsoring Senate committee and the office of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald of California. Among the speakers from the audience were members of the Program on Gender, Work and Family; the Alliance of Work Life Professionals; and the NAFTA Labor Commission.
During the roundtable, participants discussed the obstacles faced by those who have attempted to resolve work/family conflicts such as child care, elder care and health needs. The report suggests that previous efforts have addressed these issues piecemeal, when a "collaborative, systemic effort" would have far greater success.
"Our biggest challenge may be engaging the business community. None of the existing coalitions will be able to solve these issues on its own. But by working together, these groups could creative viable, sustainable solutions for the problem as a whole," said Kochan.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 3, 2002.