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Career conference in Bellagio

Work and life: The search for balance

Work and life: The search for balance
Editor's update: A "Bellagio Bill of Rights" was one result of the international conference detailed in this story, and in the next month Cornell's Institute for Women and Work will be developing an index to measure quality of life among workers -- the juggling of heart and economics. We expect to have further coverage for you as the index is readied. -- Porter Anderson  

In this story:

Home vs. work

Looking for the union label

'Private' and public

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(CNN) -- "Women are certainly moving," says Betty Friedan. "Every day you read about women in the most God-awful, unforeseen places. I think it's really happening. And for women in many countries, it's a new experience to be organizing."

And so the author and feminist icon today is in Bellagio, Italy, at an international conference mounted by Cornell University's Institute for Women and Work. The focus of the conference, which is funded by Rockefeller and Ford Foundation grants, is quality of life -- and it's not limited to that of women.

graphic How well are you doing on balancing personal and professional demands?

I'm in a couple and have a family, and we're barely keeping it together.
I'm in a couple and we have a family, and so far we're managing OK.
I'm single with kids, and I'm losing ground every day.
I'm single with kids, and at this point, I'm handling home and work fairly well.
I'm in a couple, no kids, and we're stressed, as is.
I'm in a couple, no kids, and we're finding time for life together as well as work.
I'm single without kids, and feeling pressured to give up more and more time to work.
I'm single without kids, and so far balancing my time and work time successfully.
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"There needs to be bolder thinking," Friedan says, "on how to measure the quality of life of men and women in the work force. Currently, success is measured by material advancements. We need to readjust the definition of success to account for time outside of work and satisfaction of life, not just the dollars-and-cents bottom line."

Friedan opened the conference Monday and on Wednesday chairs a strategy session titled "Public Policy and the Search for Flexibility, Fairness and Prosperity."

And the dilemma being addressed is everywhere to observe and frequently covered here at The tighter the labor market and the more time we all spend at work, the more elusive becomes your "personal life." The allure of that monetary bottom line Friedan talks about, for many people, is winning.

The conference's co-director with Friedan, Francine Moccio of Cornell, calls this being "economically correct" -- adhering to the particularly American position that wealth is the main criterion by which to judge success. Moccio points out that in some parts of the world, this is creating a more profound crisis than simply less time with the kids or never fully getting away during vacations.

"In European Union countries," Moccio says, "the participation rate of women in the labor force is much less than in the United States." The EU countries, in fact, are trying to do two things at once that might seem contradictory, she says: Raise the birth rate and get more women into the job market.


Home vs. work

"One-fifth of the EU countries' populations," Moccio says, "is 65 or older." But these economies need more production. "So they're grappling with how to encourage both fiscal growth and fertility rates -- and yet they also want to propose social policies that no longer put women into the position of being the sole caregivers for elderly parents."

In the United States, the baby boomers may be aging, but Moccio sees another problem as being much more critical: the increase in two-worker homes.

Francine Moccio
Francine Moccio  

"In roughly the last 30 years, the growth in dual-earner families has grown by 30 percent. Single-parent families have increased, too, in the same period of around 1965 to 1999. Most of these single-parent families are headed by women, but there's a high growth rate among men leading single-parent families.

"At least 70 percent of American women are in the work force. Most couples and partners are dual-wage-earning. The problem we come down to is who's taking care of the children and aging parents?

"No longer is this a question for women alone. Now, it's set on the political stage. Politicians, lawyers, advocacy groups are all involved.

"With the growth of global competitive capitalism, these problems are spreading. Western and Eastern European countries are being driven by the need for economic growth to encourage women to participate in the workplace."


Looking for the union label

Friedan cautions that working from home isn't the salvation many think it is.

"We may need new forms of union protection. It hasn't been thought through. And I'm not sure the AFL-CIO is on top of this," Friedan says. "What can be done to organize and give clout to men and women working on these contract-out arrangements?

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan  

"They often have the illusion of being their own bosses, but they're not. It's a new form of home sweatshop."

If trying to make home-based labor equitable is difficult in the United States, moving women into the labor pool is a challenge in many other countries. Centuries of tradition -- many more centuries than American heritage offers -- have established that women's place is in the home.

"Men there are caught in a transition," Moccio says. "Maybe the next generation of Europeans will see it as more natural for both the man and woman to be in the workplace."

But that, of course, may set off the same bind so many American couples are in today. And studies show that in the States, the burden of family and home management still falls primarily on the woman, even if she has a job.

Moccio looks at the 35-hour work week -- introduced in France on January 1, 2000 -- as an effort to stimulate both economic growth and the fertility rate. And at the conference in Bellagio this week, she says, they're expecting to have some reports on what effect that shortened work week may have had in these areas.


'Private' and public

In the United States, she says, the thinking is along the lines of lobbying for public policy that mandates more flex time for family working people. And at the same time, she points out, this can't be done at the expense of single workers or working couples without children.

A growing movement in the country is starting to expose the subtle ways in which workers without children sometimes carry extra loads for workers with families -- and even have less valuable benefits at work than "family workers" who get day-care assistance and other aids.

"You see," says Friedan, "you don't want to let them polarize family issues and benefits to split the workers. I think there's more usefulness in a benefits package that serves both."

"I was at a meeting two years ago in Beijing, and I passed a bunch of women who were marching in a protest. Their signs were probably saying something I wouldn't have agreed with at all. But I was so glad to see women marching. And it's happening all over the world."
— Betty Friedan, "Life So Far" (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Moccio agrees: "You have to approach these issues politically and inclusively. You can argue that workers who have children have a greater need than somebody who wants to go canoeing. But you can't form a political union if you don't try to build an issue in an inclusive way."

Organization is the key, Friedan says. "I was at a meeting two years ago in Beijing," she says, "and I passed a bunch of women who were marching in a protest. Their signs were probably saying something I wouldn't have agreed with at all. But I was so glad to see women marching. And it's happening all over the world."

A rallying point for organization at this week's conference, says Moccio, is the perception that "Family life in the United State is 'personal' -- 'private problems,' your 'personal' concerns. What we're looking for in this conference is ways to raise the issues of work and family as public matters, policy matters, political matters.

"We want to build a work-family movement in the United States that can support balance: work and life."

Moccio and Friedan's conference -- titled "Gross National Product vs. Quality of Life: Balancing Work and Family" -- continues through Friday and attendees include Vaso Pappandreou, the Greek interior minister; Maxine Gay, the New Zealand Trade Union Federation president; Belgian economist Reiner Hoffmann; Asa Regner, assistant to the Swedish prime minister on gender equality; and Rosa Lugembe of the Tanzanian ministry of labor.

Moccio and members of the women-and-work institute she leads at Cornell met on December 6 with legislators in Washington on these issues. The next step, she says, is to come back from Bellagio with some strategies in the making for a spring symposium tentatively set for mid-April.

"The Europeans," Friedan says, "have a much better sense of this. They've dealt more than we have" in the States "with some of these problems. They've done more than we have to get flexibility of work schedules, ways to fulfill both family and corporate responsibilities."


France: Massive support for pension protest
January 25, 2001
He clicked, she clicked: A narrower gender pay gap in tech jobs
January 17, 2001
Women and men: Payday
December 12, 2000
Dual earners: Double trouble
November 13, 2000
Greece: Athens strike takes hold
October 10, 2000
Salon review: 'Betty Friedan: Her Life'
March 29, 1999

Cornell University: Institute for Women and Work
Economic Policy Institute
Institute for Women's Policy Research
Women in Technology International

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