The Washington Post

White House preps for June working families summit with regional events

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, will be in Chicago Monday as part of regional outreach efforts on the economy that will lead up to a June summit at the White House. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

The White House is set to host a June summit on working families that will look particularly at how women are faring in the workplace, part of a broader effort by Democrats to frame the economy with women at the center as more families are headed by women and women voters have become key to success at the polls.

The June event will be coordinated by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor and the White House Council of Women and Girls, which is headed by Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama.

The effort is part of Obama’s “pen and phone” strategy and in some ways an acknowledgement that Congress isn’t likely to move any major legislation in an election year. (Not likely to be at the White House event in June? Congressional Republicans.)

So far, in advance of the summer summit, the White House has had a number of smaller events, including an event in Denver, Colorado, featuring administration officials to begin to lay the groundwork with stakeholders. Among the topics has been creating a more flexible workplace, having paid leave, access to sick days and equal pay for equal work.

One major pitch that the administration is making is that in the global economy, staying competitive means creating a workplace that addresses the different realities of people’s lives, like childcare and caring for older parents, responsibilities which very often fall to women.

She The People reached out to Jarrett to get a sense of the goals for the regional events, the next of which is Monday morning in Chicago, where Jarrett will be on hand, along with Tina Tchen, first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

“What we are communicating to the stakeholders is that the paradigm has shifted and if we are going to be globally competitive, we have to shift as well. The companies on the cutting edge are the ones that are going to be competitive,” she said. “Employers who have flexibly are more productive, they have less turnover and they have employees who are loyal so there is a competitive motivation.”

Earlier this month, Jarrett met with a group of business school deans for input on how to create such work environments. A July 2010 study of business graduates, for instance, found a gender pay gap for MBA graduates and in other professions, with men outpacing women in the years after graduation. While that discussion was off the record, Jarrett said the idea is to get good ideas and scale them up across fields and work environments.

“What we are hoping is that the regional forums will create the building blocs, so we can highlight the best practices on the road,” said Jarrett. “It isn’t about the federal government setting an objective, it’s going to be about employers embracing them. We are engaging a broad range of stakeholders and the president is uniquely able to put a spotlight on this issue.”

Yet, the Obama White House has been criticized for its own pay gap even as it pushed for an equal pay bill that ultimately failed in the Senate.

“We have 16 departments and the majority are headed by women,” she said. “We are aggressively recruiting entry level women, who are going to be promoted in future administrations.”

The next events include:  May 12 in New York, May 19 in Boston and May 27 in San Francisco.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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