Women can’t achieve equality at work until the issues of family, home and children become men’s issues equally, Betty Friedan told a national conference Thursday on balancing work and home.
The pioneering feminist, who has focused on work-family issues in recent years, said that while women earn more than half the income in a majority of households, “it’s still considered a woman’s job to stay home if a child is sick.”
Her call to action coincides with the growing realization in corporate America that issues of child care, eldercare and flexible work affect both men and women - and the bottom line.
Progressive companies understand that work family programs are no longer just a pleasant benefit to offer employees; they’re an integral part of efforts to woo and keep good workers.
Representatives from Boeing, Aetna insurance, Coopers & Lybrand accountants and many Fortune 500 firms were among the more than 400 participants in the Association of Work-Life Professionals’ two-day annual meeting.
Friedan, 77, shook up America in 1963 with the publication of her book “The Feminine Mystique,” which questioned for the first time the assumption then that women’s work was in the home.
Her most recent book, “Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family,” challenges feminists to turn away from anti-male rhetoric and focus again on empowering women economically. To do that, they must also work with men to forge new definitions of success.
“I don’t withdraw an inch from the demand for equal opportunity for women to get to the top,” she said in an interview after her keynote speech to the conference.
But “I won’t be content until those issues of home, children and family are considered equally men’s issues,” she said, her gravelly voice rising.
Friedan especially advocates shorter work weeks and flexible work arrangements to help men and women attain equality and better balance.
Bill Madison, vice president for human resources at Dupont, told the conference that a 1995 company study found work-life programs helped lead to reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and increased worker commitment.
He told the conference he would make work-life balance a “male issue” at Dupont, meaning he would “make it more of a business issue.”