With all the chuckling over the image of “women in binders” from last week’s presidential debate, it is easy to overlook the issue of workplace flexibility that Gov. Romney inserted into the national conversation.
When he talked about providing flexibility for a woman on his staff while Governor in Massachusetts he focused, as do many in the working world, on moms of younger children:
"I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible," Romney said. "My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, 'I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.' So we said, 'Fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.'"
The thing is, for us moms of kids/teens/ adults with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities, we need flexibility and understanding in the workplace for a whole lot more than just coming home to make dinner (that’s why God invented Trader Joes by the way). We may need time off during the workday for meetings with special education administrators at the public school, to attend speech therapy sessions or even to provide medical assistance. But don’t worry, we will make sure that the work gets done, even if we answer emails in the middle of the night and take our conference calls in doctors' waiting rooms.
Take the example of a courageous Mom in Washington D. C. Latesha Taylor a 36-year-old single mother has been caring for her daughter’s type 1 diabetes for eight years, and when the school district’s nurse isn’t there, it is Latesha who has to drop everything at work and run over to the public school to help out with blood glucose monitoring, insulin shots, and any emergency glucagon to keep her daughter Loretta healthy and able to learn during school. Because of all these absences, Latesha’s had trouble keeping a job. Thanks to legal advocates and the American Diabetes Association, the school district has agreed to train more staff in the schools to help Loretta manage her diabetes, but I am still concerned that the flexibility Latesha will need for all the medical-related appointments may not be forthcoming from a future employer.
Another issue is that kids like our son, Danny, don’t magically become able to take care of themselves just because they have reached some chronological age. With his combination of physical and intellectual disabilities, he will need someone around 24/7 for the rest of his life. And no matter how organized I’ve tried to be, there are invariably unanticipated situations. The sitter gets a flat tire, Danny gets a stomach bug or the high school decides to throw in a “minimum day” without telling us. In all those cases, Mom gets the first call.
I’ve been pretty fortunate. Since Danny’s diagnosis at 13 months, my direct supervisors in various Jewish and general non-profit agencies have been very supportive but that doesn’t mean that the whole organization gets it. Unless the organization has a clear written policy about how they will handle workplace flexibility for on-going family issues for all employees, previous “understandings” can disappear overnight.
So maybe we do need some binders after all…