It famously has been stated that it takes a village to raise a child. Such a declaration emphasizes the power of community and a commitment to work together toward a common goal. Last week, I had the honor of seeing this philosophy in action when I attended the White House Forum on Women & the Economy. For the better part of a day, leaders from the private sector, senior White House staff, members of the Cabinet, and the president himself participated in a thoughtful discussion about how women are faring in the US economy and what more needs to be done to ensure that women and girls across the United States have what they need to thrive.
As many of our nation’s most powerful leaders took turns at the podium, one message came across loud and clear: What’s good for women is good for the economy. Gene Sperling, Director of the White House National Economic Council, made this case when he asserted that one of our nation’s greatest competitive advantages is that we have more women in the workforce than do other nations. Karen Mills, Administrator of the United States Small Business Administration, agreed when she reminded us that it is women entrepreneurs who are driving the growth in small business around the US. And, Joe Eshecarria, CEO of Deloitte, made the business case for family-friendly policies when he affirmed that productivity increases when you allow employees the flexibility they need to meet both work and family obligations.
In 2009, NCJW was at the White House when President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls. The April 6 forum made clear the importance of this Council which used the occasion to launch a new report: “Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward: The Key to an Economy Built to Last.” That document highlights the many laws, policies, and programs available to help women succeed, and it does so from a position inside every agency, department, and office of the federal government. It was appropriate, then, that participants at the Forum were joined by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecelia Munoz, and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett, among others.
At one point during the day, I sat next to Attorney General Eric Holder as he and Lynn Rosenthal, the first ever White House Advisor on Domestic Violence, spoke about how the Department of Justice can promote equality and economic security for women. In fact, Attorney General Holder even made the case for NCJW’s Higher Ground campaign when he declared that economic reasons should never drive a woman back to her batterer!
While every leader present provided thoughtful analysis of the role that women play in families, society, and certainly in the economy, the most powerful moment came when the President himself took to the podium to declare that “Women are not an interest group… Women are over half this country and its workforce.” Thank you, Mr. President for treating women with the respect and attention that we deserve by establishing a government-wide commitment to addressing our unique needs and concerns.