The Future of Tech: Design for and by Working Families
Last week, I moderated a panel at Mills College with CEOs Sabrina Parsons, Sharon Wienbar, and Tina Lee about creating equitable spaces for women in tech. I look forward to posting excerpts from the dialogue soon. In the meantime, the following is an excerpt from my introduction:
I’m really glad that we’re having this conversation on International Women’s Day. The UN’s theme for this year is Women in the Changing World of Work so it’s very appropriate that we will be “talking story” — as we call it in Hawaii — about women, work, and equity today.
And that’s essentially what my book, Lean On And Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy is: Thirty-one parents, mostly moms “talking story” about how parenting affects their work lives and vice versa — including two of our panelists — Sabrina Parsons and Sharon Wienbar.
And what I learned from recording stories from parents with vastly different realities was that most of us share very core challenges that have an enormous impact — often negative — on our daily lives as well as our economy at large — yet these problems would be very solve-able if working families were really a priority for our leaders and policy-makers.
A studio exec who reviewed Lean On and Lead has said:
“Everyone has their own story, but the common theme is how everyone has had to adapt to work the system in order to be able to make a living and at the same time have a functional family. And of course, it should be the other way around. The system should adapt to meet the needs of working families.”
But it doesn’t. The US is one of only three countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee some kind of paid family leave nationally. On the state level, California has had paid family leave for over ten years — and New York just passed a really good paid leave law — but that brings us up to only four states in the country with mandated paid family leave.
And we still have no national paid sick leave. We’re the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation or holidays. And the child care situation seems to be getting worse.
And that’s because our business leaders and politicians continually ignore the fact that the success of our economy relies upon the work of unpaid parents, along with underpaid care givers and educators. And that’s because the vast majority of the people who are doing this work are women and women of color.
And that’s also probably why we don’t have national laws that guarantee gender pay equity. Just a few weeks ago, a Utah Republican said that paying women equally would ruin the makeup of a traditional family where “the Mother” remains at home raising children.
Obviously his is an extreme view and thankfully, the Republican party in his state denounced him. But even in the most progressive places — in states like Hawaii where family — ohana — is a priority, we have to fight very hard to get policy makers and leaders to acknowledge that thriving families are necessary for a healthy economy.
On a positive note, in just the last few years, there has been a big change in the national consciousness about women, caregiving, and work. People all over the country started writing books and articles about the issue, women like our panelists have become known for important and substantive work that they are doing in this space, and there was a big push from the Obama Administration and national advocacy groups. For example, Obama increased the minimum wage for contractors and home health care workers, enacted sick leave and pay equity rules for contractors as well, and consistently pushed for more investment in child care. He made a lot of that progress through regulations and executive orders.
There’s also been progress in the private sector with high paying industries like tech and finance implementing extensive highly publicized family-friendly policies, and for the first time, paid leave and childcare were part of the presidential debates. And last week, Trump talked about both in his speech to Congress.
But enacting supports for working families is not just about doing what’s right for families or even — as the data shows — doing what’s good for business.
It’s also about doing what’s necessary to be at the forefront of the high-tech economy. If we want to be truly innovative, and to solve real problems, we need to re-design how we get work done and start solving technical problems from the perspectives of working families — and that means diverse women and men need to be part of that process.
We need to build on the stories of a diversity of real mothers and fathers to figure out how to reshape institutions, services, products, and education — in any political climate — so that they fit the needs of the family rather than the other way around.