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A 21st Century Workplace for Today's Working Families

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Every day in America, there are single moms struggling to take sick children to doctors' appointments because missing work isn't an option. Working dads find themselves straining to focus at work, because their employer doesn't provide paternity leave that would enable them to contribute at home and bond with their new babies. Young women are questioning their ability to thrive in the workplace as they try to balance the needs of their families with their responsibilities at work.

Nearly half of America's workforce is now comprised of women, and three-fourths of households are headed by a working single parent, or two working parents. Still, our workplaces have yet to catch up by implementing policies which empower women, and provide flexibility for parents.

Most parents, myself included, have felt at times like we were barely holding on by our finger tips as we try to meet all of the demands on our time. I often recall a time while working for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, when the value of a flexible work environment was made clear. I had just been promoted to the role of Commissioner of Planning and Development, and he had convened a meeting with members of his cabinet and Susan Sher, who was the corporation counsel at the time. She was also one of my dearest friends, and a single mom too.

As the meeting stretched on, the two of us kept looking at our watches, and at each other. Finally, the Mayor interrupted the conversation, gave us a piercing stare, and asked if there was somewhere more important that we needed to be.

I wasn't at all sure how to respond, but I looked across the table at Susan, and blurted out, "Susan and I both have second graders, and their Halloween Parade starts in 20 minutes -- and it is 25 minutes away." We both braced ourselves, not knowing how the Mayor might respond. But without a second's hesitation, he replied, "Well then what are you doing here? You better get moving."

As our demographics continue to shift, more and more employers are beginning to understand that their workers will only perform at their best, and stick around for the long haul, if they don't have to sneak around, or pretend that they don't have meaningful lives outside of the office.

Prioritizing the needs of working families, and empowering women in our workplaces is not only good for American families, it increases productivity, boosts worker retention, and adds to the strength of our economy. Adjusting to the needs of today's families is critical to the success of our 21st century workforce, and to the health of American families for generations to come.

Valerie Jarrett serves as a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.

This post is part of a series produced by The White House in conjunction with its Working Families Summit, the goal of which is to help "create 21st-century workplaces that work for all Americans." Today's regional summit in New York City is part of a series of events across the country leading up to the main event on June 23, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Read here to learn more about the effort.