Wage gap? Parental leave? Workplace issues? You asked... here are some of the Obama Administration's answers (video)

From left: Shine senior editor Lylah M. Alphonse, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Office of Management and Budget Senior Project Adviser Preeta Bansal discuss the From left: Shine senior editor Lylah M. Alphonse, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Office of Management …Ten days ago, we asked you to send us your questions about women and workplace issues. Yesterday, we took your questions to Washington, D.C., where Shine senior editor Lylah M. Alphonse sat down with two Obama administration officials to talk about the wage gap, parental leave policies, flex time, work-life balance, and information from "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being," which was released earlier this month-the first comprehensive federal report about women since 1963.

Our interview with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Preeta Bansal, General Counsel and Senior Policy Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President, was livestreamed at whitehouse.gov and on the White House's Facebook page last night, but if you missed it, you can watch the video right here!


There was plenty of political back-and-forth when we asked you for your questions on March 21 but, aside from talking politics, Shine users were most concerned about several key topics:

1. "Why does the wage gap between men and women still exist?"


"Well, there are a variety of reasons, a variety of different factors," Jarrett says. "We have to encourage our young girls to go into fields that lead to profitable careers."

The Women in America report found that women who work outside of the home still spend more time doing chores, child- or elder-care, and volunteer work than men, who tend to spend more time on sports and leisure activities, and this contributes to the wage gap as well. "Women aren't able to spend as much time as work [as men] because they have all these other commitments and responsibilities," Jarrett said. But even if they could spend more time at the office, there's yet another issue to contend with: In spite of the great gains we've made in society, "We still have discrimination in the workplace," she said.

To encourage change, "part of what we've been doing here at the White House, as part of the Council of Women and Girls, is to highlight best practices." Jarrett said. "Employers who have flexibility in the workplace are more productive."

"Flex work schedules aren't only about women, it's about families and the choices they're making," Bansal added. "There's a role both for government and laws, and there's a role for the private sector... the private sector is recognizing more and more that retaining women is about competitiveness."

2. "Why is the United States one of the few industrialized nations that does not offer paid parental leave?"

"One of the things that the President is proposing a demonstration program in states where we actually do fund paid leave," Jarrett said. "Because it is a big step to have unpaid leave, but that's not enough, particularly for families that are vulnerable in this economic climate."

"There's always a budget angle to everything... Trying to do more with less is really the mantra," Bansal added. "I think the President's initiative of funding the state pilot programs will go a long way in terms of demonstrating to us what will work and what won't. One we have examples of programs that work well, and have an ability to evaluate them, then we can decide how and when to scale them up."

3. "Are there any initiatives in the works to increase the number of women at the highest levels of the private sector?"

Both Bansal and Jarrett have spent time in the private sector, and increasing the number of women who serve on those boards is a priority for them. "It's good business to have diversity both on the board and at the senior levels," Jarrett said. "Women bring something, a perspective, to the table, just the way people of color bring a perspective to the table."

"All of our companies are competing in a global marketplace," she added. "Recognizing that if you have diversity at all ranks of your company, you're going to be more thoughtful, you're going to make wiser decisions and more-informed decisions."

"The White House is leading by example," Bansal pointed out. "We have women at some of the senior-most levels. We have a very strong female presence on the President's cabinet. So, in all of those ways, I think the President is showing that leadership by women is something that matters."

4. "What does the administration hope to advance to help women outside of the workplace?"

"In terms of helping working families, the President's budget is committed to that," Bansal said. "The Women, Infant, and Children, the WIC program. The President's budget adds a lot of funding for that at a time of tight budgets. There's a number of programs that help combat hunger. Housing assistance for families... making sure that safety net is there for families. So there are a number of ways in which the President supports working families, and the budget reflects that."

5. "Are funding and special programs like we see for like those that we see created for African American males, urban males, single fathers, Latinos and new-English learners, will be created in support of African American girls?"

"Taking care of our girls is a big priority," Jarrett said. "There are challenges, and there are inequities, and we want to make sure that there is this level playing field for all of our girls."

"One thing that doesn't cost any money is mentorship," Jarrett pointed out. "It's not just programs and spending money. It's also taking time... one girl at a time, we can make a big difference."

There was much more (watch the video, above, for the entire interview), and we're looking forward to continuing the conversation right here on Shine.




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