Conference explores how women changed workplace

For its 11th annual Women's Business and Leadership Conference, Women Leading Kentucky has attracted another round of national experts — including the editor of The Shriver Report, a partnership by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress that explores women and the workforce.

The daylong conference on May 4 will feature Heather Boushey discussing her work and how the nation's economic infrastructure has not evolved as quickly as a workforce in which women are more heavily represented.

Registration for the event is required by Wednesday.

In a recent article, Boushey wrote that "Today, the movement of women into the labor force is not just enduring but certifiably revolutionary — perhaps the greatest social transformation of our time."

Boushey will be joined by speakers including headliner Betsy Myers, who served as senior adviser for the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Boushey talked last week about her research.

Question: Tell us about the focus of your speech in Lexington, and what participants may learn.

Answer: I will be talking about building on The Shriver Report. ... In that, the key theme is that although the way families work and live has changed dramatically, the institutions around us have yet to adapt.

... Women are now half of all workers on U.S. payrolls. ... And it used to be that the common family, never the majority of families, was two-parent families with a stay-at-home wife. Today that describes only one in five American families.

We've seen a remarkable shift. Women, particularly mothers, are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63 percent of families, and 39.3 percent of mothers are actually their family's breadwinner. They're either a single working mom or a married mom who brings home as much or more than her husband. That's up dramatically from 1967.

But even though we've seen this big shift in how families work and live, we haven't seen institutions change. We still see schools that end long before the workday ends or close for months at a time, even though families don't have someone at home. ... You've got social insurance systems that continue to assume that most families look like a "traditional" family.

What I'm going to talk about starts from those basic facts and talks about what it means and the policy agenda we're working on.

Q: What do you think is the biggest issue facing working women?

A: I think the biggest issues facing both working men and women is how to work in this new reality. ... Some of the firms that are lauded as some of the best places to work to balance work and family actually give people demerits when they use these tools.

... For both men and women, the biggest challenge is ... how to find the flexibility to be good workers and be good parents and spouses and good family members.

What we're hearing is that it's just as big a challenge for men as women.

Q: Please tell us about what your research suggests of the recession's effect on female workers as opposed to male workers.

A: The first year of the recession saw men lose almost all the jobs. Women have started to catch up. Men have lost just under seven of every 10 jobs lost.

That means a lot of things. In millions of homes, she's holding down the fort while he's searching for work. ... And she's often making less than what he was making. There's no better time to focus on pay equity.