What about work-life balance for low-wage women of color?
Discussions about work-life balance often exclude low-paid women workers of color. Including them means investing in basic policies like equal pay and paid time off.
October is National Work and Family Month, a designation first celebrated by the US Senate in 2003. The struggle workers face to balance work and family responsibilities has become a key issue for the United States. Former President Barack Obama, who in a 2014 speech to the White House Work Families Summit said that “family-friendly policies are good business practices.”
Today, government officials, business leaders and the media are increasingly calling attention to the importance of reducing stress at work and promoting a better “work-life balance”. But most of the rhetoric is directed at high-income professionals such as managers and executives who tend to be largely white, and not low-paid workers of color, especially black and brunette women.
During the pandemic, low-paid workers, such as those doing janitorial, catering, nursing and agricultural work, were deemed “essential.” Disproportionately people of color, some have been rewarded for their critical work with temporary and modest increases in the form of “hero pay”. Yet today little attention is paid to these workers in discussions of work-life balance.
Work-life balance rhetoric leaves vulnerable workers behind
Overall, American workers are among the most stressed in the world. According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, 57% of American and Canadian employees report feeling stressed on a daily basis. Studies show that economic inequalities, by race and gender, are one of the main factors of stress and even suicide. But few, if any, columns of advice on achieving work-life balance discuss higher pay as a solution to reducing stress among low-paid workers.
Instead, assumptions that well-paid workers are the only ones who deserve a work-life balance are built into the discussions. The Sage website, which offers products to business owners, recommends that employers promote work-life balance by allowing flexible work schedules, more options for remote work, and a greater focus on productivity rather than hours. Insider.com suggests “mindfulness” as a way to achieve a healthy work-life balance. And, Forbes.com, in offering its 6 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance, focuses on personal responsibility, offering workers tips for “unplugging” and “letting go of perfectionism,” as well as “doing it.” exercise and meditate ”.
Such advice is not suitable, for example, for a domestic worker employed by a private family, a janitor at a cleaning service, or a cashier at Walmart whose hours are optimized to maximize the profits of the business. “The types of jobs included in discussions about work-life balance are generally those you might call ‘careers’ rather than just ‘jobs,’ says Michelle Chen, union journalist and co-host of Contestation magazines elaborate Podcast.
Exercise or mediation is unlikely to alleviate the very real financial strains faced by low-paid workers. Chen calls the term work-life balance, “companies talk about life satisfaction,” and says it “isn’t for people whose worth is measured by how long they have lived. ‘they can devote to the drudgery of salaried work. “
Referring to black workers in particular, Dr Angelica Geter says: “We age faster than white women. Geter is the Strategy Director of Black Women’s Health Imperative and explained that the reasons for these health disparities are “stress, racism, gender discrimination and poverty”. Simply put, she suggests “access to a fair wage and a living wage” as a solution.
Instead of promoting fair policies to tackle racial and gender inequalities, companies are now increasingly using training and workshops that promote “diversity, equity and inclusion”. Such efforts focus on making individuals aware of their behavior rather than on frameworks instituting pay equity, for example. “Awareness is good,” Geter says, but “it doesn’t lead to systemic change”.
What about work-life balance for low-wage women of color?
In 2010, the Obama administration issued a statement saying that “Attracting and retaining more productive and engaged employees through flexible work policies is not only good for business or for our economy, it is good for our people. families and our future ”.
Three years later, Obama acknowledged at the White House Summit on Working Families how difficult it has become for American workers to manage the demands of low-paying and precarious jobs against the responsibilities of raising a family. . He said: “Family leave, child care, flexibility at work, a living wage, these are not frills. These are basic needs. He added: “They shouldn’t be bonuses, they should be part of our bottom line as a company.”
But seven years after Obama’s speech, the federal minimum wage remains at an appallingly low $ 7.25 an hour, and wages have not risen to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Paid parental leave is not compulsory by law, and childcare and health care remain prohibitive. All of these factors disproportionately affect low-paid women workers of color, for whom Chen asserts that the “life” part of “working life” is really just other work — involving a massive amount of unpaid work. paid in addition to their paid work. Workforce.”
In addition, the work of low-paid women workers of color has often been the building block on which white professional women have been able to find work-life balance. According to Geter, “black women in particular represent a very high rate among those in minimum wage jobs” and “these are the women who can deliver your groceries so that you can stay at home.” Arun Gupta, a freelance journalist covering work organization, agrees, saying: “Being able to hire employees to cover your own work in order to achieve that work-life balance is clearly only an option for the 1 for. hundred.
Work-life balance through pay equity and worker-friendly policies
A decade after the Occupy Wall Street movement rekindled a sense of class consciousness among the American public, with the top 1% seen as pitting their wealth and power against 99% of Americans, wealth inequality has did that grow and persisted according to the criteria of race and gender. .
Gupta, who has been actively involved with Occupy Wall Street, said: “One of the main issues with achieving ‘work-life balance’ is that it puts all the burden on the individual. While this may work for well-paid professionals, “for the rest of us,” Gupta explains, “options like logging out of jobs that require constant on-call or ordering take-out every time. that we are too exhausted to cook, is more of a fantasy than reality. “
While employer-supported exercise, meditation, and flexible hours are attractive perks for high-income workers, the trade-off for low-wage workers of color focuses on basic needs such as higher wages. high, paid sick and family time, generous paid time off and affordable child care. Even Obama admitted, “Other countries know how to do this. If France can understand this, we can understand it.
Indeed, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index shows that countries with the best work-life balance tend to receive generous government benefits. For example, workers in the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark can count on affordable childcare services that are regulated and subsidized by their governments. In contrast, the United States, which has prohibitively expensive child care services, ranks 29th out of 40 countries on the OECD Work-Life Balance Index.
Gupta said, “If we as a company were serious about achieving a work-life balance for everyone, we would address the underlying issues. This means giving workers “the collective power to cope with the long hours, low wages and unsanitary working conditions that are the norm.”
is currently the Racial Justice Editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Independent Media Institute. She was previously a weekly columnist for Truthdig.com. She is also the host and creator of Getting up with Sonali, a nationally broadcast television and radio show on Free Speech TV and dozens of independent and community radio stations. Sonali won first place at the Los Angeles Press Club Annual Awards for Best Election Commentary in 2016. She has also won numerous awards, including Best LA Press Club TV Host, and was also nominated for Best Radio Host. 4 years in a row. She is the author of Bloodstain Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-director of the non-profit group Afghan Women’s Mission. She holds an MA in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii and two undergraduate degrees in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. She reflects on her professional career in her TEDx 2014 conference, “My journey from astrophysicist to radio host”. She can be contacted on sonalikolhatkar.com