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Nationally known work-life expert to speak at URI, Oct. 3

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Progressive policies, practices promoted at URI

KINGSTON, R.I.-- September 26, 2008 -- Joan Williams, a nationally known expert on work-life law and practice, will speak at the University of Rhode Island Friday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m. Her talk, “New Frontiers in Research on Diversity: Caregiver Bias in the 21st Century Workplace,” will be given in URI’s Memorial Union Ballroom, 50 Lower College Road, Kingston. The talk, hosted by URI’s ADVANCE program and the URI Work-Life Committee, is free and open to the public. There will be a short presentation by the ADVANCE program prior to the talk. A reception will follow.

Williams, a distinguished law professor and the 1066 Foundation Chair at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, directs Worklife Law and co-directs the Project for Attorney Retention. She is the author of the prize-winning book Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It. She is a sought-after speaker and is widely quoted in the press. She has appeared numerous times on national television and was featured on the PBS documentary, Juggling Work and Family.

She has played a leading role in documenting workplace bias against mothers. Her current work focuses on social psychology research related to the dynamics of workplace discrimination, and how work/family conflict affects families and employers across the social spectrum, with a particular focus on how caregiving issues arise in union arbitrations.

Her visit is made possible through a generous donation from the Kathy Mallon Memorial Fund. The late Kathy Mallon earned three degrees from URI and was an ardent University supporter and role model. She held a variety of vital positions at the University, including playing a key role in URI’s master planning process.

Workplace Issues

Today’s workplace has become increasingly more diverse by gender (50 percent of the workers are women), by ethnic background, and by age. Seventy percent of families have both adults in the labor force. These realities are having an important impact on family and personal life, as work and caregiving responsibilities, both for children, as well as for aging family members, increasingly collide for men and women. Yet many of today’s workers are functioning in yesterday’s workplace, as outmoded job policies and practices prevent them from leading healthy, balanced lives.

These issues are particularly difficult for working women, and most especially for working mothers. Although attitudes are shifting markedly from past generations, women who work still take on the majority of household and caretaking responsibilities. This double- and triple-duty has been shown to result in lower wages, slower promotion rates, higher attrition, and higher stress. Social science research has shown, in fact, that mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than women who are not mothers, are offered lower salaries, and are judged as less competent, less committed, and by harsher standards than their non-mother counterparts. However, the reverse is true for men: men who are fathers are more likely to be hired than men who are not fathers, and are judged more leniently.
URI’s Progressive Policies

For employers, finding new ways to accommodate the needs of their workers is essential if they want to remain competitive today. Research has shown strong correlations between flexible and accommodating workplaces and employee satisfaction, retention, productivity, loyalty, morale, mental health, and overall life satisfaction.

URI is meeting these challenges by promoting policies and practices that contribute to a flexible workplace. The URI Work-Life Committee was created in 2003 through a collaboration between the URI ADVANCE Program, a grant-funded initiative to promote women in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

The committee composed of faculty members, staff, and students from across campus, has worked hard to increase awareness across campus of the importance of creating a flexible, family-friendly workplace. Its many successes include:
• Passage of a paid parental leave policy for many URI employees in 2005.

• Passage of a Dual Career Hiring Policy for Faculty, which recognizes the importance and long-range economic benefits of accommodating partner hires in order to attract and retain a quality workforce. The University has committed to offering placement advice and assistance whenever feasible and appropriate.

• A lactation program, including nursing facilities for nursing mothers needing to return to their jobs.

• Sponsorship of conferences, workshops, brown bag lunch series, work-life literature, and the creation of a work-life-family website, www.uri.edu/wlfc/

In 2007, the Rhode Island State Senate recognized the important work of the URI Work-Life Committee through the passage of a Senate Resolution recognizing its efforts and acknowledging the importance of creating work-life balance programs for the health and well-being not only for all of Rhode Island workers, but for the Rhode Island economy as well.