Will Record Number of Women in the 113th Congress Improve Workplace Policies on Capitol Hill?

A view of the Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, as Congress still works on the upcoming fisc
A view of the Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, as Congress still works on the upcoming fiscal cliff. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Tip of the hat to Ann Bares of Compensation Force for a prescient blog post from 2010 that I stumbled across today as I started thinking about how things could be different with a record number of women serving in the 113th Congress. Ann Bares' blog focused on the rewards that U.S. Senators and US. Representatives and their staffs receive. She made the case for conducting a total rewards audit of Congress in an effort to understand how "all elements of Congressional rewards; not simply salaries and benefits, but the full spectrum of what is provided and made available in exchange for service in the House or Senate" to see if the rewards provided link up to the expectations of U.S. taxpayers.

I want to take that train of thought and spin it a different way. In the private sector, much has been said about the number of women leaders/CEOs and the impact they have on the success of their companies both in workplace satisfaction and financial stability and growth. It can be argued that the staff of those companies benefit from a view of total rewards that promotes engagement and increases productivity and loyalty to that company. While the leader is important, it is the engagement of the staff that makes a company successful.

Does this translate to congressional offices and, in particular, congressional staffers -- the ones who provide much of the brain power behind all the laws and proposed public policies that emanate from Congress? How do the compensation, benefits, work-life and other benefits provided to congressional staff impact their ability to be productive and engaged employees who can continue to provide the support needed to push ideas forward, amend legislative language and prevent ill-conceived policies from being implemented?

All congressional offices control their own staff hiring and total rewards policies. There is some guidance provided to members of Congress and Senators on HR policies and some standard benefits available for congressional staffers. But, policies like paid leave, flexible work and teleworking, salaries and other issues are left to each congressional office. While one can argue that a key reward for serving as a staff member in Congress is the honor of public service, the other rewards --salary, benefits and work-life policies (or lack thereof) -- may also impact how staffers do their jobs. A recent report on life in Congress looked at work-life policies in congressional offices and found that only 26 percent of congressional staffers are satisfied with the flexibility their job allows to balance life and work issues. Clearly, there is room for improvement here.

With record numbers of women in the 113th Congress, will we see more female chiefs of staff? More women Legislative Directors? Will having more women in leadership positions result in better workplace policies? Could all of that lead to a more functional workplace overall? Could it perhaps lead to less discord and less dysfunction?

No, I am not a Pollyanna, and I do realize that the field of politics lends itself to 24-hour workdays and an emphasis of work over other things in life. I also realize that outside the Beltway there is little sympathy for the workplace lives of those in Congress and congressional staffers. But I also know that the level of frustration with Congress is at an all-time high. Isn't it possible that if we change the "old boys" work culture, we might see it ripple into a more productive workplace? It certainly will be a facet of the 113th Congress that bears watching. What do you think?

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