An Issue for the 2010 Midterm Elections

The story of last evening's primary elections was the success of female candidates. Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, California senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina, South Carolina's gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle were all nominated (or at least in a runoff in Haley's case) for senator or governor from their various states.

Anne Kornblut writes in the Washington Post today that, significantly, none of the candidates emphasized gender in their campaigns, rather running on other issues. As they move towards the general election, I hope they do not shy away from gender issues to a certain extent, for it could help shine a spotlight on the issue of work life balance in the 2010 midterm elections.

All five of these women are parents and I bet all five have important stories to tell and examples to set about work life balance.

Whitman, Haley and Angle have two children. Fiorina helped raise two stepdaughters. For Whitman and Fiorina to succeed in running Ebay and Hewlett Packard would have led to significant work life conflict.

Lincoln has twin boys and speaks passionately about her struggles with work life balance. Haley has school age children as well and no doubt is an example of someone who must make choices in balancing her work and family each day.

As they continue in their quests to become governors and senators, they could be important examples and spokespersons for the issue of work life balance.

If nothing else, campaigning on this issue would be good politics. 85% of Americans report juggling and struggling with work life balance. Millions of two earner couples struggle with decisions of how to produce enough income while getting children to school, activities, child care, and all the while sometimes caring for elderly parents. While the needs of families have changed with more women in the workforce, the structure of work has not changed. Work in America must become more flexible to meet the needs of changing families.

For these women to run corporations and be leading candidates for some of the most important political offices in the U.S. demonstrates how far women have come in the last several decades in American work life. Yet workplace flexibility is necessary for more women and families to succeed.

These women candidates should speak about their challenges with work life balance. For the four Republican candidates in particular, Whitman, Fiorina, Haley and Angle, talking about challenges of work life balance and possible solutions in the area of workplace flexibility would help them attract female, suburban and family voters and enter policy territory traditionally occupied by Democrats. For all these candidates, talking about how they faced, or in Haley and Lincoln's cases, still face, challenges of work life balance, would help them connect to middle class working families who struggle with work family balance issues. It would help raise the issue of workplace flexibility into the 2010 midterm elections. Because of the millions of Americans who are looking for help in this area, that is where it belongs.