- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

Employers must do a better job meeting the needs of female employees, who will make up almost half the work force by the end of the decade, panelists at an employee-benefit symposium said yesterday.

"By 2008, women will be 48 percent of the work force," said Cindy Costello, a consultant who specializes in employment and work-life issues at Radcliff Public Policy Institute. "It's a revolution. How do you recruit and retain qualified employees? It is crucial that employers look at work-life policies in the same way they do other business decisions."

More than 200 human-resource managers and representatives of small businesses and nonprofit organizations attended a panel discussion in Bethesda hosted by the nonprofit Montgomery Work-Life Alliance. The three panelists said companies and individuals should work together and find solutions for conflicting demands on employees' time. They specifically suggested that businesses offer more flextime and day care options, agreeing that satisfied employees will be more productive.

By the end of of the decade, an older and more diverse work force will force change in the office, said Ms. Costello, the panel's moderator. Employers will need to invest more in employee benefits to retain skilled workers.

Panelist Donna Klein, vice president of Marriott International's Diversity and Workplace Effectiveness team, said she foresees a female-driven economy in the near future that will have to do a better job conforming to the needs of the childbearing women who will run it.

She said improved employee benefits is a national issue, in which the federal government must become involved.

"[Corporations] can't do it all ourselves," she said. "It becomes a public will issue. This is a national issue that should receive national attention."

Ms. Klein started Corporate Voices, a group designed to educate and communicate with policy-makers on family issues.

Historic advances for families have taken place the last 10 years through government action, including the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, said panelist Cindy Hall, the president of Women's Policy Inc., a nonprofit four-member organization that provides legislative analysis and information on women's and family issues.

"Life issues are among the top priorities for the women members of Congress," Ms. Hall said. She added that the tax cut would help make family leave more affordable for employees.

Jessica DeGroot, the president and co-founder of ThirdPath Institute, an organization dedicated to providing solutions for families that seek a work and family balance, was more concerned about family issues that could improve the workplace and mental health of employees.

"We [ThirdPath] teach people about a model of shared care," she said. "We encourage men and women to look together to how they can reorganize their work. We look at the individual level. There is surprising power from this point of view."

One example was a couple who started a business together to make more time for their family.

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