Shay Chan Hodges lives Upcountry and wrote the book Lean On and Lead 2013. She’s very passionate about her work but her first, and most important, job is being a mother. Lean On and Lead consists of stories about real people and it incorporates interviews with parents who, like Chan Hodges, have had to learn how to balance their professional and family lives.
Her dedication is what led to her receiving an invitation to the June 23 White House Summit on Working Families in Washington D.C. Recently we sat down with her to talk about what she brought to the Summit and what she took away from it.
MAUITIME: How were you chosen to attend the White House Summit?
SHAY CHAN HODGES: Somebody told me about it and they said that you could nominate yourself or you could have somebody else nominate you. I asked friends to nominate me and they did. I didn’t actually expect to be invited because I heard that it was really, really difficult to get into. I was completely shocked when I got the invitation.
MT: What can you tell us about the event itself?
CHAN HODGES: There were speeches and then there were panel discussions. Business leaders were there, union leaders were there and a few people did bring their kids, which I thought was really cool. As far as I know, there were no other Hawaii people there. Basically the point that was being made at the Summit was that first of all, most workers are members of families but the way our work culture is set up, it doesn’t recognize that.
MT: What topics were discussed at the Summit?
CHAN HODGES: They talked about workplace policies, they talked about the bottom line, but the main issue related to workplaces being supportive of family life. Every family is different and yet there are these common themes that emerge over and over again. What everybody shares is this: it is a conflict trying to raise a family and trying to do your job. It just is. It’s a simple math thing. It’s not like you’re emotionally conflicted, there just isn’t time in the day to do both and yet, our economy requires it.
MT: Which speaker did you enjoy the most?
CHAN HODGES: I really like Michelle Obama and it was wonderful to hear her talk. She brought her [baby] to a job interview and part of it was, by that point, she had had so many things happen where she just thought, “You know what? This is my reality. I have this baby and I don’t even care if I get the job.” She said because she was in that position, she brought the baby and she just said, “This is me, take it or leave it,” and luckily for her, they said, “We’ll take it and we’ll work around your situation.”
MT: Why did her story stick with you?
CHAN HODGES: It actually made me think of when my son was born. When he was first born, I was doing some grant writing and I was asked to do a grant for the Community Clinic of Maui along with a bunch of other agencies. They said, “You know, we know you have a newborn but we want you to write this grant,” and so I felt totally comfortable bringing my baby to those meetings. I’m glad that that’s sort of how I started my motherhood career because that meant that it was always just a given. If you can just put it out there from the beginning that makes it a lot easier, but that’s not the reality for a lot of people.
MT: Do you think being the only Hawaii resident in attendance affected your experience?
CHAN HODGES: It’s funny because I realized there were a lot of Washington insiders there. After [Vice President] Joe Biden spoke, I heard different people sort of complaining like, “Oh, Joe, he always goes on and on…” For me, I’m from Maui so I was like, “I’m in the same room with him?!” I thought he was actually really great. He talked about the teen years, which was something that was not talked about enough at the Summit, I think. He made the point that we tend to have this focus on the early years but the fact is your kids need you their whole lives.
MT: What would you say is significant about the teen years to working parents?
CHAN HODGES: The teen years are a particularly difficult time because your children do not respond to you the way they did when they were young. They don’t actually want you around on a certain level and yet you have to be paying attention and you have to also be smart about it. It’s hard to do that if you’re gone all day and that’s the reality of a lot of people’s lives. We all know that we’re concerned about teen pregnancy, we’re concerned about drugs, we’re concerned about kids not performing in high school and then not having the options for college and yet there isn’t enough attention paid to the fact that for parents to really be available for their kids, they can’t be working all the time.
MT: Was there anything that you wanted to hear more about at the Summit?
CHAN HODGES: There wasn’t much talk about the fact that we are squandering our resources. By not creating these workplace policies, what happens is women drop out of the workforce. Our economy is suffering because these are people we need. These are people who are talented, who are educated, who want to work and we’re not taking advantage of that. And we want innovation? You can’t have innovation when you take half the people and say, “Well, you know what, if we have to actually give you flexible work hours, it’s not worth our time.” It makes no sense.
MT: Why do you think parents should be granted options such as flexible work hours or working from home?
CHAN HODGES: From a county’s perspective, why wouldn’t they want people to work at home when they can? They’re not using gas, they’re not using the roads, we don’t have traffic, you have people in neighborhoods so from a public safety point of view, you have people from the neighborhood sitting in their houses. It’s like there’s no good reason except for just this is the way we’ve always done it.
MT: I know that one of your blog posts was actually featured at the Summit. At what point did that happen?
CHAN HODGES: I feel really embarrassed. I had no idea that it was featured! I never saw it. I kind of looked to see if I was up on some things because I had heard that things would be posted but on the Moms Rising site, if you were to go there and look at their list of bloggers, I think there’s like 1,000. There’s a lot of bloggers that they have, so what were the chances? When I was doing follow up emails with people somebody said, “So great to meet you in person and see you on the big screen,” and I was like, “What are you talking about? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” and so then she sent me the email where Moms Rising talks about me being on the big screen.
MT: What was your favorite part about your trip to Washington D.C.?
CHAN HODGES: The night before the Summit, I met with some women. There was this AFL-CIO [meeting?] where all these women and union leaders got together and they were sort of preparing for the Summit. They were really working to organize and make things happen and make changes. Part of the reason that my book is called Lean On and Lead is because one of the messages of the book is that women can lean on each other. Because we’re talking about women, which is a very large group and is very diverse racially, ethnically, socio-economically, culturally and professionally, by leaning on each other, we can actually make certain things happen.
MT: You mentioned your book, Lean On and Lead. Why do you think what you’ve written about is important?
CHAN HODGES: Part of what I think is really useful about my book is that it’s a way to understand what’s going on with women and families and to access actual data, but in a way that’s very compelling and personal. A lot of people don’t really want to read a 100-page report with lots of graphs and that kind of thing but they need to know, there’s a lot of data that people don’t actually realize. I have all these women in all these different professions, whether it’s a lawyer or an ideologist; even though their work situation is very different in each of these professions you have the pay gap, you have the glass ceiling, and it happens over and over again.
MT: Was there anything about the Summit that you wish had been different?
CHAN HODGES: It was organized to get people really excited and motivated but it wasn’t organized with enough networking for the future in mind. I was actually Googling people’s names so that I could see their picture and then I would try to look for them but there were around 1,500 people so I was like, “Okay, this isn’t gonna work.” That was frustrating because I think now the next steps are what do we do? The administration is behind it but what does that mean in your day-to-day life and how can we make things happen? Especially when we have a divided Congress where it’s hard to make anything happen.
MT: What do you think needs to be done to make these changes happen?
CHAN HODGES: Politicians have to talk about it. We have to when legislators are sitting and looking at the various different laws they’re trying to pass. If they start with what is good for the family and then they move out from there, then we will have way better laws. It shouldn’t have anything to do with whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Coming from a different political perspective, you may have a different idea about how to get there but I think that everybody agrees: we want parents to be engaged with their families.
– Ashley Probst (@ashprobsticle)
Photo courtesy of Shay Chan Hodges