Corporate Voices was pleased to participate in the Women’s Bureau’s National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility in Dallas on October 20. The Dialogue marked the first in a series that the Women’s Bureau will organize around the country to discuss how employers can use flexibility to empower their employees and their families, and to become more competitive in the global economy.

The Dialogue on Wednesday was held in the Dallas Fort Worth area–an area with the highest growth rate of small businesses in America. There, small and medium sized businesses, advocates, researchers, business associations, union leaders, government agencies, and employees gathered to discuss the challenges and successes of making flexibility work for small businesses.

Sara Manzano-Diaz, director of the Women’s Bureau, Tina Tchen, director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis gave opening remarks. They highlighted flexibility as a critical recruitment, retention, and talent development tool that businesses can use to support workers throughout all phases of their lives.

Corporate Voices approaches flexibility in much the same way– we take a life-cycle approach to flexibility, recognizing that it enables new mothers to continue nursing, working mothers and fathers to take care of their families, students to work while continuing their education, and the elderly to continue working while enjoying their retirement.

We also recognize that flexibility can support diversity in the workplace by empowering women, minorities, working learners, and the elderly. Speakers noted that small businesses are in a unique position to offer a culture of flexibility to support these groups, especially small businesses owned and operated by women. They also noted that often times when flexibility is available, it is modestly used, however still yields a positive impact.

Another main theme discussed during the breakout sessions was the business imperative for flexibility, and the value of measuring flexibility’s impact on the business bottom line. Kathleen Wu, partner at Andrews Kurth LLP and one of the main speakers during the plenary session, said,

You measure what you value, and you value what you measure.

This sentiment was echoed by Ted Childs, Jr., principal of Ted Childs, LLC, during his closing remarks when he recounted the value of quantifying the positive business benefits that flexibility offers by helping to retain and motivate top talent.

Corporate Voices, in conjunction with its partner companies, has published business research documenting the quantifiable business impacts of flexibility, as well as research showing that it works well with an hourly workforce. Especially for small businesses with limited capital, flexible work arrangements offer a cost-effective way to engage workers and enable them to balance the dual demands of work and life.

Yet another main theme was the complexity of workplace flexibility, what it means to different employers and workers,  how it should be implemented across different industries, how it can be implemented while still ensuring a small business’ compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, and what public policies can support flexible work arrangements.

The Dialogue in Dallas created the opportunity for many stakeholders to exchange viewpoints and experiences, yet much is left to be done in terms of expanding the knowledge and awareness of the positive business and employee benefits of flexibility. Corporate Voices looks forward to helping expand this awareness through its national workplace flexibility campaign, in conjunction with the Women’s Bureau’s Dialogues, now being planned through June 2011.

Boston College’s Center for Work and Family participated in a live “viewing session” of the webcast of the Dallas Dialogue, hosted by the Region 1 Boston office of the Women’s Bureau on Wednesday. Corporate Voices encourages other groups to organize similar gatherings with  businesses, local government, advocates, and community leaders to view the live webcasts around each of the national Dialogues, and to discuss how they can use flexibility to help their communities.

The schedule of future Dialogues, and the webcasts, are available on the Women’s Bureau’s website.