At Monday’s White House Summit on Working Families, first lady Michelle Obama admitted to a few of her own struggles as a working mother while making the case for flexible workplace policies for families.
“The first thing I tried to do, which was a mistake, was that I tried the part-time thing…I realized I was getting gypped on that front,” she told ABC’s Robin Roberts at the event, which aimed to bring attention to strengthening the nation’s workforce by addressing various workplace difficulties. “What happened was I got a part-time salary but worked full time.”
The first lady described how although she and President Obama were fortunate enough to have hired childcare help, she still battled separation anxiety from her daughters when going to work. Even so, she found it “devastating” when their babysitter left the family to seek other employment opportunities and higher pay.
“She left because she needed to make more money,” Obama said.
Without outside help, she resorted to taking then 4-month-old Sasha to a job interview with the University of Chicago Hospital in an attempt to highlight her need to balance career with childcare.
“Who I was at that time was a breastfeeding mother of a 4 month old, I didn’t have a babysitter, so I took Sasha to the interview with me,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Look, this is–this is who I am; I got a husband who’s away; I got two little babies, they are my priority. If you want me to do the job, you gotta pay me to do the job, and you’ve gotta give me flexibility.”
Earlier in the day, President Obama also referred to this interview when discussing the struggles of working women. Both followed up the anecdote by acknowledging that many American workers, especially women, do not have the option of making these kinds of requests from their employers. In order to change the employee-employer conversation, both of the Obamas stressed the importance of building momentum and “leading by example” in the White House, while also pressuring Capitol Hill to make workplace policies a priority.
“The first thing the president can do is lead by example,” the first lady said, but also mentioned that the “policy front requires elected officials who care.”
Mrs. Obama also noted that the public should care about the direction in which women’s education is headed by urging girls to pursue jobs in STEM fields “early on.” By getting involved in math and science subject areas, she argued that girls would be less likely to doubt themselves in the future.
“I was a victim of that,” she said. “You know, I didn’t go to medical school because I thought I wasn’t good at sciences…We’ve got to get girls when they’re young, before they, you know, move away or sort of buy into the mythology that women can’t do these things.”