Public Release: 

Conference will explore 'quality of life' vs. 'the bottom line'

Cornell University

NEW YORK -- Is the United States too "economically correct?" In other words, do Americans adhere too rigidly to policies like deregulation, privatization and cutbacks in the public sphere and to a belief that the free market is the cure for all of society's ills?

These and other questions will be explored next month at a potentially groundbreaking conference on work and family policies. Titled "Gross National Product vs. Quality of Life: Balancing Work and Family," it is, say its organizers, the first-ever trans-Atlantic conference devoted to work and family issues. Featuring leading scholars, activists and government officials from around the world, the conference will take place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2 at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in the foothills of the Italian Alps.

Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the conference is being sponsored by the Institute for Women and Work at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It is being co-directed by noted feminist and author Betty Friedan, a distinguished visiting professor at Cornell, and Francine Moccio, director of the Institute for Women and Work. The Feminist and Legal Theory Project at Cornell Law School is co-sponsoring the conference.

An overarching theme will be looking beyond "economic correctness" and toward quality of life. "There needs to be bolder thinking on how to measure the quality of life of women and men in the work force," said Friedan. "Currently, success is measured by material advancements ... we need to readjust the definition of success to account for time outside of work and satisfaction of life, not just the dollars-and-cents bottom line."

At a time when women in the industrialized world have joined the paid work force in record numbers, when the information and telecommunications revolution has transformed the nature of work and when globalization and the fall of communism have revolutionized the old economic and political order, policy-makers need to rethink old paradigms, say the organizers. This is especially true in the United States, which lags beyond many industrialized countries when it comes to family policy. Friedan said she hopes the conference "will help the United States to make strides toward what other countries have already established for parents, such as sabbatical times for every worker and other compensations and services in the workplace."

Organizers say the international element of the conference is essential. Conference co-chair Moccio noted, "With the end of the Cold War and increased economic interdependence among countries, public and private cooperation across borders is vital." She added that one of the aims of the conference is to create "a trans-Atlantic learning community" concerning work/family policy in business, labor and governmental institutions.

Confirmed conference participants include: Vaso Pappandreou, minister of the interior of Greece; Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund in the United States; Maxine Gay, president of the New Zealand Trade Union Federation; Kamala Ganesh of India, an anthropologist who is an expert on elder care; Reiner Hoffmann of Belgium, an economist who specializes in working time policies and heads the European Trade Union Institute in Belgium; Åsa Regnér, the assistant to the prime minister of Sweden on gender equality and a European Union expert; Rosa Lugembe, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labor in Tanzania; Diane Perrons, a British geographer at the London School of Economics who has researched how the new economy has affected women's and men's work opportunities; and Katalin Koncz, who has examined the social barriers faced by women workers in Hungary.

The conference is part of "The New Paradigm Project: Women, Men, Work, Family," a four-year series of working symposia and roundtable strategy sessions that, until now, have all taken place in the United States. Funded by the Ford Foundation and Cornell University and co-directed by Friedan and Moccio, the project is now in its third year.

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Additional information, including a program and complete list of confirmed participants, is available by contacting Cornell's Institute for Women and Work at (212) 340-2867 or kag46@cornell.edu .

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