Opening Remarks at National Work and Family Month Event

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Marshall Center East Auditorium
Washington, DC
October 30, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, thank you. Marcia, thank you very, very much. Thanks for your generous introduction and thanks for your leadership and everything that you’re doing around here. We appreciate it enormously. And I’m very, very grateful to you and to Judy, Judy Ikels, and to the Work Life Division team for the terrific work that everybody is doing. And a big thank you to the Balancing Act Employee Organization and the senior advocates therein for helping us to advance this issue and get it on the front burner.

I’m looking out, and I see a few empty seats here, and I’m thinking we’re not – got some people here who aren’t getting the balance right. (Laughter.) We’re going to have to work on that. Or maybe a few managers who aren’t getting the balance right. But my sense is that we’re going to find a way to practice what we preach here, and it’s really, really important. And I’m not here to give it lip service. I am not here to check a box today, because they asked me to come here and do this.

I really believe this is important. It’s important not only to the functioning of this great behemoth institution, the State Department – and I say that writ large in all of the places that it is – but it’s important to our productivity. It’s important to the quality of life. It’s important to the type of people we can attract. It’s important to our longevity and our loyalty to the Department and to the happiness and good feelings that people have about being here.

So I want to personally congratulate the winner of this year’s Balancing Act Reward for Excellence in the Work-Life Leadership, Laura Dogu. Where is Laura? Is she here somewhere? Laura?


SECRETARY KERRY: She’s still in Mexico City. All right. (Laughter.) Well, a huge – if you’re watching through the net, a huge congratulations to you. And I want to recognize Ambassador Blake and Ambassador Pyatt and Michelle Bernier-Toth, and Diane Crow for their exceptional leadership. Thank you, very, very much for what you’ve been doing to advance this.

And you’ll be hearing a little more from the balancing act group shortly in the course of this. And I’m particularly grateful to Stew Friedman for coming down from Wharton to be here with us today. He just gave me a book. I will not be able to stay here to hear his presentation, but I now have a book, and I have a little time on an airplane occasionally. (Laughter.) So I’ll put it to good use, I promise you.

But let me just share with you. I’ve – in the 29 years I was in the United States Senate, I prided myself in running an office that was always ahead of the curve and always thoughtful about flexible hours and generous maternity leave and paternity leave and generous opportunity for people to try to have flextime, work their schedules. And it’s far more productive and it created a huge amount, I think, more loyalty and ultimately, productivity. And there’s no reason that we can’t do that.

I also watch a younger generation coming up, particularly talking about two daughters that I have and three stepsons. And I see them very conscious about and thinking about how do you balance these things more effectively. I think parenting today is different than it was in my early years of parenting, and vastly, night and day, different from my parents’ days of parenting. And so we think about these things differently, which is good, and we also think about ourselves differently.

All of this really started, I think, probably in the 1970s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, so forth. And there’s a growing awareness in people about health issues, the balance of health and life and all these kinds of things. I don’t take any of them for granted. I really believe in them, and my wife who believes in them very deeply.

And so I see this tension all the time. I have a young daughter who is a doctor in Boston at Mass General Hospital, whose husband is also a doctor at Mass General Hospital. He’s a brain surgeon and she’s in critical care. And they’re raising a child, and she’s pregnant now with her second child to come. And so she’s probably doing three jobs, if not four at the same time. And it’s hard, tough.

So how the workplace responds to this makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not people are driven to the brink. It has a profound impact on home life and attitudes and so forth. And if you come to work with a really tough situation going on at home, it’s hard to be as productive and as friendly and as collegiate and efficient as we would like people to be.

So this is not just a building. And I want to make sure that we’re investing in the efforts to guarantee that those of you who are on the frontlines of diplomacy here – we have a tough job here, everybody. This is 24/7/365. Crises don’t stop for anybody here. And I’m amazed by how hard people work around here – late hours, long hours, crisis hours, weekends, whenever it is, we have to respond because there are a lot of people out there in the world depending on us, so it’s even more important for us to try to find the ways to get it right.

So job shares program, alternative work schedules, getting the ability to be able to spend more time with family, these are really important things. And to prove to you how important they are, I am leaving this afternoon at 5:30 to go watch the Red Sox beat the Cardinals this evening. (Laughter.) That’s how important it is. (Applause.)

So let me just make it clear to everybody here that whether you’re a single officer or one with a family, whether you’re caring for aging parents or a newborn child, whether you’re a tandem couple or you’re serving on an unaccompanied tour, the Department is committed to making sure that this concept of balance is something that enters into everybody’s consciousness around here.

Now, I want to just quickly mention several new projects – four new projects that we are engaged in here to try to put this into practice. The first is a pilot project on backup care. It’s common sense, not groundbreaking or – but it’s not there, and it’s going to be there. And that’s contracting with an online service that will allow you to access quality backup care from a vetted pool of candidates so that if your babysitter is sick or if the person caring for an elderly parent or somebody in your household is not available suddenly and you have an emergency, you want to get to work, we have an ability to be able to get you connected quickly to find someone to fill in on a moment’s notice.

We’re also going to do more to support job shares. Until about a month ago, a full-time position was – when it was converted to two people to share, our bureau had to carry the cost of that on a direct basis. And today, I’m pleased to say that we’re able to support job shares from the central personnel funds. That may not sound like the biggest thing in the world to you, but – (applause) – okay, I’m wrong. It’s one of the biggest things in the world to you. (Laughter.) But that obviously means it’s going to be a lot easier for bureaus to be able to create job share opportunities, and that gives you a lot more flexibility in what you’re doing.

I also know that this is critical to being able to attract talent as well, as we try to recruit and build this place. So here’s my message today, which will be reinforced, because a lot of you think, “Uh-oh, my supervisor isn’t empowered to do this,” or “My supervisor won’t be creative enough and feel free enough to go do this,” wrong. And my message to assistant secretaries and senior leaders today is: Make it happen. We all have a stake in creating more flexible work arrangements. They can work for us. Every survey shows how important this is in order to keep talent and attract the next generation of talent, so I want to make this workplace a model in the United States Government for success. (Applause.)

Another way that we can help to do this, obviously, is with our third initiative, which is a new childcare initiative. And it’ll be right next door in the Consular Affairs building, and we already have the one childcare center, as you know, in Columbia Plaza and another at the Foreign Service Institute. But this center will be the third available to State Department employees and it’ll add an additional capacity for easy, accessible childcare in the new year, and I know how important that is.

Now, I know that nobody here joined the Foreign Service in order to get rich. If you did, the new IG is going to catch you fast. (Laughter.) As I’ve said before though, we have to make certain that as we go forward, even if we don’t make people rich here financially, the rewarding experience can be about as rich as it gets, and that’s because we have a climate, an environment, a workplace within which everybody really feels comfortable, that it’s serving their needs, it’s a good place to work, it’s a fun place to work, even if you’re working your tails off, and that I want you to do.

So we’re going to stay at this. I look forward to hearing from all of you sort of what comes out of this. We’ll continue to find creative ways that will make this place both stronger and more effective. The old adage – and I used to talk a lot, particularly when I was running nationally – that you can’t be strong abroad if you’re not strong at home. Well, that works right down into the family-work relationship between the Department and everybody’s personal lives.

So I think you get a sense this is for real. I hope you do. We’re going to stay at it. Keep your suggestions coming. Help us to understand the things we can do more effectively, better to do this. And I hope this will sink in deep into the ethics of the Department in a broad-based way in everybody’s relationship, wherever you work.

Thank you all. Good to be with you. Thank you. Thanks. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/1319