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Obama Says Flexible Workplace Not Only Women’s Issue

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said making workplace rules flexible isn’t only a women’s issue, telling a gathering of female executives in Washington that family-friendly policies help a company’s bottom line.

“We know that companies with flexible work arrangements can actually have lower turnover and absenteeism and higher productivity,” Obama told guests at a dinner for Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women conference. “This is not just a women’s issue, or just a work-family balance issue. It’s an economic competitiveness issue.”

Obama told the business leaders that steps their companies have taken on issues such as child care and flexible work arrangements, along with those taken by his administration on child-care tax credits and paid leave, have opened opportunities in the workplace.

“Today, women make up half of America’s workforce, they are primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of our families, their contributions are vital to the success of our economy,” he said. “Girls like my daughters, young women like the ones at this dinner, have opportunities that my grandmother never dreamed of for herself.”

The president told the executives they also have a duty to nurture the “ambitions and aspirations” of future entrepreneurs and leaders, while the government has a role to play in improving the nation’s education system, upgrading the nation’s infrastructure and promoting exports.

Innovation and Enterprise

“Part of the competitiveness of America’s economy, the richness of its cultural life, has always depended on the innovation and enterprise of American businesses,” he said. “Of course, that doesn’t relieve government of its responsibility to create the conditions for businesses to succeed.”

The invitation-only event brought women together to discuss building business, reputation, philanthropy, mentoring and globalization.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., spoke to the group earlier today, which Obama noted in his remarks.

“I also see that my friend Warren Buffett is here,” Obama said. “I understand that even though he’s a man, he’s been invited back year after year, because he knows that the surest path to success is to surround yourself with brilliant women.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc., also addressed the gathering. Nooyi topped Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women list for acquiring two of PepsiCo’s largest bottlers. Among the other speakers were Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s chairman and CEO, and Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods Inc.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver the event’s keynote address tomorrow.

To contact the reporter on this story: Traci McMillan in Washington at tmcmillan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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