Working moms look to Michelle Obama for change

Sun Feb 8, 2009 8:08am EST
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By Andrea Hopkins

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Maternity leave. Affordable child-care. Flexible work arrangements. When first lady Michelle Obama said she wanted to help working women balance career and family, American moms applauded -- and immediately came up with a wish-list of policy changes.

"I'm so psyched she is bringing this issue to the forefront," said Geniene Pernotto, 43, a marketing director and single mother of one in Youngstown, Ohio.

Pernotto quit her demanding corporate job in New York City in exchange for a pay cut and shorter hours at a nonprofit in northeastern Ohio. But she laments that she had to choose.

"When working for a corporation, if you're happy to stay at your current level for a few years you get tagged as unambitious or a bad worker," she said of her choice.

It's a story Obama can relate to. A corporate lawyer and mother of two girls, she abandoned her career to support her husband during his two-year campaign for the presidency and has since said caring for Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, will be her top priority while her husband is in the White House.

In the earliest days of the campaign, Obama began meeting with small groups of working mothers to hear their concerns and share tit-for-tat stories about the joy of raising children, the thrill of a great career -- and the frustration of feeling you're not quite doing either as well as you'd like.

"She wanted to have discussions with women as extensions of the conversations she was having with her own girlfriends," said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Obama's spokeswoman. "She's saying: 'I'm here and I get it and let's do something about it,' ... because she was living it."

OVERDUE   Continued...

<p>First lady Michelle Obama shakes hands with well-wishers as she departs Georgia Brown's restaurant in Washington January 30, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque</p>