In my latest incarnation as a thought leadership coach, I’m often on the hunt for excellent examples of “thinking in public”—TED talks, reports, articles, blog posts, even tweets—to share with clients. So, I figured, why not share them, when I find them, with GWP readers, too?
I’m experimenting with a new column format here (and please, please, tell me what you think!). I envision highlighting from time to time a piece of public thought leadership that I come upon in my travels, one that translates academic or industry-specific knowledge for a broad audience in a stand-out way. I’ll let you know why I love it, what’s surprising about it, and what’s fresh.
To start us off, I bring you Judith Warner’s first report as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. I’ve long been enamored of Judith’s deft ability to bring a structural lens to the public debate around “domestic disturbances,” as her popular New York Times column so famously phrased it. In this new report, Warner melds journalism and policy paper to tackle domestic disturbances writ large.
Judith Warner is a Senior Fellow at American Progress. She is also a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Time.com. She is best known for her New York Times bestseller, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, and her former New York Times column, “Domestic Disturbances.” Her latest book, We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, received numerous awards, and she is currently a recipient of a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. A former special correspondent for Newsweek in Paris, she hosted “The Judith Warner Show” on XM satellite radio from 2005 to 2007 and wrote the 1993 New York Times bestseller Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story, as well as several other books.
Lessons Learned: Reflections on 4 Decades of Fighting for Families, a report for the Center for American Progress
Why I Like It:
The topic is a tough one – and well traveled. Yet I like how Warner gets in there, challenges perceived wisdom, and works to change the frame:
“It’s long been accepted wisdom that Americans view family matters as purely private concerns and that public policy solutions for families—other than the very poorest—have no place in our culture. Yet polls consistently show that support for family-friendly policies is, in fact, overwhelming.”
Based on interviews with more than three dozen veterans of the fight for family-friendly policy in America representing a variety of perspectives, generations, and stake- holder groups, she quotes all my favorite experts.
She pays close attention to language and narrative:
“Personal responsibility” plus “opportunity” was a winning message combination. Stressing “equality” or the ending of disparities was a nonstarter for conservatives, but talk of “fairness,” “opportunities,” “choices,” and “tools” were acceptable.
And she links the issue she’s writing about to others:
“The power of the personal played a strong role in building support for the Family and Medical Leave Act, and in recent years such narratives have been essential to shifting public and political opinion on marriage equality.”
But what I like most of all is the sense of possibility Warner invokes.
Much has been written about why progress has been slow in this arena, and so paltry. What feels different here is the emphasis on the seismic internal shift that must take place in order for the outward change to occur. We need to “replace the belief that ‘this is just how it is’ with the argument that ‘it doesn’t have to be this way.’”
The report takes a close look at public policies promoting caretaking—through paid family leave, paid sick days, and high-quality public pre-K—that already exist in some states and cities. Warner looks at why they are proving to be highly popular and successful, and how we might replicate what works.
Refreshingly, she leaves us with hope:
“Bleak though the legislative outlook now seems in our bitterly divided Congress, this is potentially a very fruitful time for thinking creatively and productively about creating a better future for our families.”
Since I’m already interested in the unfinished business of feminism, and how the issues travel and repeat across generations, Warner had me at “lessons learned.” But the optimism in the report made me want to share it. Warner brings a much-needed burst of energy to a topic that can easily deflate readers—especially those of us living this fight.