Monday, November 9, 2009
Sally Gregory Kohlstedt,an expert on science in American culture,insists that women must support and direct younger women if they are to sustain the gains made by the women of previous generations. The first responsibility all women and men have is to tell girls and women the truth about what the economic nature of a woman’s life is today and the path to building a secure and happy life.
So let’s do that: get at the truth. Truth number one: “She” has to help herself. No rescues allowed. As women and men who have stable and secure lives, we can and must help our girls and women by helping them to set goals and supporting them as they go. We can’t do it for them and we can’t take away meaningful life lessons by providing for her in the same way that was done when she was a child—paying her full bill while she spends her earnings on fluff.
Truth number two: Women who work full time earn more security. They are paid more and receive full benefits. They are taken more seriously and receive more opportunities for advancement. Full time women workers have more support services to assist them in their work and have access to free training in their fields. They are more successful in moving up the occupational ladder as they establish relationships and credibility with their supervisors. They have made the necessary sacrifices and adjustments in their personal and family lives (less social time with peers) and may be recognized for this in the workplace.
Truth number three: Women should limit their work in all women service occupations such as waitressing, retail work and low ladder health care. If you must work these jobs, set a temporary goal such as “I will waitress only while completing my associate degree in business”. Avoid the traps of staying too long in these low paying with no benefits jobs, where everyone is your boss but you.
Truth number four: Education counts. The U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau’s 1994 report advises that more education translates into lower unemployment. Women with less than a high school diploma have a ten percent chance of unemployment; with a high school diploma that rate drops to five percent, some college the rate drops further. The lowest unemployment rate is among those with a college education— 2.7 percent.
Truth number five: Women can balance work and family life and working will not make you a bad mother and ruin your children. Finding balance is a challenge all women face whether they work outside of the home or not. Women carry the bulk of parenting for young and the not-so-young and perform most of the routine and constant tasks required to maintain the care of a family and a home (preparation of meals, laundry, bill payment, supervising children, playing with children to name a few of the hundreds on this list). The problem is not whether a woman can find a balance in her already complex life as much as it is getting the other partner in the mix—namely the man— to assume a balanced role of his own.
Truth number six: Girls and women are assets over a lifetime and should view their lives as their own business. By learning fundamental principles such as— pay yourself first, invest in your training and education, the best sale to shop is one where you do not buy— shapes a girl’s and woman’s sense of vision and control over her own destiny. Financial management skills should be as important to teach and integrate into a girl’s life as watching a baby brother or learning how to prepare breakfast. Seeing a woman’s life as growing equity over time is the first step. Young woman need hands on experiences to start and grow a business of their own. If mothers and fathers have reasonable comfort with seeing their young daughter go into another adult’s home to provide care for their children (babysitting), it should be as easy to encourage her to deliver a service or prepare a product of her own. By practicing start-up small business skills of her own when young, she will be increasingly comfortable in shaping future ideas for business as a young adult.
Women who are either employed part-time or are full-time mothers are also prime candidates for building a small home-centered business. I have caught myself saying and have heard countless other working women remark that what they really need is a wife. For internet savvy women, there are numerous support services such as Home Based Working Moms (http://www.hbwm.com/) ready to assist creative women. Full time at home mothers can add substantially to their family’s income as well as acquire skill, knowledge and experience that will translate to employment in the workplace if and when they choose to enter the workplace in the traditional sense. While women recognize that staying at home with children is as much of a choice as working outside of the home with children is, so is working from a home business an increasingly wise and profitable option for women.
Truth number seven: Sell the hard stuff. Women are great talkers and even better at analyzing the details of a topic. Combined with sound interpersonal skills, it is no wonder why they are comfortable and successful in retail sales. Retail sales yields poor pay and few if any benefits, while selling automobiles, machines, health care products and home housing materials is lucrative. While the number of women selling automobiles has increased over the years, few women when compared to the total number of women who work as sales persons sell the hard stuff. The number of women selling automobiles has increased over the years. Women I know who do sell cars do incredibly well especially when you consider how the demand for new cars by women consumers has increased. The most challenging part for women selling the hard stuff is getting the notion firmly entrenched into their heads that they should and can sell them as easily as they can sell women’s underwear and dresses.
Truth number eight: Negotiate and get it in writing. If a man stays at home and takes care of the children while the woman works full time for pay, how will the man’s contribution be taken into account? If a couple under thirty is marrying for the first time, how will each know what the debt load is of their partner and what expectations they each have in assuming responsibility as a married couple in paying down both individually acquired debt and couple debt? How will the costs be distributed when a husband pays for the family health premium as part of his payroll deduction while the wife does not have any such costs?
Today, if two individuals are forming a legal partnership, e.g. marriage, the details of how the marriage will play out financially should be discussed, negotiated and spelled out in writing. While women’s language skills are generally superior to most men’s, I know of no woman who has accomplished reading the mind of others, especially her partner. If it is important to you, talk, negotiate and write it down.
Truth number nine: Girls and women are of equal value as human capital. Traditionally, economic policies were crafted with the eye on investing and protecting working men and their families whether the policy was Social Security, the GI Bill, the Homestead Act, or employment based health insurance and unemployment. Today’s society is light years away from the world of our parents and grandparents. Yet much of the mindset and most of the policies have not changed to address the changing nature of the workplace and families. Girls and women have both the right and the responsibility to develop their human capital—the cash income and benefits gained from their individual skills, knowledge, and experience. Human capital is acquired over a lifetime. Every girl and woman needs to be told a positive story about the life that waits for her by making choices that are commiserate with her potential.
Truth number ten: Activism matters. Many women have moved away from the activist roles of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation believing that most of their work has been successfully completed. In truth, at the end of the twentieth century, women’s value, economic, social and emotional net worth is at best eighty percent and at worst, twenty percent of men’s. Experienced professional women, be it in traditional careers such as teaching or nontraditional domains such as engineering, still are not represented proportionately at the upper ranks of their professions and are paid two-thirds of what men make. For women who work within the home and outside in occupations and jobs that are at the lower tier of the economic ladder, their fate has become much worse than women in similar lifestyles just ten years ago. For those women, the changing policies with respect to benefits, divorce, unemployment compensation, and lack of health benefits have all combined to put them at serious risk.