It is a curse of mine, these woman-colored glasses that I wear. When I see advertising, office workers, pictures in newspapers, lists of board members, I look for the women in the picture – and I am more often than not, disappointed. Not only do I look for the women, I look to see how they’re portrayed – are they all in the back rows? In ads, are they portrayed in a derogatory manner?
Gee, are there no women at all? If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read the latest reports on the stubborn and sticky gender wage gap, you can get a glimpse of the challenges simply by sharing my woman-colored glasses. Going out for lunch today? How many of the servers are women? Step inside your local library and notice the female staff that is busily checking out your books.
Take a peek inside the floor with support staff for any company of size and you’ll notice the vast majority of clerical staff is women. For a final stop, ponder corporate annual reports and websites and you will count – probably on one hand – the number of women on their boards. This paucity of women is of concern for a number of reasons. Relegating women to lower-paid positions has direct implications for not only their lives, but for the financial future of an entire gender. Women who make less than their male counterparts end up with less in their retirement, savings and Social Security piggy banks, which means that they will receive smaller checks when they’re old and gray. Because women statistically outlive men and their healthcare needs as they age are more chronic and debilitating, their retirement funds must not only go further, but must last longer. Who wants their grandmothers living in abject poverty? How will this country ensure that their mothers aren’t all on the streets with grocery carts looking for recyclables to cash in?
The lack of women in upper-level and professional occupations provides a very poor pool of role models for our daughters, no matter how young. If we want to promote a self-sustaining citizenry who are well-equipped to take care of themselves, then we are obligated to ensure that girls have role models, too. If our hope is to have a better educated batch of high school and college students, then it is incumbent upon us to provide visions of what girls, as well as boys, could become, what they can do, what they can dream. While I am not happy that the divorce rate in the United States is so high, I work in the here and now. According to divorcerate.org, the divorce rate for first marriages is 41%; for second marriages, it jumps to 60% and if you’re willing to go for it again, the rate jumps to 73%.
It’s clear that there are growing numbers of women who are single mothers. Providing living wages for women and encouraging women to move into more professional positions and into board rooms means that there are children who are being better taken care of and who may not be relying on public assistance. It’s good for the health of your business. A number of organizations and companies have conducted studies that indicate that having women on boards actually improves financial performance.
Catalyst is a research organization that focuses on women and business. They found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management positions actually score higher on measures of organization excellence; those with three or more women on their boards outperformed the competition on all competitive measures by at least 40%.
Borrow my woman-colored glasses and get a good view of how you might promote the inclusion of more women in more positions – everywhere.