Women, economics

Last week, Maria Shriver, the former first lady of California and an award-winning journalist, and the Center for American Progress released its third in a series of reports about the status of women in America today, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink”. I read the first report released in 2009 and found it full of fascinating research and data about the social and economic changes women and men and families have experienced in the last 50 years in our country.

 I’ve finished reading this third report that details the economic reality of women’s lives especially the 42 million women and 28 million children in the United States living on the brink of fiscal uncertainty. I have to say that I found the report riveting and couldn’t put it down.

There wasn’t much in the report I didn’t already know but the research data,personal stories and inspiring essays were quite compelling.  As the director of a university office dedicated to promoting gender equity and advancing women, I understand the obstacles women face in the workforce and the challenges women have overcome to succeed in higher education. I teach a women’s studies class in which I share social science reports about unconscious bias in promotions and evaluations, the reality of the motherhood penalty, the lack of women in top leadership positions across all professional sectors, and the skill sets needed to advance in the paid labor force.

I know that the young women I teach are going to find a very different environment in the labor force than what they have known in our educational system where Title IX has guaranteed women equal access to all the same benefits and opportunities as men. I know there is a point at which they may experience great stress trying to meet the competing demands of breadwinning and caregiving because their employer provides no paid family leave or sick leave or no opportunity for flextime. Although the title and message of Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook COO) book is to “Lean In”, even she reports a time when she had to lean back because of family demands and priorities.

As the Shriver report so clearly and factually states, our businesses and government are still largely organized around an economic model that functions in only 20 % of our families now…the male breadwinner and the female homemaker…. Yet, the reality is so different for most workers today and this disconnect disproportionately impacts the quality of life for women.

“This report addresses the essential role women play in our economy, but also explores a different kind of change— the evolution of the American family and the consequent change in demands on American women. This report makes plain that the failure of government and business to adapt to these changes creates significant and unnecessary financial burdens for many women and diminishes the overall contribution women can make to our economy and our nation. “[1] 

I still find the data so startling: that in the richest nation on earth, one in three women are living in or near poverty; that in The Economist magazine’s glass ceiling index, which ranks countries based on their equal treatment of women in the workplace, the United States was not even in the top 10; that the United States is the only industrialized nation without paid sick leave.

Above all, the report details the devastating impact this failure has had on the most vulnerable among us…low income women, single mothers, immigrant women, the young and the elderly.  In addition to suggested changes in government policies and business practices, the report includes “Ten Things You Can Do to Power a Woman’s Nation”.  It reminds us to use the political and economic power we do have to shape our nation’s response to these needs.   And it encourages women to:  1) get as much education as you can 2) invest in yourself and become financially literate and 3) mentor and motivate girls to succeed.

For more information and to read excerpts from the report, check out the website: http://shriverreport.org

[1] Shriver, Maria (2014-01-11). The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink (Kindle Locations 5767-5768). Rosetta Books. Kindle Edition.

Kathleen Grove Headshot Indoors

Kathleen has been the Director of the Office for Women at Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis since 2004. As the director, she works to create an inclusive and equitable campus environment where both women and men can succeed. She has a diverse background of professional experiences from which to draw for this role including her work as an attorney, a marriage and family therapist and a businesswoman. She teaches classes for the Women’s Studies program in the IU School of Liberal Arts and for the IUPUI Community Learning Network on women’s leadership and professional advancement. Kathleen holds a J.D. degree from Indiana University McKinney School of Law and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis. Her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech is from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.


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