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Women lead seismic shift in workplace
Question of the Day
• Women earn 77 cents on the dollar, compared with the wages earned by men. Just 15 Fortune 500 companies were headed by women in July 2008.
• Close to 86 percent of women agreed that women today are primarily responsible for the care of their aging parents.
• 85 percent of women in families in which both partners had jobs said they think the woman has more responsibility for taking care of the family and home.
“Our women and families are facing tough times. But this government is on your side,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, acknowledging the impact of the recession in a keynote speech Monday to kick off the release of the Shriver Report. She called the study long overdue.
“Women do make a difference, whether we’re leading as Cabinet heads, in our homes, or as caretakers for our families. We all play a very significant role in our recovery,” she said.
Mrs. Solis touted opportunities in the emerging “green” economy for women and called for improvements in math and science education, along with job training that will give them access to better jobs in growing fields.
“We need to make sure all our sisters and daughters in the women’s nation are included in the green revolution,” she said.
Carrie L. Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, said she applauds the Shriver research for increasing dialogue on workplace issues and family needs.
She understands the need for flexibility and said her job allows her to telecommute from Vienna, Austria, where her husband works in the Foreign Service. This lets the Harvard and Princeton grad be an involved mother to her three children, ages 4, 2 and six months, and satisfies her need for a professional career.
“I think there are more and more women who have the opportunity to both work and spend a lot of time with their children,” Mrs. Lukas said, calling herself “blessed.”
But she cautioned that today’s women need to be realistic “to some of the trade-offs and inevitabilities that they will always face.”
“There is no perfect solution to this whole idea of balancing family and work life, and I don’t see it going away. While certainly being a good worker and a good parent are not mutually exclusive roles, there are only 24 hours in a day. There are going to be trade-offs, and women are going to feel that in different ways.”
Peter Berg, a labor and industrial relations professor at Michigan State University, said the dominance of women in the work force, as laid out in the Shriver study, has broad implications for the nation.
“Half the labor force means that what happens in the workplace ripples back into society,” he said, noting that if women can’t have flexibility, it affects things such as birthrates and well-baby care.
“I’m not sure employers are really seeing their role in the larger societal issues that these changes in the labor force have brought,” he said. “I think businesses are focused on their need to get workers, but are less sensitive to the needs of society as a whole and the implications of that. I think they will be forced to, but probably through policy.”
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