Wednesday, 19. September 2012
Anyone who has ever gotten to know me knows that deep down, I am an unmitigated (some might term it “unrealistic”) optimist. Rose-colored glasses are part of my psychological wardrobe. Why else would a person leave the security of Fortune 500 companies (not once but several times!) to pursue bare-bone startups? Why else would a person feel more at home with people who think like, act like, and ARE entrepreneurs than people who achieve great things in the ivory towers of large company “C suites”? Why else would a house burning down or a husband surviving a near-fatal car crash be mere blips on the canvas of a life?
But even my optimism when it comes to a theme that is key to me and many of my friends sometimes falters — statistics that have barely changed over the many years that we have gasped at them: the state of women in the 2012 economy in the United States.
For the first time in U.S. history, women make up the majority of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet their real value to the economy has yet to be realized. In June 2012, the pay equity bill — which sought to achieve equal pay for women by enabling them to use legal means to pursue economic parity — failed to pass our highly polarized U.S. Congress. Yet, on average, U.S. Caucasian women make 85 cents on the dollar compared to men. And this drops dramatically when you look at other ethnic groups, according to the Coalition of Labor Union Women. African-American women, for instance, earned 67.5 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings, while U.S. Latina women earned 57.7 percent.
The irony of women still being economically “second class” citizens is that, while it hurts women themselves, it is even more hurtful to the overall economy. Women make the bulk of consumer decisions (over 87 percent of purchases are driven or influenced by females). Women are getting advanced degrees more frequently than men. Logically this means that if women have less earning power, they will remain conservative in purchasing thereby slowing down our post-recession economic engine. If they continue to get better educated, but are locked out of high earner positions, the value of higher education could and should be questioned. And the positive effect of higher education/knowledge will be negatively mitigated by not being applied in positions of greater influence.
Talented women are needed on every level of business development and infrastructure. The fact is that companies will perform much better if they are there! In its 2011 research, for instance, Catalyst (the 30-year-old NYC think-tank focused on women’s research) found a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital between the top-quartile companies (with 19-44 percent women board representation) and bottom quartile companies (with zero woman directors).
That is a huge difference and a great tribute to the companies who have embraced the secret: More women, at higher levels of authority, make a profound difference in performance.
So, what can we, as individuals, do about all this? Well, if you are a dues-paying member of MCWT, or a corporate sponsor for our association and Foundation, you are already doing something very concrete. Your monetary contributions go to pragmatically supporting the aspirations of women and girls entering some of the most worthwhile (and highest compensated) career roles there are: in science, engineering, technology and math.
But we can all do much more, too. Please, think about how you can “double down” when it comes to empowering women and, therefore, strengthening our society. For instance:
- Can you be part of a team starting a dynamic, woman-led entrepreneurial venture that can significantly contribute to our economy? (That’s my role, right now. It’s not easy. But it’s so worthwhile.).
- Can you mentor women who are considering new challenges, career changes, and leaps of faith? . MCWT’s robust mentoring program can give you one way to do that. Programs at your company might, as well. And don’t forget the value of “unofficial” mentoring — the monthly meeting(s) or chats with women who are pursuing new paths are extraordinary productivity boosts (as many of us can attest from personal experience).
- Can you communicate the value of fostering female talent and its benefit at every step of your journey to your colleagues/teammates, bosses, friends, families, acquaintances?
- Can you be a role model and inspiration to a colleague, a daughter, a niece, a friend or acquaintance?
- Can you write a blog, an article, a social media post discussing a facet of this issue, and solutions to solving it? (See Kathleen Howell at MCWT if you want an outlet. She is always looking for contributors!)
What else can you and I do? I would love it if this blog post started a robust discussion and brainstorming session of ideas. Please comment below.
I probably won’t take off my rose-colored glasses any time soon. I am not encouraging you to take off yours either. But one of the good things about rose-colored glasses is that they can refract unnecessary, distracting rays without really blurring reality. And when those are eliminated, maybe we can all just run a little faster, take a few more steps, and move the needle in the right direction so that equity can finally be achieved, and we live in a fairer (and more fruitful) world, as a result.
Kathleen Norton-Schock is the co-founder and chief connection officer for ardentCause L3C, a woman-owned company dedicated to serving the nonprofit industry with technology solutions and services. She has a 30-year career that spans full P&L management at several Fortune 1000 technology companies (Unisys and CA Technologies); the presidency of a medium-sized national contact center software company (Telecorp Products Inc.); marketing and strategic planning consultancy stints (Onset Marketing, Arzika and Solidworks) and ownership of two other startup companies. In her volunteer life, she also served for six years as vice president of marketing/communications for MCWT and the MCWT Foundation.