This piece was originally published for Women’s History Month in March on my Forbes Women column.
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Women’s History Month has ended, but there is still time to celebrate how far women have come, while also pointing out areas where we can still do better as a society. Women have come a long way in terms of progress and equality, especially in the workplace.
- The wage gap between men and women has fallen over the past several decades.
- For the past 20 years, women have outpaced men in college attendance and degrees.
- Forty-nine percent of employed women in the United States, including 42 percent of working mothers, say they are their family’s main breadwinner.
Of course, women have not achieved true equality in the workplace. In fact, according to a 2018 McKinsey Report, gender-based progress has stalled in recent years.
The wage gap, gender-based discrimination, and sexual harassment still persist. (Fun fact: Almost 60 percent of women would earn more if they were paid the same as men with equivalent levels of education and work hours.) But we definitely are better off than we were 50 years ago.
However, while women are more educated and more employed than ever, they are still taking on most of the household and familial duties. And it’s not just about chores and childcare; women are also much more likely to be the ones who care for sick or elderly family members.
Although working mothers spend more time on work, household labor, and child care than fathers, they are not more likely to have access to workplace policies such as paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, workplace flexibility, and affordable childcare.
How does this imbalance affect women?
- Fifty-four percent of women took leave from work when first becoming a parent as opposed to 42 percent of men. Plus, women take ten times as much temporary leave from work as men upon the arrival of a child. Without a national paid leave policy, this usually means that women are taking home less or no money during their time off. This can lead to long-term financial consequences, due to loss of income and benefits, missed raises and promotions, and inability to fund their retirement accounts and Social Security.
- Women are eight times more likely than men to look after sick children or manage their children’s schedules, which will take time out of their work day or other daily responsibilities.
- After becoming a parent, women are more likely to switch to a job with greater flexibility and work more from home, which can result in lower pay. Twenty-one percent of women said they were paid less for doing the same work they did before they took time off to care for their children.
- Women are more likely than men to stop working to care for elderly family members, which completely removes them from the workforce, cutting their earnings and ability to save for important things like retirement.
- According to a Merrill Lynch report, when a woman reaches retirement age, she may have earned a cumulative $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts when accounting for the lifelong pay gap alongside common workforce interruptions.
- Outside of the negative financial and career ramifications, women are also more stressed and have less time for self-care.
In order to add a personal story to these study results, I spoke to an entrepreneur who had to balance work and family throughout her career. Tena Clark is the founder and CEO of DMI Music & Media. When Tena’s daughter was young, Tena worked in the television industry.
This work required her to travel often and spend a lot of her time working. Tena was lucky to have a partner who took on the bulk of the childcare, but she still felt like she was missing out on her daughter’s life. In order to spend more time with her young daughter, Tena decided to leave the television industry so that she could spend less time traveling.
When I asked if that decision impacted her financial, Tena said, “Oh god, yes. I probably could have retired at 40.” She felt like leaving the industry meant she was starting over in her career. However, she was able to rebuild her success and eventually started her own business.
In more recent years, Tena has dedicated herself to prioritizing her financial health. She now works with a Merrill Lynch financial advisor and feels safe and secure in terms of her finances.
Things are still pretty dire for many women, especially women of color and low-income women. But all is not lost. There are things you and others can do to combat the imbalance of household labor, at home, at work, and in the political realm.
- Get Your Partner on Board: Women are taught (both overtly and subtly) that they are the ones who must handle familial duties, even if it is to their own detriment. Changing this shouldn’t just be on women’s shoulders. Women and men both need to fight back against these traditional gender roles. If you are a woman with a male partner, talk to them about how this imbalance affects you. Start creating a more egalitarian distribution of duties at home. It won’t happen overnight, but continue the conversation every day and get your partner on board. Men: educate yourselves about this imbalance and why it matters, and start doing your part at home and at work.
- Advocate for Affordable Childcare and Paid Family Leave: The United States is the only industrialized country without a national paid leave policy for mothers, let alone for fathers. Plus, the cost of childcare is unrealistic for many working mothers of young children. Push your elected representatives to propose and support legislation that would result in paid family leave and affordable childcare. Additionally, support organizations, like National Partnership for Women & Families, that are working for these laws to be implemented. These laws would support and uplift families across the board.
- Push for Change at Work: Many companies have good intentions but have not made concrete changes that protect women at work. If you are a decisionmaker at work, act upon your values and push to implement. Treat equality as a business priority, since it should be one. Use this McKinsey Report as guidance for which changes to make. Even if you aren’t a decisionmaker, push your employer to make changes. Make it clear just how important this issue is to you and to other women everywhere.
This piece was originally published on my ForbesWomen column.
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