When you write about feminism and the treatment of women in the workplace, sometimes it feels like you’re doing a whole lot of preaching to the choir … and reaching no one else in the process. Women struggling in the trenches of sexist or family-unfriendly workplaces will give you a thumbs up or a “Right on, lady!” but the reaction from the rest of the world, on the bad days at least, seems like a collective “meh.”
Well, listen up, “meh” sayers, because I’m about to rock your world. No matter your gender, no matter your employment status, and no matter your political ideology — worth a mention since I hear we’re electing a new POTUS soon — you should absolutely care about the treatment of women in the workplace. Here’s why.
1. Closing the gender pay gap could help lift two million families out of poverty.
Women still earn about 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. More than two million women are single mothers with children who live below the poverty line, according to the National Women’s Law Center. If these women earned as much as their male counterparts, their financial situations could improve dramatically and their children could see brighter futures, which is good news for anyone planning to live in the U.S. long enough to see future generations come of age and run the country.
2. More women in high-ranking corporate positions could improve companies’ performance.
Investors, take note: A 2007 Catalyst study found that companies with the most women serving on their corporate boards had a higher return on equity to shareholders than those with the least.
3. Offering substantial paid maternity leave can improve employee retention.
This one is for the bosses and hiring managers of the world: As Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of Google-owned YouTube, wrote just last month in The Wall Street Journal, when Google increased paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, the turnover rate among new moms fell by 50 percent. “[I]t’s much better for Google’s bottom line — to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers,” Wojcicki said.
4. Improving the treatment of women in the workplace could mitigate the retirement savings crisis.
American workers are as much as $14 trillion short of what they need to comfortably retire, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. Among women, the problem is even worse because their ability to save for retirement is compromised by lower pay (see item #1) and time spent out of the workplace raising children. If we can make it easier for women to stay at work (through maternity leave and access to child care) and raise their wages to the level of their male counterparts, their retirement savings will undoubtedly increase. If you’re worried about your taxes, note that the more self-supporting retirees we’ll have, the less pressure we’ll see on the country’s social safety net.
5. Women who stay in the workplace become powerful role models for their children (of both genders).
Young girls who watch their mothers earn a living go on to have “better careers, higher pay and more equal relationships,” while the sons of working mothers become more involved fathers once they have their own families, The Guardian reported last year, citing a Harvard study. While I certainly don’t want to use this study to impugn women who voluntarily became stay-at-home moms, I do believe it provides powerful fuel for the argument that we should do everything we can to make sure women who want to stay in the workforce can, in fact, stay in the workforce.
And that goes not just for wealthy and upper middle class women who, let’s face it, often dominate work/life discussions. More than 30 percent of stay-at-home moms live in poverty, according to a 2014 Pew Research study, and the Huffington Post reported that some moms are staying home (and presumably living off government assistance) because the jobs available to them don’t cover the cost of child care. If these women had access to affordable child care, their sons and daughters, too, could gain the psychological benefits of seeing their mothers bring home a paycheck.
I could list even more reasons, but I’m a working mom myself — and I could use the benefit of more sleep — so I’m going to cut it short. But if you want to learn where the major presidential candidates stand on issues affecting women in the workplace, check out this neat infographic, courtesy of Power to Fly.