Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Lean In?" It's all about money

 "An older man and a younger man in a bar looks like mentoring, but an older man and a younger woman in a bar looks like an affair."
      - Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of 'Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead'

The debate (if not fire storm) that's kicked up since Sheryl Sandberg released her book,  'Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,' has important long-term implications for the financial well being of our daughters. The discussion so far has not put money at the front and center of the debate. Instead the conversation has meandered around on topics such as what do women want in terms of fulfillment regarding family and career? Can women ever be truly happy unless they just give up and stay home, asks another.
Conversations have been about our male-oriented culture and what men should be doing at home and at work to help women find balance. Both good topics, but the real issue is money: How much women earn, how much money they contribute to household income and ultimately how much money they save (with or without a spouse) for retirement.
Since birth control became readily available 50 years ago, women have been asking for equal pay and equal rights in the work place. While all that asking was going on the American economy adjusted to a two-income family as we all went to work.
Now it is difficult for most women to believe that they actually have a choice to either work outside the home or stay at home with a young family. That's because it takes two paychecks to buy a house, two pay checks to buy a car and to save for the kids' college education...never mind saving for retirement. Many women take a time out when their kids are pre-school but eventually return to the work force out of necessity...behind in pay and behind in career advancement.

(For a take on what it costs for corporate career women to work full-time right after the birth of a baby, check out "The True Cost of Leaning In," at
Sandberg makes good points about how women must manage their work lives. She suggests that women "unintentionally impede their own career progress by backing away from challenges, risks and assuming positions of leadership when they should be leaning in." (Forbes review) She told a New York audience recently that she's "worried about stagnation" and that women have made little progress in the corporate world in the past decade.
Her intention with 'Lean In' (she says) is to start up a new dialogue about women's progress and women's issues. Here's what the statistics tell us:
- In 2010 women who worked full time, year round, still only earned 77 percent of what men earned. The median earnings for women were $36,931 compared to $47,715 for men, and neither real median earnings nor the female-to-male earnings ratio have increased since 2009.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.3 million households are headed by a woman single-parent. That's twice as many as are maintained by single men.
- 17.2 million women live alone as compared with 13.9 million men in 2010. This is partly because women out live men by five or six years, sometimes much longer.
- Experts estimate that as many as 40 to 50 percent of all first marriages end in divorce while 29 percent end within 10 years.
- Household income for those maintained by single women earning $32,597 a year as compared with male-led household income of $48,084.
- Some 20 percent of single women 65 and older are living at or below the poverty rate in this country. So where do these shocking facts about women leave us?
Women at the top like Sheryl Sandberg, who are well-educated and successful corporate executives, must show us all the way, renew the discussion about women in the work place and encourage women in a gentle but firm way to:
- Bring up gender in the work place and ask how these issues are being handled.
- Encourage women to ask for responsibility and negotiate the right balance for family and career.
- Prompt women to seek out mentors who can advise them about career.
- Tell women to simply ask for a raise when they know they are being paid less than the men around them in the same jobs.
- Encourage women to act more like other words, women should not discount the contributions they are making at work.
- Encourage girls to seek out careers that combine work rewards with higher pay. It's OK to get a fine arts degree but add in the computer design skills.

At least one reviewer said Sandberg makes the good point that "women make incremental decisions based on future plans for a family, which chip away at their career options."Summing up. After 50 years, women are still getting over-looked. Women are still paid less and saving less for retirement.
Unfortunately, the fault is at least partly our own.

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