Friday, October 23, 2009

It’s a woman’s world? Study shows more women are working, but society’s failed to keep pace

The change ain’t a-comin’, it’s here. At least according to a recent report on working women and society released by the Center for American Progress and California First Lady Maria Shriver, among others. Yes, society has changed. The question is what we do about it. The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything reviews the changes working women have caused in society and laments the fact society has not adapted as quickly or completely as needed.

According to the report, the majority of American families no longer follows the traditional male breadwinner, female homemaker model. Today, women are half of all U.S. workers and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. Quite a change from a generation ago where women made up only one-third of all workers. The report points to a Rockefeller/Time nationwide poll that concluded that the “battle of the sexes” is over and has been replaced by “negotiations between the sexes” about a variety of topics including work, child care and elder care. Seems that, while men have generally accepted women working and making more money, both sexes are concerned that the changes are leaving children behind since there’s no longer a wife staying home to fulfill the traditional homemaker role.

Both sexes “agree that government and business are out of touch with the realities of how most families live and work today. Families need more flexible work schedules, comprehensive child care policies, redesigned family and medical leave, and equal pay,” according to the report that aims to spark conversation about the transformation to society and to get policymakers and political leaders to focus on the implications of those changes.

The report is comprised of essays and reports written by prominent professionals about different facets of women in the workplace and their impact on society. The first chapter, no doubt, also provides some of the “glitz.” Written by Maria Shriver, the chapter plays off her political ties with a historical look at the transformation of American women since President John F. Kennedy, her uncle, asked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to chair the first Commission on the Status of Women in 1961.

Among the chapters promising to be provocative are The New Breadwinners, which finds that even though “women are now half of workers and mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in the majority of families, institutions have failed to catch up with this reality;” Invisible Yet Essential: Immigrant Women in America looks at the work once done primarily by unpaid wives of male breadwinners that is now being done by immigrant women (namely, child and parental care, home maintenance, food production and cleaning). Also, there’s Has a Man’s World Become a Woman’s Nation?, which finds that, while most men are on the path to accepting greater gender equality and relish the earnings women bring into the family, some still struggle with the “idea of widespread employment of women and mothers as it has made them question their very notion of masculinity.”

One chapter sure to spark interest is Family Friendly for All Families: Workers and caregivers need government policies that reflect today’s realities. This chapter explores the implications of government policy affecting workers and caregivers. The authors argue for a “reevaluation of the values and assumptions underlying the nation’s workplace policies and social insurance system” so they reflect the actual – not outdated or imagined – ways that families work and care today.

No doubt this chapter will spark more discussion on the impact of the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the revision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the EEOC’s decision to recognize discrimination against caregivers under Title VII and the ADA without creating a new protected category. Were these changes enough to reflect or fulfill workers’ needs for child care, elder care, etc., or were they simply the beginning of an onslaught of legislation employers will need to worry about implementing?

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