Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maria Shriver talks women and the nation

When I was on a conference call with Maria Shriver on Monday (and yes, I've been dying to lead with that since the phone call), I was struck not only by her determination and ambitious scope but also by her absolute dedication to the idea that if you have a voice, you should use it.

Which is exactly what she's doing with her project "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything." Maria has teamed with the Center for American Progress to deliver a report that evaluates the modern role of women in the workforce and how it's changed our reality as a nation.

The phone call, during which she was joined by John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, gave her the opportunity to explain where we are as women and how employers have to change to accommodate that. Mainly because:
  • Women make up half of the American workforce.
  • Mothers are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 2/3 of U.S. families.
  • And women make 80% of the big-ticket financial decisions in the home.
As women also provide a heavy amount of child care and elder care in addition to holding down jobs, it's time, she said, that employers took that into consideration with alternatives such as flex time and offering opportunities to work from home.

"We are sometimes brought up to just go along," she said. "But we have to use our voices to ask for flex time and to be a virtual employee."

It's the flexibility issue that stands out. "How can we adjust to bring in income but also care for our children?" Maria asked.

Not only that, but as John said, "The battle of the sexes is over."

"This has been a trend that's been coming for 30 years, and the recession was the tipping point for women to dominate the workforce," John said. "Both men and women see this as a positive development."

And, according to Maria, businesses are open to being smarter.

"So many families need two incomes in order to survive," she said. "Women I've talked to define their success and power in a different way. Having control over their schedule, to be a mother when they get home, that's how they define power."

But when both parents work and are expected to give more and more at the office, it's their kids who see the effects of that.

"Men and women are concerned about the ramifications on children," Maria said. "That's why flex hours are so important."

In "The Shriver Report," she has included many other voices to illustrate various points of view. Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, writes about her parents' hard work. Another woman writes about her life as a military spouse. co-founder Kristin Rowe-Finkbeinder talks motherhood and money.

It also comes back to our voices and how we can be better heard to make sure businesses, employers, are more family-friendly.

And, as Maria said, "If women come to the table with the right information, we can make incredible change."

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