Friday, October 16, 2009

When 50% Isn't Quite 50%

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

I can’t help it - that’s the line that runs through my head every time I read or hear yet another story heralding the much anticipated moment when women become 50% or more of the workforce. And just as Chicken Little was guilty of mistaking an acorn for part of the sky, almost all of the coverage of this so-called trend has failed to note one very important thing about this statistic: the numbers upon which this assertion is based don’t include the entire labor force. And the part they don’t include is predominantly male.

Labor statistics are drawn from two different sources – the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a monthly survey of households (referred to as “Household Data”), and Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, which is a survey of nonfarm payroll employment from businesses and government agencies, also updated monthly (referred to as “Establishment Data”). By definition, the Current Employment Statistics excludes individuals who work in agricultural industries and anyone who is self-employed (or unemployed but looking for work). And therein lies the problem.

The CES is a count of payroll jobs only and provides an estimate the number of jobs lost and gained in specific industry segments (among other things). The estimate of the size of the employed labor force from the CES varies from the estimates from the other source of labor force data, the Current Population Survey (CPS), by as many as 8 million people (140 million by the CPS vs. 132 million by the CES). There’s a difference of 22 million if you include the entire labor force (including those unemployed but looking for work – which we’ve been told over and over again is predominantly male).

The statistics that show women closing in on 50% come from the CES – the establishment survey, which provides the smaller of the two numbers. Remember that this number excludes farm workers (farming, fishing and forestry occupations are 79% male according to CPS figures). Men also outnumber women in the number that are self-employed (men are approximately 66% of the total).

There are a couple of other challenges in using CES data to support the idea that women are on the verge of an earth-shattering accomplishment. One is that the payroll data from the CES double-counts people who have multiple jobs as there is no way to eliminate that from the way the data are reported. In the past, women have been more likely to have multiple jobs (they are 52% of multiple job holders based on CPS data), and therefore, there has been a tendency for the CES data to include an overcount of women in the labor force.

In addition, the pattern we’re seeing during this economic recession is typical of any period of economic retraction -- the tightening of the difference between men and women in the workforce based on payroll data -- is generally seen in periods of recession or economic slowdown - for all the same reasons as now. Construction and manufacturing, which are predominantly male, get hit first, while the lower paying jobs typically held by women are affected later. And let’s not forget that the jobs men are losing pay an average of $18 to $20 an hour and the service sector jobs held by many women pay under $10 (and are usually part-time and without benefits), so the fact that women aren't losing those jobs at the same rate as men isn't really good news for anyone.

While the commotion has made for interesting headlines and water-cooler conversations, it has also left a great deal of the story about the impact of the current economic climate on women untold, and certainly led some to believe that women were riding through the recession with limited pain. Such is certainly not been the case, as the rate of unemployment among female headed households has been skyrocketing (11% to 11.7% to 12.6% in the months preceding August) before starting to decline again in August and September (12.2% in Aug and 11.6% in Sept). And the labor force participation rate among women 65 years and older is the highest it's been since the Labor Dept started recording data – these are women who are being forced back into the work force by the loss of pensions and/or benefits. Finally, women have been hit hard with job losses in some industry sectors where they are typically paid pretty well - at one point 75% of the layoffs in the finance and insurance industry had been women when they only make up about 60% of the industry's workforce, out of line with the gender distribution.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I think that more women in the workforce is a bad thing – economists in fact have concluded that much of the global economic growth in the past several decades has been driven by the addition of women to the workforce ( But as RenĂ©e Loth noted in her recent Boston Globe op-ed (, in spite of those gains by women, the wage gap has stagnated, and women continue to find that their role as care-giver can cost them the opportunity for advancement and fair compensation (even in the most family-friendly companies). So if I’m not dancing a jig over the idea that women may take over the world of work, it’s because I’m not convinced such a change will have a lasting impact on the challenges women continue to face getting a fair shake on the job. Call me when women are 50% of the senior executives and CEOs, 50% of the board members, and 50% of the highest paid executives, and I’ll dance on the tables. Until then, though, let’s not mistake a single statistic for the coming of a new day. Sometimes a nut is really just a nut.
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Women in nonfarm labor force (from Current Employment Statistics establishment data; excludes agricultural workers and self-employed) - for most recent month available:

  • July 2009: 49.87% of labor force (previous month: 49.80%- adjusted)

Female-headed households - unemployment rate (from Current Population Survey household data):

  • August 2009: 12.2% (12.6% in July)

Women age 65 and older (from Current Population Survey household data):

  • August 2009 percent of population in labor force: 13.6% (22.1% for men age 65 and over)
  • August 2009 unemployment rate: 6.7% (6.9% for men age 65 and over)
Bookmark and Share


A colleague recently brought a troubling trend to my attention. She works at the New Directions Career Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides career counseling services in central Ohio, with a focus on serving the needs of women in career transitions or re-entering the workforce.

In their 30-year history, they've seen their target audience change significantly based on the growth of women's participation in the labor force and the economy. Of particular concern to them in the past year has been the influx of older women, 65 to 84 years of age, either retired or widowed, who are entering or being driven back into the workforce by the current economic climate and the loss, in many cases, of pensions and/or health benefits. Their oldest female client right now is 80-plus years of age.

In addition to the career coaching and job search services NDCC provides, their counselors have been challenged to help these "seasoned" women confront a whole new set of fears. These clients are afraid - afraid that they will not be able to find employment, or employment that will pay enough for them to make ends meet. The clients worry that they won't be able to find a job with health benefits or be able to afford them if they're offered. And they worry about whether or not they'll be able to handle the work in office environments that have changed significantly in the past 20 years. In particular, these older clients worry about being able to learn how to use the technology, fairly certain that they will be ridiculed because of their lack of computer skills.

It turns out that workforce participation among older workers does tend to move up in periods of recession, for many of the same reasons are we are seeing now. But in March 2009, 12.8% of women age 65 and older were in the workforce, the highest participation rate for women in that age bracket since the federal government began computing reliable unemployment rates (1948), and a 147% increase since 1977 (BLS, 2009). (For men age 65 and older, the increase since 1977 has been 75%).

The economic challenges women face as they age are well documented; when compared to similarly aged men:
  • older women workers are less likely to be living with a partner or spouse (62% vs. 80% for men), and are more likely to be on their own when it comes to household resources. (1)
  • older women are less likely to have had continuous employment throughout their adult lives, affecting both their record of work experience and their contribution to Social Security or pension funds. (1)
  • older women are more likely to be working part-time (25% vs. 8% for men), and not necessarily by choice: 16.9% of women age 60-64 report being underemployed, vs. 12.1% of men the same age. (2)
  • older women (age 55 to 59) workers are more likely to have no expectation of retirement benefits (40% of women vs. 27% of men) and are more likely (43% of women vs. 30% of men) to report that they are working because they need the income to pay day to day living expenses. (3)
  • older women employees generally live in households with lower family incomes than their male counterparts ($64,444 vs. $80,839). (1)
  • for older female workers, the wage gap in hourly rates is 69 cents for every dollar earned by a man. (1)
The general labor statistics covered by the media every month rarely drill down into the nuances of the numbers; the focus in this current recession has been on job losses experienced by men. It takes the folks at the front line, like the counselors at NDCC, to help us understand the complexity of the employment picture and the challenges faced by women, in this case, older women, that reflect the impact of long-term gender differences in the workplace.

  1. Bond, J., Galinsky, E., et. al. (2005). Diverse Employment Experiences of Older Men and Women in the Workforce.
  2. Slack, Tim and Jensen, Leif. 2008. "Employment Hardship among Older Workers: Does Residential and Gender Inequality Extend into Older Age?" Journals of Gerontology, 63(1): S15-S24.
  3. Living Longer, Working Longer: The Changing Landscape of the Aging Workforce - A MetLife Study

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 10, 2009

Most Recent Labor Force Statistics

Women in nonfarm labor force (from Current Employment Statistics establishment data; excludes agricultural workers and self-employed):
  • June 2009: 65,650,000 - 49.83% of labor force (previous month: 49.78%)
Female-headed households - unemployment rate (from Current Population Survey household data):
  • July 2009: 12.6% (11.7% in June)
Women age 65 and older (from Current Population Survey household data):
  • July 2009 percent of population in labor force: 13.4% (21.6% for men age 65 and over)
  • July 2009 unemployment rate: 7.3% (6.8% for men age 65 and over)
Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jack Welch: See Joan Williams on Work-Life "Choices"

Jack Welch created a firestorm of controversy with his remarks at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in June on work-life balance. According to reports on the conference, Welch told attendees “there’s no such thing as work-life balance...there are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences” (WSJ, 7/09).

At, Paula Gregorowicz noted that this isn’t the first time Welch has talked tough on work choices. Gregorowicz reported that in The Welch Way, Jack and Suzy (Welch) suggested that the feeling of being out of balance comes from not facing "what 'achieving work-life balance' really comes down to, which is making choices and living with their consequences.” Jack and Suzy went on in the book to say that they “would even vote to retire the term work-life balance’ and replace it with ‘work-life choices’.”

Unfortunately, the "women make choices" argument is just one more addition to the long line of "it's your own fault" excuses for why women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. Joan Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, has written extensively on the subject of women and work-life "choices." Williams argues that we have "excuse[d] gender discrimination under the rhetoric of 'choice'," and that the choices we force women to make frequently “occur within the context of discrimination." Williams makes her point most succinctly with one powerful punch: "choice and discrimination are not mutually exclusive," and notes that "choice is only a defense against discrimination if women's marginalization is freely chosen in the same sense that some people choose Mars Bars over Baby Ruths."

Bottom line? As long as women have to make choices men don't have to make, it's still discrimination.

Is there hope for the future? PhillyGrrl had this to say about Welch's comments:

  • "Maybe it’s the attitude of old-fashioned executives such as Mr. Welch that prevents this 'work-life balance'...thankfully, dude is retired."

Read more from Joan Williams:

Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It, 1999.

“Opt Out” or Pushed Out?: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict

Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 13, 2009

Women in the Labor Force Updates

June employment figures released the first week of July 2009. Here's a couple of key stats from those new numbers.
  • The overall unemployment rate increased just slightly: from 9.4% in May to 9.5% in June. The employment rate for adult men now stands at 10% and at 7.6% for adult women. (
  • Women hold a record 49.8% of payroll jobs but job gains have stalled in sectors that employ them. (
  • Unemployment among single female heads of households increased nearly 1% in 6/09, from 11% to 11.7%. This rate is nearly 50% higher than 6/08, when it was 7.9%. (
(See our blog post on women in the labor force - it covers some things to keep in mind when you come across labor force stats that herald the coming of the female-majority labor force.)
Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mulcahey and Burns: The Glass Cliff

Ursula Burns takes over the reins at Xerox today (July 1), and in doing so, achieves a number of firsts. Not only will she be the first African-American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she will also be part of the first female CEO-to-female CEO transition in the Fortune 500 as well (Burns takes over the reins from Anne Mulcahey, who has served as CEO for eight years and who will continue as the chair). quoted John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers in describing the challenges Burns will face as CEO as "daunting." Such a situation is not unusual for female CEOs, as suggested by research conducted by S. Alexander Haslam and Michelle K. Ryan at The University of Exeter on a phenomenon they have identified as the "glass cliff."

Haslam & Ryan have found evidence that women are more likely to be appointed to leadership positions "that are associated with an increased risk of criticism and failure" (2004). Their analysis suggests that the phenomenon occurs in the appointment of women as directors on corporate boards, the selection of women for executive-level leadership positions in business, and the recruitment of women to run for highly contested political races. Their results have been consistent, in both their analysis of existing data and in experimental research they have conducted. Most of the coverage of their research has been in the U.K., but the New York Times referenced their work in their 8th annual "Year in Ideas" coverage this past December (2008).

Mulcahey, who by some accounts hand-picked Burns to succeed her, is confident of Burns' ability to lead Xerox through the current economic times. According to, in her remarks at the May 2009 Xerox annual meeting, Mulcahey noted that "there is no doubt in my mind that she [Burns] is the right person and that this is the right time for her."
Bookmark and Share

WASP Earn Congressional Gold Medal

As reported by Women's Policy Inc., Congress has approved legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the women who tested and ferried military aircraft for the Airforce during the second World War. The honor comes over sixty years after their service, but such has been the case throughout the history related to the program.

Little was known about these women and the service they provided to this country until the 1980s, when the records of their work were finally declassified. The 1,102 women selected to serve (25,000 women applied) flew over 60 million miles in a little less than two years, testing new planes prior to combat and ferrying planes and equipment between military bases. Thirty-eight women (38) lost their lives doing this work, and their colleagues and friends had to take up collections to pay for their funerals and burials. It was 1977 before the WASP were classified as members of the military, finally giving them access to the same military benefits that male ferry pilots had received from the beginning.

I became fascinated with their story while working on a project in Dayton for the 100th anniversary of flight in 2003; one of the best books I read on the subject was Amelia Earhart's Daughters: The Wild And Glorious Story Of American Women Aviators From World War II To The Dawn Of The Space Age by Leslie Haynsworth and David Toomey. The first part of the book is about the WASP; the second half tells the story of the Mercury 13, the 13 women who passed all of the physical and psychological tests used to select the original seven U.S. (male) astronauts but who were denied entry into the program because they were women. (And for those interested in an Ohio connection, see A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II by Ann B. Carl. Carl flew out of Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Dayton and frequently spent time with Orville Wright.)

Fast fact: the WASP mascot was Fifinella, a female gremlin created by Walt Disney for a proposed film. The WASP asked permission to use the character, and Disney agreed. I am a proud owner of a replica bomber jacket that features the WASP mascot patch on the front!

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Women in the Labor Force

University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan started a bit of a buzz when he observed in the New York Times Economix blog that women had risen to over 49% of the labor force (49.1%) in November, 2008. Mulligan went on to suggest that women might become the majority in the workforce should job losses in male-dominated industries continue into 2009.

While the story may have made for interesting headlines (As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in the Labor Force) and water-cooler conversations, it left a great deal of the story about the impact of the current economic climate on women untold, and certainly led some to believe that women were riding through the recession with limited pain. Such is not the case, as the following elaborate.
  • The National Women's Law Center has reported that since September 2008, when the recession began to impact industry sectors that employ primarily women, the rate of unemployment among women has actually been rising faster than the rate of men. NWLC also noted that unemployment among women who head households is 10.3% (Feb. 2009 figures), up over 50% in the past year.
  • The overall numbers mask job losses for women in industries where they are employed in white-collar, professional positions. In her article, Terminated: Why the Women of Wall Street are Disappearing, author Anita Raghavan reported that companies in the financial services and insurance industries have cut 260,000 jobs during the current recession, and that "seventy-two percent of the missing workers laid off have been women, even though they constituted 64% of employment before the crash began."
  • The New York Times previously reported in July 2008 that women were now "equal as victims" in deteriorating economic conditions. The article noted that: "after moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut" - so much so for the first time since the women's movement took hold, the percentage of women working has fallen. Originally written off as a result of women "opting-out," economists now believe it is a response to the current economic climate.
The website Fem2.0 recently sponsored a "blog carnival" on the subject of women and work - contributors include Joan Williams (Unbending Gender), best-selling author Gloria Feldt and Ohio's own Jill Miller Zimon (Writes Like She Talks blog). There's a great array of viewpoints represented; it's worth taking a look.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

U.S. - Not Really A Leader in Promoting Women Execs

Sylvia Hewlett recently wrote at about European companies who are placing an emphasis on attracting and retaining talented women as a key priority in the current economic environment.

It isn't the gist of the article that caught my attention however, but this sentence that starts the second paragraph: "There's no doubt that American organizations continue to value female talent — and remain in the lead when it comes to promoting women into senior roles."

The problem? The U.S. does not lead the world in promoting women into senior roles. That distinction goes to the Philippines according to the most recent survey by Grant-Thorton. The information comes from their 2009 International Business Report, which is an annual survey of the views of senior executives in privately held businesses all over the world. The top three countries according to the survey were:
  • Philippines - 47% of senior management positions are held by women,
  • Russia - 42%
  • Thailand - 38%
Where's the U.S? It ranked 28th among the 36 countries included in the report, with women holding an estimated 20% of senior management positions in the private sector.
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Women and the Economy - Various Viewpoints

Jen Nedeau is's women's rights blogger, as well as a resource and frequently-quoted expert in online media. She recently pulled together a summary of some of the current thinking on the impact of our current economic situation on women, noting the that the opinions range from very pessimistic to somewhat positive (if you believe that women becoming the majority of the workforce because more men are losing their jobs is a good thing).
  • Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect: How the Stimulus Sells Women Short, suggests that the difference in the rate of layoffs among men and women isn't something to celebrate - most families can't afford to lose one income if they need two to get by. The piece also notes that in the typical heterosexual family, the female's income is generally about 35% of the income for the household.
  • Rebecca Traister, So You Still Want to Date a Banker: Traister takes on the the conversations related to how job loss for men will affect their relationships with women (a discussion stimulated by the NYT's piece on the faux-group, Dating a Banker Anonymous). Traister raises an interesting question about the impact of this significant economic downturn on the roles of men and women in the workforce and society, noting that "previous moments of economic crisis have also sent women into the workforce in large numbers -- see the Depression, World War II, the 1970s."
I have yet to see data that breaks down gender job loss based on professional and managerial positions in organizations - doesn't mean it isn't out there, I just haven't found it yet. But in the time that I've been in the workforce, downturns in the economy have generally been considered a negative influence on women's employment in white collar positions - that there is a tendency in some organizations to "circle the wagons" so to speak with the people most like senior management (typically white men). Such has been the experience of some women in the financial arena, as noted in's Terminated: Why the Women of Wall Street are Disappearing. In the article, author Anita Raghavan notes:
  • "In the worst financial crash since the Depression, financial services and insurance firms have cut 260,000 jobs. Seventy-two percent of the missing workers laid off have been women, even though they constituted 64% of employment before the crash began."
Raghavan also shares one of the arguments used as a defense in response to claims by women of gender-based layoffs: "perhaps some new moms and older women have simply lost their mojo."
Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 16, 2009

Beatification in the Cape Town Townships

On day five in Cape Town, we finally saw how a large portion of the population live: in the townships. We learned that there are many issues facing this particular demographic: high HIV/AIDS infection rates; prevalent domestic violence issues; high incidences of opportunistic diseases, such as TB and meningitis that attack AIDS patients; and finally we learned that drugs have become a big problem, such as crystal meth. The newest host for problems has been violence related to xenophobia; South Africa has faced a large influx of immigrants and refugees from other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Mostly Zimbabweans have come to find a place to live, but there are Congolese, Somali refugees seeking peace and have found violence in South Africa. One young man explained to me that it is the high unemployment rate among South Africans that led to such hostilities.

One thing that stood out to me, were the proliferation of micro "Hair Salons." Every corner we turned had either a salon or a barber shop in a smaller Cape Town township called Joe Slovo. I found this to be a positive message for both entreprenuerialism and a sense of aesthetical beauty. If people invest something in making themselves appear nicely, then they must be aspiring for something better. And there must be some money to be made or else we wouldn't have seen so many salons.

We met with whom I would call the unofficial mayor, a woman who was running a community center. She was strong, sincere and patient when she told us about the challenges to feed the children who attend the pre-school, to administer their medications and care for them when a parent is sick. She also introduced us to the two community care workers who are educating the population about HIV/AIDS, taking care of the sick in the absence of a medical doctor or nurse, and counselling the community on domestic violence issues and child abuse.

After learning about the work being done, we asked a question about resources. The response was that the government provides resources only when they are available. There didn't seem to be anything regularly scheduled for a day to day or week to week agenda. Literally the women we met seemed to be facing these challenges alone. What made them not alone is that they were standing on the work that their mothers and other women in the community had pioneered.

After the discussions we were given a tour of the modest day-care, or creche, as it is called in South Africa. The faces of the children were of course beautiful and smiling. There were a couple of children who looked like they weren't feeling so well with running noses in the 30 degrees Celsius heat. What was striking were the conditions of the creche. They were bad. The floor linoleum was missing patches. The roof was coming apart. But, the children were singing with a teacher and there was a pot of rice with corn and vegetable oil cooking on the stove. All of the children gave me "five" as I left.

This place touched me. It was so dramatically different from anywhere else in Cape Town. The Cape Town government was helping to provide new housing for the residents who were living in shacks. The problem described to us is that when they build a nice neighborhood and relocate families, they try to give the new homes a small yard. Then within months, an extended family member will come and build an informal structure, or shack, and attach it to the new build. This has been a constant challenge facing the government's housing projects. We saw the evidence as we passed through the neighborhoods. But again, what I found so interesting is that there was a hair salon or two or three on every street. It rendered hope, because if a community cares about making themselves feel better by looking good, that is fine with me. In fact, I think it is a positive statement.

I got the address for the "unofficial mayor" in the event that I could ever come up with an idea to join her efforts. I really saw her good intent and I trust my instincts. One example of her discernment is that we saw a little boy walking with his grandmother. The little boy was bare bottomed. While we thought it was cute, the unofficial mayor called out to the woman and spoke in Xhosa. She told me that the reason the child didn't have pants was because they were all dirty. The unofficial mayor said to me, "that is abuse of the child."

The only thing I was able to offer her at the moment was the money I had in my pocket. I asked if I could give it to her, she said it would help feed the children; that was R200. About $20. It won't do anything to really help the community. There is a guilt that this brings, how can I do more? The way forward is to create sustainable mechanisms for employment so that people can provide themselves with nutrition and good health. That is a debate on its own... to figure out the best way. We witnessed a community garden on the outskirts of Joe Slovo. The problem though facing the garden is theft. It is difficult not to resign to despair when a solution meets something as evil rooted as theft.

I committed to concluding this entry on a positive note, so I will. What I saw in this impoverished neighborhood was a space for hope. I am not sure the government housing is the answer. I'm not sure micro-enterprise is the answer. I think the answer is simpler, yet more profound, then those means of intervention. I really believe that there needs to be a joining of hands and communication of hearts from the elite to the impoverished--this is true in any society. There will always be theft. There will always be entreprenuerialism. Both of those acts are of human impulse. And, I believe there will always be leaders willing to come together to resolve community issues. Open dialogue between all of the classes must be included in the way forward with a sense of volunteerism--which South Africa didn't seem to lack. So, again, I want to state that I saw hope in South Africa, even in its poorest parts.
Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Four Men

Internet access has been slow, my blogging entries will be back-dated. Most importantly will be for me to write about the observances I have made about the women I have met and seen in action.

It is week two. Week one was filled with observation; I was breathing in the culture, society, politics, gender relations, etc. Week two has been a period of reflection; this nation has embraced our travels in a warm, in-depth and accepting manner. In such a short period, I have not been able to get my head around South Africa's societal state since apartheid. Apartheid is such a significant, omnipresent part of everything I have witnessed. I have not been able to formulate my own perspective on equality concerning gender or race. What I have been able to understand clearly is economic disparity as a polarizing force.

Four men have crossed my path from the various meetings we have held. Usually we are meeting with women who are on the ground working to fight AIDS, poverty, HIV infection, social problems such as domestic violence and access to food. Conversations with men are more rare. So, though I have not yet decided my own perspective on race and gender in South Africa, I am able to point to a dichotomy that I have heard from the voices of four men.

I met two white men on two different business occasions. I met two black men on two different business occasions. In South Africa, it is appropriate to identify people as white, black or colored, thus the reference to the race of the men above. On discussing South African progress and change, the two white men told me that South Africa is getting worse, that safety, poverty, infrastructure, and the economy are worsening every day. Conversely, two black men told me that South Africa is getting better. One referred to a suburb of Johannesburg, Soweto, and stated with hope that there has been so much improvement since 1994. The dichotomy involves the government, the economy and public health and welfare.

The truth is that both points are equally valid. This is a country in the midst of power shift, a new democracy, and a battle field for HIV/AIDS. Though I have not yet conceived of how I truly perceive this nation, I do see hope and good as well as struggle and challenge. I also see women who are deeply connected to their communities and working tirelessly for the welfare, equality and improved public health of this country. The women have not openly stated whether things are getting better or worse, they are entrenched in the work to save the country.

There have been men that we have seen who are also working for the public good, and are supporting and encouraging the type of work that needs to be done to pull this country out of its problems. But from my observance, mainly women are on the ground from doctors and nurses to community care workers, teachers and lawyers. Women are taking the lead with the situation they have inherited and doing the best they can without disclosing their perspectives of the direction ahead. Rather than debating the dichotomy, they are in action, hands joined, mobilizing to transform what this country faces.
Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 20, 2009

Forty Years of Change

We recently put together a graph of changes that have occurred in the past forty years for women across a number of indicators, such as women with college degrees and women in the labor force. [View Graph]
Bookmark and Share

Project CEOS at Ohio State

Project CEOS - Comprehensive Equity at Ohio State - is a National Science Foundation-funded project aimed at increasing the representation and advancement of women in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The focus is on workplace transformation - changing the characteristics of our institutional culture that make it more difficult for women to stay on the job and advance their careers.

The project differs from many other gender equity projects with its focus on retention and advancement - not on recruitment (although it may make it easier to recruit women and minorities to the university). This focus acknowledges what most women know to be true - that the problem isn't getting women into the pipeline, it's about making it possible for women (and men) to move through the pipeline while juggling the demands of life outside of work.

Joan Herbers, former dean of the College of Biological Science at OSU, is the principal investigator for the project (that's PI in research project lingo) and leads a team of co-investigators and project managers who represent seven collegs and schools at OSU. The colleges participating in the first phase of the project are: initially: Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Veterinary Medicine.
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Watch for South African Views

Over the next several weeks, our blog for the Institute on Women will feature updates from Nadia Auch, who has served as the project manager for OSU's 65th Anniversary Celebration for our International Studies program. Nadia has agreed to share her adventures with us - watch this space for her updates.

I will take part in a delegation of five women from Central Ohio who will embark on a 3 week visit through South Africa. The objective will be to show "advanced private viewings" of a documentary film directed and produced by Janet Parrott, professor in the Department of Theatre at the Ohio State University and executive producer and hospice volunteer Cathe Kobacker. The film is entitled,
Song of the Soul: Stories of Hospice in South Africa, and the aim is to share the fim with the participants of the documentary in South African.

The theme of the the documentary is how women are mobilizing to care for the HIV/AIDS dying. The documentary visits hospice care organizations throughout the country and films the women in action who are taking charge to care for their communities.

As a first timer to South Africa, I have also reached out to women's organizations and microbicides organizations and I intend to explore and learn from the work they are doing.

My travels will begin when I arrive on February 17th 2009.
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Bottom Line

I was sifting through articles on women's leadership development today and a paragraph that jumped out at me for its laser-focus on the issue that I think presents the biggest barrier for women's leadership advancement - institutional cultures and practices. The article appeared in a "Notes" publication by the American Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs ( and summarized the lessons learned by the Puget Sound Women’s Pediatric Society (PSWPS) in their efforts to foster and encourage leadership among women in pediatrics in the Puget Sound area and to support their professional and personal development. Here's the paragraph:

"Lesson 4: Opening Pathways for Women to Assume Leadership Will Require Profound Institutional, Cultural, and Societal Change: Two years ago, our steering committee felt that it was time to move from inspirational talks and skill-building workshops to initiate institutional change that would promote work/life balance in pediatric careers. Important issues, such as the impact of pregnancies during pediatric residency and the continuing lack of on-site quality child care, maternity, paternity, or elder care leave, and flexible work settings in both community and academic settings, among others, were focal points for our discussions. Similar issues were raised by a national task force addressing challenges to women pediatricians. Successful solutions to these barriers will benefit both men and women and will foster movement of women into positions of leadership."

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Colorado and Montana Talk Politics

There've been a number of recent articles about women serving in the state legislatures and in leadership positions in state government in Colorado and Montana.

Using data from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) (info also available from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers), Colorado ranks first in the nation, with women serving as 40% of its state legislators after the 2008 election. This is in spite of a decline in the number of Republican women serving - the Democratic women made up for it. They now outnumber Democratic men in the Senate and are half of the D's in the House. (Ohio has seen a similar trend with its Republican women - see our graph).

Montana is reporting on the record number of women serving in leadership roles in their state legislature. One Montana news source notes:
  • "There are a record number of women serving in leadership roles this time, including the top three Democrats in the Senate, along with three out of five Democratic leaders in the House. And it's not just Democrats. Every Republican woman in the House of Representatives is either heading a committee, serving as a committee co-chair or in some kind of leadership position."
How do we fare in Ohio? The good news (I guess) is that we're no longer in the bottom 10 states for the percentage of seats held by women - based on NCSL data from after the past election, Ohio now ranks 34th (from high to low) among the 50 states.
Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 23, 2009

In My Inbox - January 23, 2009


UNICEF has issued their 2009 edition of The
State of the World's Children report. This year's focus is on maternal and newborn health, but the report covers a wide range of indicators, including nutrition, HIV/AIDS infection rates, literacy levels (male and female and by age group), even national economic indicators like GDP.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has issued the 2008 edition of Women in the Labor Force: A Databook. The databook includes information on women's labor force activities, current and historical, including labor force participation rate, education rates, and earnings. The information is drawn from the Current Population Survey, a national monthly survey. A couple of interesting observations: women have gone from being 15.7% of the multiple jobholders in the U.S. to 50.1%. Also, interestingly, 28.9% of men, age 25 and older, report having access to flexible schedule options, compared to 26.7% of women (full-time, wage and salary).
Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Numbers Tell the Story

Last year, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland published the book, Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergence of Our Next Economic Revolution. The book's argument is simple - women are consumers, employees and leaders - in substantial numbers. They make up one-half of the population, and businesses that are serious about success should be serious about the economic vitality of women.

Wittenberg-Cox recently launched a website and blog, Womenomics, to provide a forum for an ongoing discussion of the topics covered in the book. The site is a terrific resource, but it was this article that caught my attention today: Want Gender Balance? Appoint a Woman CEO! It's the grid that introduces the article, the one that compares the number of female board members and executive officers in the Fortune 500 companies headed by women with 12 companies led by what are considered to be "progressive" men - it really drives home the point that a female CEO is likely to have an impact on the number of women serving on the organization's board.
Bottom line:
  • the 12 companies they selected with "progressive men" as CEOs had an average of 2 women on their boards and 1.5 women among their executive team.
  • for the 12 companies with female CEOs, there were an average of 3.5 women on their boards and 3.3 women among the executive team.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teen Birth Rates Rise Nationally, in Ohio

The Center for Disease Control released its most recent update of the National Vital Statistics Reports on January 7, reporting increased birth rates for women in nearly all age groups from 2005 to 2006. Of particular concern is the increase in the birth rate for teens aged 15-19 years by 3%, the first increase in the rate since 1991 (41.9 births per 1000 teenagers 15-19 years of age), although the 2006 rate was still below the 1991 rate of 61.8 births per 1000.

Ohio was one of 26 states reporting what are considered to be statistically significant increases. In Ohio, the birth rate increased from 38.9 to 40 births per 1000 teenagers 15-19 years of age (the 1991 rate was 60.5).
(Note that these numbers are birth rate, not pregnancy rate. Pregnancy rates include live births, induced abortions and fetal losses according to the report.)

Other numbers of note for Ohio:
  • average age of mother at first birth: 24.7 (the lowest age is Mississippi at 22.6 and the highest is Massachusetts at 27.7)
  • percentage of mothers with first trimester prenatal care: 72.9% (76.3% for white women, 58.6% for African-American mothers)
  • percentage of mothers with late-term or no prenatal care: 6.3% (5% for white women, 11.6% for African-American mothers)
  • rate of cesarean delivery: 29.3% of all live births (lowest: Utah at 21.5% and Idaho at 22.8%; highest: New Jersey at 37.4% and Florida at 36.1%)
  • rate of vaginal births after cesarean delivery: 12.1 (number of vaginal births per 100 live births by mothers with previous cesarean delivery)
  • percentage of preterm births (less than 37 weeks of gestation: 13.3% (18.7% for African-American mothers)
  • percentage of low birthweight (less than 5 lbs. 8 oz.) births: 8.8% (14.5% for African-American mothers)
  • percentage of very low birthweight (less than 3 lbs. 4 oz.) births: 1.6% (3.3% for African-American mothers)

Link for report: National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 57, Num. 7 (1/7/09)
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Barriers to Advancement for African American Women

The Executive Leadership Council recently released the results of a study completed by Harris Interactive related to the need for and barriers to increasing the number of minorities in senior roles in business. The 150 executives interviewed for the study generally agreed that having diversity within the ranks of the senior leadership in companies was critical to encouraging innovative thinking and appealing to a diverse client base. They also identified specific barriers that appear to hinder the advancement of minority women in particular. These barriers were:
  • weaker or less strategic networks
  • inaccurate perceptions about the abilities of minority women
  • issues related to work/life balance
For more information on the study: BWER Harris Interactive Executive Summary
Bookmark and Share