By Kimberly Blaker
For more than a century, women have fought for fair and equal treatment. It’s been no simple feat. But heroic efforts by female reformers throughout history have brought us monumental change. These reformers deserve enormous credit for the path they’ve carved to the vast opportunities afforded to women today. But despite the progress, women still face career obstacles and pay inequality.
Career obstacles in the 21st century
Today, women still are not 100% on par with men when it comes to equal pay and advancement. The problem stems, in part, from workplace bias. But women face other challenges as well.
Many women lack support at home to either pursue a career or further it. It’s true. Men are much more supportive of women’s career ambitions than in the past. Still, many men believe women’s place is in the home raising their family. Even men who don’t hold such outdated notions often don’t pick up the slack at home by sharing equally in household and parenting responsibilities. As a result, women who enter the workforce often lack the time and energy to dedicate to career pursuits.
Tracy DeVries, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi, agrees. “Women face many hurdles,” she says. “But at the top of the list is limited access and limited power.” She points to the findings released in a report by Bill and Melinda Gates, based on their experiences through their foundation. According to the report, “the lives of boys and girls diverge, often at a very young age” both here and around the world, says DeVries. Girls receive less education than boys and are expected to do more unpaid care work throughout their lives.
The report reveals that, globally, women do an estimated $10 trillion in unpaid work. In the U.S., says DeVries, “Men spend about 2 ½ hours doing unpaid work, while women spend over four hours a day on those same kinds of tasks.” Also, points out DeVries, women are paid only about 75 cents for every dollar a man makes. The pay drops to about 50 cents for women of color. “It is incredibly difficult to reach your full potential when you’ve got both limited time and limited financial resources,” she explains.
Willie Jones, President and CEO of Women for Progress of Mississippi, also points out, “From an employer perspective, women need access to higher-paying jobs. Statistics show that women need to be making an average of $35,000 and more annually to really make an impact on their lives and control their quality of living – not only for themselves but their children and families – and that is just a start.”
Jones says for that to happen, we must evaluate additional opportunities that non-traditional jobs offer. These include “higher paying wages, benefits, business options, and flexible work schedules.” Also, points out Jones, women spend a lot to obtain four-year degrees in professions they never use. So, she says, “We must evaluate our choices and ask how will those choices impact our realities.”
Women face many other obstacles, as well. These include:
- job automation increasingly putting women’s jobs at risk
- being held to different standards in a multitude of ways
- having fewer (female) role models
- sexual harassment
- inflexible work arrangements
- double discrimination experienced by both black women and older women
- the challenges of being a mom, and particularly a single mother
Empowering women for greater opportunities
Providing women more opportunities for career advancement and financial security requires a multifaceted approach. Women’s Foundation of Mississippi researched women’s access to quality jobs in the state. DeVries explains, “The first thing we needed to do with that research was to define what exactly a quality job is. We discovered that it includes: a livable wage, access to both employer-provided health care and other benefits like the opportunity to participate in a retirement plan, year-round, full-time employment, and paid time off.”
The foundation’s research also verified that a key to empowering women is policy change – meaning equal pay. “Just closing the wage gap between men and women in similar occupations would cut poverty in our state in half,” reveals DeVries. “When you realize 75% of the children living in poverty are living in a household headed by a woman – either as a single mom or bread-winner in a two-parent household – that’s a gamechanger. Not just for women, but for our next generation.”
Jones believes public policy is the key to women attaining economic equality. She says we need “policies that are equal, smart and impactful for women and families.” Also essential is to make “better use of federal and state dollars and that women have a say in the policymaking process.” We need policies “that make families self-sufficient and whole so that they may empower themselves.”
Jones goes on to say, “We cannot continue to elect leaders who fail to govern for all the people and those who fail to make decisions for the best interest of our state as a whole. The biggest obstacle to financial security and career advancement for women today is unfair and unequal policies.” Equally problematic, she explains, is “unqualified leadership in our most critical leadership positions that fail to govern in the best interest of our state.”
Charlise Latour, the Board Chair for New Expectations for Women in Mississippi, shares that “Women who are living in poverty need to see a path to a better life for themselves and their children. However, women at all levels need mentoring and quality information to know what and how to take the next steps to continue to improve their lives.” She also suggests lending a hand when you notice other women struggling because we all have difficult moments when we could use some help.
Myra Collins is the Chief Director of Girl Experience Officer at Girl Scouts Heart of the South. She also leads the Northeast Mississippi Stand Beside Her Coalition, a collaborative coalition for girls and women. She adds, “When women connect with one another, and with girls, to freely share their knowledge and experience, and form positive relationships, everyone succeeds. Across the nation, girls and women are working against extreme adversity to achieve their goals and dreams.”
Collins recommends getting involved in community support organizations that work to improve the lives of women and girls. “Be a role model, end negative speech, and stop the comparisons,” she says. We need to commit to standing beside other girls and women, quit comparing, and “celebrate one another’s talents and successes.”
Finally, offers DeVries, “We need to encourage and help each other to be at the table as leaders in every way.” This includes “in elected office, the workplace, our churches, and our communities.”
8 CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL WOMEN
One way women can level out the playing field for themselves is to understand the characteristics of successful women and strive to emulate them. Several traits are common among women who succeed. As you read through the traits, let them inspire you. You can practice as you read. After reading each characteristic, close your eyes, visualize yourself with that trait, and notice the positivity and confidence it stimulates. If you feel you lack in any of the characteristics, choose one or two to focus on developing.
Positive attitude. Successful women are positive. They see possibilities even when faced with challenges or adversity. Their positive attitude creates a positive environment and reduces stress. This results in improved relationships, teamwork, customer relations, and even health.
Ambition. Women who succeed are ambitious. They have desires and dreams to achieve or attain. Whether they want to earn a degree, pursue a particular career, start a business, or change the world, they seek it. Ambition gives women the drive to go for their goals and build a meaningful life.
Confidence. Women who achieve are confident. They don’t doubt their abilities; they’re sure of them. That confidence gives them the strength to go for their dreams and helps them achieve peak performance. It provides women the social ease and enthusiasm to influence others, leading to greater opportunity.
Perseverance. Because of successful women’s positive attitude and ambition, they can persevere. They’re able to move forward and overcome roadblocks or achieve what they’ve got their sights on.
Love to learn. Successful women have a strong desire to learn continually. They’re not satisfied to acquire a desired skill or earn their degree and be done. They realize there’s always more to learn and build upon what they already know. This increases their chances of success and can take them to a higher level.
Good work ethic. Accomplished women recognize the value of a good work ethic. They’re dedicated, take responsibility, and work hard to do their job right and see it to completion. Their work ethic provides them more career opportunities because employers recognize and value this quality. This can open doors within your current company or when applying for a position elsewhere.
Assertiveness. Another essential feature of successful women is they’re assertive. But they also know when and how to use their assertiveness. Successful women recognize there are unfair workplace biases toward female assertiveness. So, they’re careful to pick their battles and choose their words wisely, mastering assertiveness to their benefit.
Failure is a four-letter word. Women who succeed don’t believe in failure. Defeat and failure are not in their vocabulary. They recognize every effort may not produce the results they intended. But they go by the motto ‘to try is to succeed,’ because one cannot succeed without trying.
5 TIPS FOR CAREER AND BUSINESS SUCCESS
In addition to strengthening the traits associated with success, follow these tips to advance your business or career.
Surround yourself with women. A recent study, “A network’s gender composition and communication pattern predict women’s leadership success,” found women with female-dominated inner circles or those in frequent contact with a few strong female network connections, hold higher-ranking positions. One reason for this phenomenon is that female-to-female relationships release oxytocin, which reduces stress. The result is women feel more positive and perform better. That, in turn, increases the likelihood of promotion. It also likely leads to greater success for entrepreneurs.
Advocate for yourself. Women are often uncomfortable speaking up for themselves at work. As a result, their needs go unmet, and their value may go unrecognized. So don’t shy away from uncomfortable situations. If necessary or possible, rehearse what you want to say in advance. When rehearsing isn’t possible, remember to speak respectfully, concisely, and with confidence, so you’re heard. Speaking up goes a long way toward gaining respect and also projects the value you bring to your company.
Explore career options. Whether you hold a degree or have experience in a particular occupation, don’t allow that to keep you trapped in an unfulfilling or dead-end job. Create a list of your areas of knowledge and expertise, talents, skills, and other strengths. Then explore other occupations within the same field, different fields, or self-employment opportunities.
Learn to delegate. This is essential both in your career and personal life. When you delegate at home and in personal commitments, you’ll have more balance in your life, experience reduced stress, and have time to enjoy life or work toward career aspirations. Delegating is also essential to success in your business or career. Develop a delegation strategy to increase your productivity. The skill to delegate effectively also adds to your value as a manager or leader.
Make use of career and business resources. A plethora of business and career resources are available to women, many of which are specifically for women. You can find resources within your community, such as business networking groups, professional associations, and career development programs. Online resources are unlimited. You can find career forums, organizations for nearly any occupation or field, educational or skill development opportunities, and much more.
Multiple organizations in Mississippi are leading the way in empowering girls and women. These organizations welcome women in need of support as well as women who are interested in providing support and leadership to other women.
Women’s Foundation of Mississippi
New Expectations for Women in Mississippi
Northeast Mississippi Stand Beside Her Coalition
Women for Progress