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Should I Support Women?

equalityAugust 26th is Women’s Equality Day once again.

Why do we still celebrate the 19th Amendment to our Constitution – and why should you even care?

Women’s rights in the U.S. have been a question again and again, from our role in the American Revolution to today. I suspect we may celebrate the day we got the right to vote because of our continuing lack of proportionate impact, rather than because we have power.

These issues impact your business. We have far too few women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. The number of women in computer fields has been dropping for the past 15 years. Women are becoming entrepreneurs at increasing rates but many of them are doing so with limited goals and little capital. We make less money – in organizations and as entrepreneurs. We have few representatives in the halls of power – corporate and electoral.

A recent “hot” TED video by Sheryl Sandburg on Why We Don’t Have Enough Women Leader has some good ideas for your own career.

While I certainly have zero interest in becoming “more like a man” (an old charge against feminists, recently revived), women do act differently at work than men.

In general, we tend to value relationships more and results a little less. Our communications styles often demonstrate this and make men think us less knowledgeable or committed. These factors can be both bad and good, depending on your workplace and your goals.

But how do we grow our businesses successfully and support the dreams of younger women for their own work goals?

First, a little history

Women in the U.S. won the right to vote in 1920 although women in 16 other countries had already done so with New Zealand leading the way in 1893. States in the U.S., mostly western, authorized women to vote as early as Washington in 1910 and California in 1911. The fight to win this right was frequently ugly. Suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned and force-fed here and in other countries.

What does this mean to you and your business?

Many retail businesses use Women’s Equality Day for sales and some organizations have events to mark it. You can too. These are great ways to remind people of our history and get employees thinking about diversity.

But more importantly, your vote has impact. Women still vote at lower rates than men. The best predictor of a man’s vote is his education and income. The best predictor of a woman’s vote, if she is married, is her husband’s vote. Women generally are less active in donating money to candidates, including to women candidates. And far fewer of us run for office, especially national level offices. Congress has only a few women. State legislators and governors have had more women elected. A woman President (or Prime Minister) – certainly a number have been quite successful over the past 40 years, but not in the U.S.

But it is our elected officials at every level who have a significant impact on your business. The rules and regulations that govern so many aspects of starting, growing, managing, financing, and daily operations of any business are based on the laws passed by legislatures.

If you have concerns or issues that are important to you and your business, voting is the first step.

Supporting candidates with money or time is another step. Thoughtful communications with your elected officials are helpful, although doing so in concert with others enhances your impact. Do you know anyone in your Representative or Senators’ offices? In your local/state official’s offices? How can you influence anyone if you do not already have the contacts?

Working with and supporting other women is critical. Not just in the political sense but in daily work activities. Hire more senior women into your company and buy from women-owned companies. Use your investments to pressure firms to have more women directors and executives – have you seen the dismal record of even the biggest U.S. companies?

And while Women’s Equality Day is August 26th – this work goes on all year around. Me? I’m thinking “audacious” might be my word for the rest of 2011.

Links you might find interesting:

Image: saxarocks via Flickr, Creative Commons

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced Human Capital issues speaker and management consultant. She founded Strategies for Human Resources to advise organizations facing organization and people challenges. Previously she designed and managed human resource functions for GE, Software AG, Maxwell Online, and others. A Wharton MBA and an Air Force veteran, she actively supports the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Check out her website, SHRinsight.com, for management and development articles.


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