Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Three Ways to Empower Our Daughters to Build a Better Workplace

Words of Encouragement on International Women's Day 2018
By Fran Pastore, CEO, Connecticut Women's Business Development Council

Standing in line for a cup of coffee at a local breakfast spot, I witnessed the helplessness inflicted on a young cashier from a #metoo moment. Her rattled expression and slumped posture after fielding a customer's unwanted advances reflected that what should have been a simple business transaction had turned to harassment, inappropriate and demeaning.

Many of us have #metoo stories from the workplace. As a young insider trading analyst, I was slapped on the rear by a colleague on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. My daughters, too, share appalling stories about suggestive remarks and unwanted, sexually explicit texts from male mentors and coworkers. While women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men and the businesses we own generate over $1.6 trillion in revenues and employ 9 million workers in the U.S., alone, we have a long way to go to ensure that young girls never have #metoo moments in their workplace. At the Women's Business Development Council where I have worked for more than twenty years, I receive calls from women of all socio-economic backgrounds, from a student at Yale University to a 75-year-old retiree who is demanding change and wanting to know what they can do to make it happen. Heres how we can empower ourselves and our daughters to be the change the world needs to see:

Gain new skills to achieve economic security

Lack of economic security leaves women vulnerable. The 25-year-old woman who served me coffee in rural Connecticut couldn't confront the harassment she received at work without breaking company policy that forbid her to from talking back to customers. She couldn't go to her boss without risking the minimum wage job she and her children depended on for survival. If she had economic security and access to better job options, she may have felt more secure in reporting the incident, demanding better treatment and protection at her job, or seeking an alternative. Gaining new skills, a college degree, certification in a trade or software program empowers women. It leads to self-reliance and economic independence, which give women the ability to make choices, to leave jobs where they are not treated well, and to seek better opportunities for themselves and others.

Start your own business and become a leader

An impressive 1 in 11 adult women is an entrepreneur and the number is on the rise. While accessing new markets and capital remains the biggest challenges for women business owners, progress is being made toward helping them overcome these obstacles. The business climate is ripe for female-run enterprises thanks in part to new legislation that has eliminated some of the barriers women business owners have experienced when pursuing government contracts. Additionally, financial institutions are beginning to attract more women and more female run angel investor firms and venture capital investors are investing in women-led firms. Forging change from within, corporate culture and policies like the one that forbids a service employee from confronting an unruly customer, and policies on maternity and family leave that make for inflexible, unsupportive workplaces will evolve to better advocate when women are in leadership roles to create and enforce them.

Take a step for others by sharing time, experience and financial contributions

The #metoo movement and the media buzz around it have inspired women to fight for change by investing their time, talent and financial support to promote a more equitable workplace and economy. Organizations like the WBDC offer those with expertise in areas such as personal finance, running and managing a business, banking, and marketing a way to connect with and guide women seeking economic empowerment. Volunteers can offer mentorship and training through workshops and seminars to provide resources and encouragement, including business plan review, help with financial forecasting, pitch presentation, loan application preparation, lending referrals and personal finance. When women entrepreneurs receive the training they need to launch new businesses and scale existing ones, creating jobs for themselves and others, they stimulate economies and build strong communities.

A better workplace is within our reach. With the help of supportive men to elevate and advocate for our work and our rights, we can promote education to open better opportunities, encourage more women to take on leadership roles, and share our skills and experience to create the equality and guidance young women need and deserve. Together we can put an end to inappropriate behavior in the workplace. After all, we have far better stories to share.


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