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Examining today's working women


From NBC's Kelly Paice
As part of NBC's focus this week on the role of women in today's society, the Center for American Progress held a women's forum today to discuss its new report, developed in partnership with California's First Lady Maria Shriver, called "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything." This detailed study examines how women's roles in society -- from business to government to the home -- have evolved in recent years.
The liberal-leaning Center and Shriver said they were inspired to understand today's American working woman based on two recent developments: 1) for the first time in American history half of all U.S. workers are women, and 2) mothers are the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families. The report proclaims that "the battle of the sexes is over," and it's more about negotiations between the sexes in today's society.

But the study also finds that, as a nation, America has not come to terms with the evolving role of the work-life balancing woman. "Our leading institutions -- government, businesses, faith, and media -- have not kept up with the modern American family. For example, both our basic labor standards and our social insurance system are based on supporting 'traditional' families, where the husband works and the wife stays home to care for children." 
At today's event, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis -- herself the first Latina to ever hold that position -- spoke about what her office is doing to work toward adapting to the times of the modern working woman. "It is important to look at how women can succeed, because helping them succeed will help their families succeed," she said.
Yet Solis also recognized that women are still not complete equals in the workforce, stating: "Women are still not getting enough equity in pay." In fact, the Shriver study highlights that a woman today earns an average of 77 cents to every one dollar a man earns. The Labor secretary also pointed out that advancement and economic security for women is a main goal of President Obama's, as the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. 

With more women in the workforce than ever before, the report states that men now agree with women that government and businesses need to provide flexible work schedules, better child care, and paid family and medical leave in order to adjust to changing times. In fact, the study found that over 80% of men and women agree that businesses that fail to adapt to the needs of modern working families risk losing good workers, and that businesses that support and retain women have healthier bottom lines.
So how are men reacting to this ever-changing role of American women? The study found that 70% of men today are comfortable having women work outside the home, and three-quarters of Americans view the rise of women in the workplace as a positive development for society.
Despite these advances, a majority of women still share the view that they carry the primary responsibility of being the caregiver in the family. The Shriver study found that 85% of women agree that in cases where both partners have jobs, it is the woman who takes on more responsibility for the home and family.
The research of this report will be presented to the president and members of Congress, and a discussion of the findings will include the project leaders testifying before Congress. Shriver will also appear at the upcoming The Women's Conference 2009 with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.