I scrap for every dollar. I worry over every dollar. This is a lousy way to live, and I never thought I’d be here.
And I also worry for my sons, one of whom is money-savvy; he works multiple part-time jobs while attending college, he earned his first dollar at age six (stamping mailings at an art gallery), he started a small business fixing computers at 13.
He values every penny he makes, and negotiating comes easily to him. This isn’t the case for my other son, though he understands we – and he – must live on a tight budget.
Given the years since divorce (filled with financial wrangling and headaches), I wonder why both my sons don’t have the same approach to the Almighty Dollar. And I blame myself, as a woman – as a divorced woman, and as a woman who works in a consulting, contracting, or freelance capacity.
Those are harsh admissions in a “success culture” that uses income as a means of approval and assessment, or at least, the trappings of an (assumed) income. But it’s important to make these statements, to concede openly that there are good years and bad years, and that the bad years may linger with significant ripple effects.
I also wish to clarify that I understand the role of a rugged economic reality, consolidation (and fewer opportunities) in (two of) my former field(s), and other market forces at work.
Still, I haven’t taught my sons what I would have liked, due to my own financial instability.
Women, Earning Power, Earning Options
No doubt, millions of others are in the same place. Living with an unpredictable income. Living job-scared. Living in the wake of legal hassles or unexpected occurrences that throw off even the most careful of financial planning.
Then there’s the fact that I’m a woman, with the experience of a woman’s earning power, a woman’s career compromises, and a woman’s lesser insistence on standing up for her worth – and negotiating a proper amount of pay. That said, I’m well aware that with my background and education, I’ve done better than most.
I find myself grateful to have sons; they are more likely to earn a decent living than if I had daughters. But how sad is that?
In my morning reading, I came across this reminder of how much less women earn in a lifetime than men, how that impacts our present as well as our futures, and how critical it is that we learn to negotiate.
Dollars and (Non)Sense
In the article referenced above, Victoria Pynchon offers practical tips on negotiating. But these tips don’t necessarily come easily. They require practice.
They also don’t change the fact that women typically experience an interrupted career history (due to child-rearing responsibilities), fewer dollars in investment and retirement accounts as a result (not to mention, social security), and as Ms. Pynchon points out, we enter the job market knowing that on average, our pay rates will be anywhere from 75 to 80% of what a man would earn for the same work.
But when it comes to money and jobs, when you start low, you grow slow.
You may say these are the consequences of individual choices (of career) and individual priorities (regarding family first); I will say yes, to some degree. Then again, it’s the female of the species who gives birth, no? Regardless of your stance on choices and priorities, the end result is no less unacceptable, and infrastructure would help ease the continuing impacts on women and children.
Glass Ceiling, Glass Middle?
I was also struck this morning by an article in the New York Times on the falling number of women at Google.
According to the article, while the inner circle is (currently) all male, women working in the trenches at Google feel welcome and comfortable.
Claire Cain Miller writes:
Google has generally been considered a place where women have thrived…
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the lack of executives isn’t cause for concern.
Still, senior women at the company are losing ground. Since Larry Page became chief executive and reorganized Google last year, women have been pushed out of his inner circle and passed over for promotions. They include Marissa Mayer, who left last month to run Yahoo after being sidelined at Google.
As for this discussion, it deals with “professional” women. What about those who work jobs in the middle? Jobs at wages of any sort? Those on the assembly line, in the services industries, freelancers at everything and anything?
Women Must Care About Money
I remind myself that as a culture, we continue to believe that women don’t care about money in the same way as men. There may be some truth in this, behaviorally, though I will specify that I have no data on hand to support that assertion.
Still, think about it. Couldn’t you say that most of the women you know ranging from 30-something to 60 are motivated by work that enables them to raise their families (typically part time, freelance, or lower-paid positions), and work that offers them “meaning,” (typically lower paying fields like teaching and care giving)?
The economic downside hits when women find themselves with a laid-off husband (or partner), a serious (and costly) medical issue in the family, or facing the expense of divorce and its (potentially long-lived) financial impacts.
My take on the bottom line?
We must work – hard – to nurture and develop the confidence to properly negotiate for what we want, and what we deserve. And not just in the professions. In the trenches, where so many are slogging through to barely pay the bills at the end of the month.
We must model these skills for our children – daughters especially, but with so many mothers raising children alone – for our sons as well.
Model Money Smarts for Kids
We cannot shrug our shoulders and think this isn’t a problem, even if we find ourselves feeling “safe” today – with a steady income, a happy marriage, and in good health. No one is immune from the sort of forces that can contribute to economic instability.
But we can pull our heads out of the sand, envision ourselves stronger, raise our voices, vote for those who don’t see women as second-class citizens, raise our children to value themselves – and expect to be educated, promoted, and paid accordingly – regardless of gender.