Focus on Women

Pay Equity May No Longer Be a Dream in California

September 12th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

For the last decade many of us have decried our inability to achieve true gender pay equity.  Nationwide, women continue to earn 78% of what men do for comparable jobs.  And in the last year, studies have shown dramatic gender-based pay inequities within professions, including traditionally “female” ones such as nursing.  Working women in California do somewhat better, where the pay differential is 84%.  But the fact is there is still a wage gap, and it can’t be completely explained away by lifestyle choices to work part time, or take time off from a career to raise children.  This gap is also more pronounced for women of color.

But that may soon change.  SB 358, the California Equal Pay for Equal Work Act of 2015, is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, and early indications are that he will sign it.  If he does, effective January 1, 2016:

An employer shall not pay any of its employees at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions, except where the employer demonstrates (1) the wage differential is based on one or more of the following factors: (a) seniority system, (b) merit system, (c) system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, (d) bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training or experience….

SB 358 would also discourage employers from telling their employees they can’t discuss wages with one another, ban retaliation for such discussions, and put the burden of proof on the employer that its pay practices ensure gender-based pay equity.

Basically, it would become the most stringent pay-equity law in the United States.  California has led the way in adopting progressive legislation to improve the lives of women and girls before (for example, on the issue of sex trafficking).  Let’s hope the rest of our country follows suit soon.


Amnesty’s Misguided Resolution

August 17th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

On August 11 Amnesty International’s (AI) governing body adopted a resolution supporting the legalization of “consensual” sex work.    You can read the press release regarding this decision here.  Frankly, I’ve been a bit angry about it.  I haven’t been a supporter of AI for many years, primarily because I decided to focus my charitable giving on organizations that work to help women and girls (like Soroptimist).  But this action will certainly prevent me from ever donating to AI again.

The organization has received sufficient backlash on the proposed (now adopted vote) to create Frequently Asked Questions about it.  I’ve read it, and it sure seems like AI is talking out of both sides of their mouth.  On the one hand, they state they oppose human trafficking in all forms.  Yet they have adopted a policy that decriminalizes prostitution–the most common destination for women being trafficked.  They have chosen to ignore the Nordic model (Sweden, Denmark) that criminalizes the purchase of sex because “operational aspects – like purchasing sex and renting premises to sell sex in – are still criminalized. This compromises sex workers safety and leaves them vulnerable to abuse.”  And yet Sweden and other countries that have criminalized the purchase of sex have seen significant declines in the incidence of human trafficking by as much as 70%.

The problem with AI’s resolution is that it assumes the “consensual” sale of sex is the norm.  The average age girls enter prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14 years of age–and it is rarely consensual.  (Actually, under federal law, it’s automatically considered to be trafficking if the victim is younger than 18.)  Is AI really advocating to legalize child rape?

In 2010 Soroptimist adopted a resolution on “Prostituted Women and Girls”.  Here’s what it says:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Soroptimist clubs condemn prostitution as violence against women and undertake the following activities in order to end the prostitution of women and girls and decrease trafficking:

  1. Support laws and programs that assist the victims of prostitution and do not treat them like criminals
  2. Advocate for laws that criminalize the buying of sex
  3. Encourage education (including workshops with former prostitutes) for purchasers of sex
  4. Promote school programs that teach young people about healthy intimate relationships
  5. Fight efforts to legalize prostitution
  6. Work to change the attitudes about prostitution from the “world’s oldest profession” to the “world’s oldest oppression”
  7. Have frank and open discussions about prostitution with the men and boys in our lives and the effect it has on women, girls and relationships
  8. Oppose efforts to treat prostitution as a legitimate occupation (Emphasis added)

If you’ve been wanting to flex your advocacy muscles, this would be a good cause.  We need to let AI know that we oppose their resolution due to the harm it will cause to women and girls.


Financial Literacy — Do You Know Your Worth?

July 9th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

We discovered my mother-in-law’s financial illiteracy when my father-in-law’s declining health made it impossible for him to take care of the household “paperwork” any longer.  Mom knew how to write checks and to record the amounts, but she had never balanced the checkbook.  She had no idea whether their income – a combination of Social Security, pensions and mandatory IRA withdrawals – was enough to pay the bills.  She found the monthly statements from banks and investment brokers overwhelming—she couldn’t tell what was important from the less important, boilerplate information in them.

My 85-year-old mother-in-law assumes the worst, not only in the absence of information, but also when there’s an overabundance of it.  She came to the erroneous conclusion that she and my father-in-law were either being sued (misinterpreting the arbitration language) or worse, were headed for the poorhouse.  Ultimately my husband and I took responsibility for their finances, because expecting her to do it herself was harming her mental health.

My mother-in-law is not alone.  Several widowed friends have been forced to learn about personal financial management when their husbands died.  A study conducted by Financial Finesse last year found a continuing gender gap in financial literacy.  Women can experience more significant financial pressures because they tend to earn less than men for comparable jobs, they tend to take more time off from their careers to raise children or care for parents, and they live longer.  As a result many women find it challenging to manage personal finances, a challenge that is made even harder by a societal culture that values consumerism and the accumulation of debt.  (Do you ever stop and think about what that “rewards” credit card is really rewarding you for?)

In light of these pressures, it’s nice to know that there are organizations committed to improving women’s financial literacy and financial protection.  Royal Neighbors of America, in partnership with Soroptimist, has developed a series of practical information pieces on the theme “Know Your Worth.”  The first one I received focused on “5 Ways to Help Break the Cycle of Debt,” and it contained really good tips consistent with best practices for personal financial management.  Additional tips and tools for improving and protecting our financial literacy are being released monthly so keep an eye out.

Royal Neighbors of America has been empowering women to improve their lives through the financial protection of life insurance and by giving back to communities since 1895.  (They’re also a major sponsor for Soroptimist’s Live Your Dream Award.)  If you or someone you know needs to improve their financial security and literacy, Royal Neighbors may be a good place to start.  You can get more information at

The Good, Bad and Ugly about FIFA Women’s World Cup

July 6th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

It was so exciting to see the U.S. Women’s National Team win the Women’s World Cup yesterday.  I watched many Women’s World Cup (WWC) matches over the last few weeks (i.e., not just those involving the US) and noticed some interesting differences between World Cup Soccer as played by women and men.

  • WWC had far fewer yellow cards–and no red cards for flagrant and dangerous fouls
  • No biting (then again, no Luis Suarez playing)
  • WWC had fewer flagrant dives (acrobatic efforts to elicit a foul from the referees, even though no foul was committed)

There were just as many low-scoring games, just as much drama, and just as much excitement as men’s World Cup.  The France-Germany game was particularly spectacular, ending in penalty kicks.

And yet there is a significant, ugly difference between the men’s and women’s World Cup.  FIFA paid the US Women’s National Team $2 million for winning it all–but last year they paid men’s world cup soccer teams $8 million, even if they lost in the first round.  What makes it worse is that FIFA doesn’t see anything wrong with the pay inequity.

Now I get it that the WWC may not attract as many advertisers or as much international interest, despite big gains in viewers this year (highest ratings for women’s world cup matches–ever).  So some could argue that women deserve less money because they bring in less revenue to FIFA.  But given the allegations of rampant corruption in the FIFA organization, even that argument seems weak.  And when FIFA’s General Secretary says paying women the same is “nonsense,” and that it will take 23 more World Cups for them to achieve pay equity (that’s another 92 years), well that’s just wrong.

If you think women soccer teams should get paid the same as men, sign a petition to make a stink about the current pay inequity. Find it here.




Focus on Pay Equity, Not Work-Life Balance

June 26th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times highlights another pay equity lawsuit–this one filed by women lawyers who had been working for Farmers Insurance.  The lawsuit claims not only were they paid less than men (some of whom had less experience), they also experienced retaliation just for requesting equal pay.  I’ve read too many media reports that suggest women earn less because they don’t ask for more.  This lawsuit indicates a different reality — asking for fair and equal compensation can have negative, career-detrimental consequences.

Rather than talk about how to achieve work-life balance, perhaps we need to have a different conversation:  how to ensure pay equity for all women in all professions.   And we need to follow Meryl Streep’s lead and advocate for the return of the Equal Rights Amendment on Capitol Hill.


The Statue of Liberty and Women’s Suffrage

June 17th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

Today marks the 130th anniversary of the delivery of the Statue of Liberty to the United States.  Elizabeth Mitchell wrote about the Statue of Liberty and its creator, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi in her book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.  In an article in American Profile’s Community Table, Mitchell shared 10 interesting things we probably don’t know about this American icon.  My favorite one?  Women suffragettes waged a protest at the unveiling!

“When it was unveiled in October 1866, women’s rights groups lamented that an enormous female figure would stand in New Your harbor representing liberty, when most American women had no liberty to vote….Suffragettes chartered a boat to circle the island during the unveiling. They blasted protest speeches, but those could not be heard over the din of steam whistles and cannon blasts in the harbor. “

The Statue of Liberty remains a symbol of American freedom, and most women in this country have more freedom than they did in 1866.  But when it comes to issues like domestic violence, college sexual assault, the absence of veteran’s services for women, pay inequality, media bias, and other issues that affect today’s women and girls, I can’t help but feel a bit like those suffragettes.  Even when we make a lot of noise, are we really being heard?

Is Your Profession Guilty of “Double-Barreled Bias”?

June 7th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

If you’re like me, you have chuckled at Charlotte Whitton’s quote: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”  But even though we may laugh at it, the reality is that gender bias at work is not funny.  It remains pervasive in most professions today, along with pay inequity, by the way.  In a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times, Mary Hedley of Piedmont, California responded to an article about the experiences of female American soldiers.  In it she asserted she had experienced the same “double-barreled bias” as a lawyer, as had many of her friends in other professions.  Is your profession guilty of double-barreled gender bias?  It might be if you find the following statement to be true.

Male (insert your profession here) tend to be presumed competent until they prove otherwise, while female (insert your profession again ) are often presumed incompetent until they prove themselves to be capable. 

True gender equality means that women are presumed to be as capable as men, instead of having to prove it by working twice as hard.  Are you as tired as I am about waiting for the presumptions to change?

The Power of Economic Empowerment

April 3rd, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

When I bought my first car, I needed help from my parents.  In fact, I remember getting the loan from the “Bank of Dad,” because I didn’t have a credit rating worthy of traditional financing.  When I bought my second car, I brought a male friend along with me, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously or treated fairly as a single woman.  The third time I bought a car, I needed the income of my husband to help secure the financing to make the purchase affordable.

Earlier this week, I decided to buy  a new car, after my 10-year old vehicle began showing signs of unreliability.  But this time, I did it all by myself.  I  did the research myself, determined what kind of car I wanted myself, and intentionally went to a dealership owned by a woman (and Soroptimist), because I trusted I would be treated fairly.  I fell in love with the car I wanted and yes, I was able to negotiate a good deal. (My husband was working, but encouraged me to go forth and conquer.)

But here’s the best part.  I was able to get financing using my own income and credit rating–I didn’t need my husband to make the deal work.

That’s the power of economic empowerment.  Wouldn’t it be great if every woman and girl could experience it, not just dream about it?

(P.S. — Thanks to Cheri Fleming, past SIA President and owner of Valencia Acura for making my car buying experience so wonderful!)


Dilbert’s Take on Wage Equity

March 4th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

The March 3 Dilbert comic would have been more funny if it weren’t so darn true.

See for yourself…..

Darfur, Rape and George Clooney

February 26th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

There’s a green hoodie sweatshirt hanging in my closet that says “Save Darfur.”  I bought it a decade ago to draw attention to the genocide there.  This was before South Sudan became an independent state–even before the United States named the atrocities being committed as a genocide.  I remember gathering with people on the beach in Corona del Mar to spell out the word “Enough” with our bodies so it could be photographed for an advocacy postcard.  I remember coordinating presentations and play readings about the genocide, and in particular, sharing the stories of women being raped when they tried to leave the refugee camps to collect firewood.  I remember people being horrified that genocide continued on our watch.  But many years have passed since then–and my attention, and that of the world, has largely shifted away from Darfur to other countries with other atrocities.  I hate to admit that it took George Clooney’s persistent advocacy to grab my attention again.

An op-ed piece in the New York Times by Clooney, John Prendergast and Akshaya Kumar focuses attention back on Sudan, where Human Rights Watch recently documented the rape of more than 200 women and girls in Darfur by the Sudanese army.  It contains tangible, practical actions that can be taken by the U.S. government and other members of the international community to both hold the Sudanese government accountable and put an end to the violence continuing to plague the country.

Ten years ago we said “enough” to the genocide and “enough” to the violence being perpetrated on women and girls.  It’s time to say “enough” again–this time with more than mere words.

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