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.


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

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…..

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me

September 21st, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

September 21 is the International Day of Peace, established to strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all of the nations of the world.  It’s hard to imagine peace when war and conflict, violence, disrespect and social injustice is so evident all around us.  But the International Day of Peace reminds us that a different world–one without all of those things–should be our goal.

Soroptimist International President Ann Garvie has issued a statement calling on each of us to promote peace and tolerance in our local communities, while encouraging decision-makers around the world to end violence and conflict.  Read her International Day of Peace message here.

To learn more about the International Day of Peace, visit

Dream It * Build It — New Soroptimist Program for Girls Launched!

July 25th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

This morning Soroptimist launched DREAM IT * BE IT: Career Support for Girls, a new program to provide secondary school girls with education and role models to help empower them to pursue their career goals and reach their full potential.  Soroptimist clubs will be conducting  community assessments to identify challenges girls face and ways to help girls overcome those challenges.  They will be forming partnerships with girls in their communities to ensure DREAM IT * BUILD IT reflects their unique needs and  interests.    We have a wonderful opportunity to be role models and advisors to help girls get an education and live their dreams.   I can’t wait to work with my club to get started!!!

Risks to Women’s Workplace Rights Extend Beyond the Issue of Contraception

July 5th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

While the debate continues over whether working women should have the right to employer-funded contraception in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision, let us not forget that there are other, perhaps more significant risks to working women’s rights.  A recent article by Richard Eskow points out “five signs that much more needs to be done to ensure equal workplace rights for women in the United States.”   They include the fact that women continue to do most of work at home, despite working outside the home more, and the fact that the wage gap between men and women has not improved.  The loss of public sector jobs and education cuts are also significant indicators that have disproportionately affected women, particularly teachers.

I am tired of women being the primary target for blame when they get pregnant (even though they don’t get that way all by themselves) and of misogynistic policies that support employer funding for Viagra in the name of “reproductive health,” but not contraceptives.  But the gender inequalities many working women face every day and what we can be doing about them are just as worthy of passionate discourse–even if it’s not as sexy or inflammatory to talk about them.

I can’t help but wonder how different things might be today if the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence had stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

« Previous Entries