More young women are living in poverty and at risk of suicide than ever before. Here’s what companies can do to help.
Being a young woman in America today is fraught with more challenges compared with previous generations. Female millennials are facing higher poverty, suicide and incarceration rates than our ancestors.
We are also less likely to occupy high-paying STEM jobs than women in Generation X — a particularly troubling statistic considering the prevalence of these careers today and tomorrow.
These are findings from a just-released report by Population Reference Bureau. The results are both alarming and frightening, juxtaposed against a time where more women are earning degrees and entering the workforce than ever before.
The report found that 17 percent of women aged 30 and 34 today live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of women in Generation X. Maternal mortality is at an all-time high, and the number of women in jail has jumped tenfold since World War II. Women of color are disproportionately affected by these realities.
“We have been pushed back, there’s no question,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told the Los Angeles Times. “Younger women are really feeling the effects of … a 30-year march to dismantle government agencies, to dismantle government protections, all in the name of free markets.”
Without societal and structural changes to advance women, we risk isolating an entire demographic of talented Americans. It’s incumbent upon employers to support millennial women at a time where government policy has often failed. Here are three recommendations for employers willing to address these inequities.
Squash unequal pay in your company. Various studies have shown women earn less than men for the same work. Also significant is how women are less likely to be in high-paying jobs than men. As this report showed, progress on that is slowing in the tech sector: one in four STEM Generation X workers were female, now down to one in five millennial workers. Organizations must run regular pay audits to address gender wage gaps and identify opportunities to propel women into leadership roles that pay more.
Support working families. Washington state celebrated a landmark victory in passing 12 weeks of paid family leave for all employees, but that only goes into effect in 2020. I would encourage employers to make paid family leave available to employees as soon as possible — it’s shameful that 25 percent of women go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. In addition, organizations must explore options to support families with affordable childcare — whether through on-site day care or subsidies. Engaging talented women in the workplace isn’t just a moral question — it makes perfect business sense.
Invest in STEM pipeline development programs. Technology impacts every company today — but the best jobs in the field are leaving out women. Companies can partner with organizations like Ada Developers Academy, which trains women to become software developers or Apprenti, an apprenticeship program aimed at getting underrepresented communities into technology. To impact girls earlier in the pipeline, Techbridge is one local organization among many worth supporting.
We are all responsible for the well-being of American women today and tomorrow. Dire statistics like the ones found in this report don’t just impact women — it’s equally bad for business and society.