Union Leader: Rep. Kuster talks women's economic issues
RINDGE — From pink Legos meant to encourage girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the pressure older women face to dye their gray hair to keep a young appearance, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster led a roundtable discussion Wednesday at Franklin Pierce University on the issues that affect a woman's economic success.
There's an effort to get girls more interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) games and programs, said Kuster, D-N.H.
"Pink Legos. That's the new thing," she said. "They are trying to make those games and types of things more attractive or meaningful."
Kuster referenced a recent article in The Atlantic magazine called "The Confidence Gap," which suggested that workplace confidence is just as important as competence and that women are often less self-assured than men. How girls are raised has an impact on their economic success, she said.
According to the article, a study of employees at Hewlett-Packard showed women would only apply for a promotion when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men, on the other hand, would apply when they thought they had 60 percent of the job requirements.
The women at the roundtable, which included Franklin Pierce staff and students, talked about the difference between how little girls are expected to behave compared with how little boys are expected to behave.
Girls are expected to be good, but boys are often encouraged to be outgoing and even rambunctious, the women said.
Kuster, 57, said she can still remember her older sisters only having cheerleading available to them as a school sport.
But because of Title IX, Kuster played tennis, field hockey and was ski racer in school.
"I think it made a big difference in my life in terms of confidence," Kuster said.
Women and girls need to know they can try and fail and that they don't have to be perfect, she said.
"What life takes is perseverance," Kuster said. "Life is hard. It's not always easy. You have to keep trying, and I think that's something that through sports, through trial and error that boys and men are more used to. They don't have the expectation of doing it well."
Ann Lafond, a graphic designer, expressed her concern about discrimination women face when shifting career's later in life.
"It's different. Men can get gray. They can age gracefully, but we're supposed to keep our hair colored. We're supposed to keep as young as possible because that's what we're competing with," Lafond said.
Mary Ann Gaal, a professor of management, said men often don't believe her when she says pay inequity for women still occurs.
Kuster said it's hard for people to imagine that it is legal and that some people still think that way, but said she believes it happens in subtle ways.
"For example if a woman in the workplace is going to have a second child it would not be at all unusual for people to say 'oh, how are you going to manage that?'" she said. "But when was the last time anyone every asked a man in the workplace when his wife had a second child. It's not even relevant. Who would ask?"
The women laughed about the recent news buzz about Hilary Clinton becoming a grandmother and how that would affect her possibly running for President in 2016.
"It's amazing how we're still doing this," Gaal said. "Can Hilary run in 2016 because she's going to be a grandmother? You would never ask a man that. … Nobody asked Romney if he should be running for president when he has so many grandchildren."
After the roundtable, Kuster said she supports the Pay Check Fairness Act at the federal and state level.
According to Kuster, women in New Hampshire and across the country continue to make only 77 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts.
Kuster said she wants to draw attention to employers who have family friendly policies like Badger Balm in Gilsum.
The company has a unique and successful “Babies at Work” program that allows employees to bring newborns to work.
The company has been successful even during the recession and has extremely loyal employees because its family friendly policies.
Kuster said she also supports The Fair Minimum Wage Act. Raising the minimum wage would also have an effect on the pay gap since women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, she said.
Wednesday afternoon Charlie Arlinghaus at the Josiah Bartlett Center said there is no point to the Pay Check Fairness Act.
“It would be illegal today to pay women less than men for the same job,” he said. “Many of the statics on this are misleading.”
Even in President Barack Obama’s White House women are paid about 80 cents on the dollar to men, but that is because the women have different jobs, he said. “It not that President Obama has chosen to discriminate, it’s because the jobs are different.”
What it comes done to is seniority in the workplace, Arlinghaus said, women will leave the workplace to have children, or start a different career after they have children and the results in them having less seniority in the workplace.
“It’s all politics and I think so many things like this are. It’s great politically to do something like this, but it’s not going to have a big effect. Frankly it’s not going to have any effect.”