Women at Work

Girl, You Can Be Anything You Want, as Long as it is a Teacher or a Nurse 

My Mom was born in 1911, the youngest of eight, on a farm in middle Tennessee. She had her sights set on being a doctor, but her father laughed at the idea. He said, “Annie Ruth, you can be a teacher, or you can be a nurse…now be on your way.” So that’s what she did. For 39 years, she was a 3rd grade teacher by day and a volunteer for many years in the 1950s with Chattanooga’s adult literacy program at night. While she enjoyed tutoring and transformed lives, I can’t help but wonder what sort of impact her father had on her choices. 

Mom and Me circa 1955

Mom didn’t have this handy list of 30 ways to help me be a better leader, but she was way ahead of her time, and she embraced it. On the day of my birth, she enrolled me in Girls Preparatory School (GPS) a private day school in Chattanooga, TN. GPS focused on identifying our strengths and equipping us with all the tools we need to enter the college of our choice upon high school graduation. After reading about computing opportunities for girls who had strong academics in math, my mom recommended that I apply to Auburn. Accepting out of state women was rare in 1965. 

My math and engineering degrees from Auburn helped me land a position at Bell Telephone Laboratories. In that 50:1 male to female workforce ratio, I was part of the team that designed and implemented the automated repair service bureau for Bell Telephone Companies nationwide. I flourished. At 41 and with two children in grade school, I co-founded Smith Partners Wealth Management in 1988. In 2019, I was elected president of Women’s Professional Forum (WPF). WPF was founded in 1977 for developing friendships, exchanging ideas, sharing common interests, exploring business opportunities, learning more about community, and promoting opportunities for women and girls to further or aspire to their professional careers. Serving as president last year of this 230-member group was a privilege, and for sure, would have made my mother immensely proud

Grayson during her 3D Printing class

Imagine my delight when I learned that Justin had discovered and enrolled our 13-year-old granddaughter, Grayson, in a 3D Print (at home) Club/Class through The Forge in Greensboro. As fate would have it, her instructors are women, and the class of 6-8th graders is 75% girls. Grayson’s parents are making sure she has experiences that should lead to her success in any field she pursues.

Women in the Workplace, how are we doing?

On August 11, 2020, Presidential candidate Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. It’s the first time in the history of our nation that a woman of color has run for vice president in the United States. A month later, Citigroup named Jane Frazier CEO, making her the first woman ever to lead a major U.S. bank. Still, senior positions in large corporations are dominated by men. For each Fortune 500 company run by a woman, 13 are run by men. This is baffling since companies run with women at the helm have improved performance and profitability. We have been moving towards gender parity in America with considerable progress between 2015 and 2020 with more women in C-suite positions.

This study conducted by S&P Global found that in the two years following their appointment, “female CEOs saw a 20 percent increase in stock price momentum.” Additionally, companies with more gender diversity on their executive board were more profitable than those without. But before women can progress to these C suite positions, they must navigate several promotions. And sadly, one obstacle is that the first move from the entry-level position to the first management level is frequently referred to as the broken rung. That is where women lag men historically, and that trend is worsening. 

Survey Says….

Studies worldwide have shown that gender parity is the best practice for business. This recent study from The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) concludes that having women in the workplace makes an organization a better place to work for all genders. Women have a different perspective and strength as problem solvers. Women boost employee morale simply by having strong EQ. Women tend to take a positive approach in hard times. Results from a recent survey by CCL of employees of several large corporations “showed that having a higher percentage of women in an organization predicted: more job satisfaction, more organizational dedication, more meaningful work, and less burnout.” Given these findings paired with the economic data above, it is worth knowing how we can attract, retain, and promote women in our organizations. 

Women and the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned business in this country on its head. When the shutdown began, we cheerfully said we are working from home when in reality, now it feels like we are living at the office. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for my younger girlfriends, who are mothers. They are juggling life between schooling their children remotely, keeping the house running, and fulfilling the requirements of a demanding full-time profession. 

This study published last month includes statistics and trends of how women are progressing in corporate America overall. We see this alarming statistic that in August and September of 2020, 1.1 million workers, ages 20 and over, dropped out of the workforce. Of those workers, 865,000 are women, four times higher than the 216,000 men who also left the workplace. The COVID-19 crisis could set women back a half a decade. The new numbers emerging from the pandemic mean fewer women in the workplace will hurt our corporate structure and our economy.

How Can We Help?

As parents and grandparents, we can give our daughters and granddaughters every opportunity to excel and be leaders. As professional women, if we have a chance to mentor younger women, do it. If we are in a position to hire a new team member, or have a voice in our firm’s promotions, incorporate this data into the companies’ human resources practices. When selecting the next board member, we can think about how diversity will enhance it. Making these changes will benefit us as families, us as a nation, us as business owners, and the economy. Things can be better. 

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Anne Smith

Anne Smith

Partner, CCO, Client Advocate at Smith Partners Wealth Management
Anne joined Smith Partners Wealth Management in 1988 just to help out with whatever the company needed but predictably, soon she became interested in our clients and how she could be part of the team to help them. Anne works with clients from the earliest interview stages through their financial lifetime – listening, probing, asking the hard questions, seeking the root causes of problems, and solving a wide range of financial challenges.
Anne Smith