I recently spoke with Michelle Patterson, Executive Director of the California Women's Conference, the largest women's symposium in North America.
MG: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule overseeing the California Women's Conference. You say that the presidential candidates would do well to pay more attention to working and home based women. Say more about that.
MP: I'm happy to have the chance with a subject that is near and dear to me and the wonderful women it has been my privilege to get to know. While presidential candidates often spend considerable time courting the minority vote, they might be better served looking at a majority that is rapidly gaining considerable economic power in this country. And, that new majority is women who are now outnumbering men in the workforce and are the primary purchase decision-makers in the homes across America. In 2006, a database was developed by Hanna Rosin that measured the economic and political power of women in 162 countries, and the conclusion was the greater the power of women, the greater the country's economic success. That's a pretty compelling reason to consider what's on women's minds and how they, as candidates, can respond in a way that will secure their votes.
MG: That certainly is. As major contributors to the economy and having the all-important role of bringing up the next generation, it does sound like women must have some pretty strong opinions that need to be addressed by candidates.
MP: We certainly do. In speaking for other women like me who balance careers and home, we have a long list of key criteria that defines the presidential candidate we seek.
MG: I've got my tape recorder and notepad ready and I am waiting with baited breath. Michelle have at it.
MP: First, the next president should create opportunities for female entrepreneurs. As a major driver to helping the economy recover, female entrepreneurs have great business ideas that can stimulate spending among female consumers not to mention generate new jobs and taxable revenue. They are truly the new captains of industry, setting up creative companies and offering products and services that today's consumer wants. Providing women with incentives and grants to start new businesses allows them to contribute, support their families, and raise their children at the same time.
MG: You're right. Women bring something to the table that men don't and I agree that women's special talents are not being used to their fullest. What else is on their minds?
MP: Next, women need to be provided adequate - and affordable - access to health care. Already a hot button issue in the campaign and over the course of the last few years with the Affordable Health Care Act, more emphasis needs to be placed among the candidates about how they plan to address proper health care for children and women, including proper coverage during pregnancy and child birth.
MG: Does it seem that they are less earnest about those issues, than others, but are trying to be politically correct more than passionate about those real and legitimate concerns?
MP: The candidates have a lot on their plates, but to many women, those issues don't seem to be given the attention they deserve.
MG: What's another area candidates should focus on with regard to women?
MP: Presidential candidates need to also take steps to open up opportunities in critical fields that will guide this country's future success, including science, math, and technology where women are still poorly represented. Whether this means showing how they will restructure and fund education to introduce new curriculums geared toward encouraging girls to consider new careers never thought possible, such a fighter pilot or software developer, or it involves incentivizing companies to nurture female talent, candidates need to show they are focused on helping women diversify.
MG: Agreed. Is there another area where women's participation needs to be increased?
MP: Absolutely. We need to increase female representation in government. By acknowledging and backing female candidates for government positions by giving them the tools and resources to compete, a candidate can illustrate that they want the female vote in the next election. In order to accomplish this, presidential candidates first have to view women in government as their partners and advisers who have already shown the ability to lead organizations and get the job done when called on to do so. Women in government could play an integral role because they have first-hand knowledge of the most important demographic in the workforce and in the consumer market - that is, of course, women. Political candidates might want to consider the following statistics. For example, women compromise 47% of total U.S. workforce -- that's 66 million women in across the country. Women are projected to account for 57% of the increase in the total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018. On the consumer and business spending front in the U.S., women's spending power totals $7 trillion. For political candidates in the presidential race, they've got to see where there bread is being buttered.
MG: Speaking of bread being buttered, what about the perennially hot topic of equalizing pay rates for equal work?
MP: This is a key issue that, if appropriately addressed by the presidential candidates, may get women's attention and potentially their vote. As it stands now, Caucasian women make 85 cents on the dollar compared to men in similar fields and positions - minority women face an even larger gap. Given the fact that women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in the U.S. during early 2010, it would seem as though they should be rewarded for their talent and ability to contribute ideas and productivity that helps rebuild the economy and stimulate future economic growth.
MG: So that the women's agenda for Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney?
MP: It sure is. Now, it's time for them to show us how they are going to win our all-important votes.
MG: We certainly hope the candidates are listening. In closing, please say a little more about the California Women's Conference.
MP: The California Women's Conference offers its attendees inspiration, resources, and connections to take the next step in business, personal development, health and wellness, or philanthropic endeavors. Featuring widely respected thought leaders, talented entertainers, and a marketplace of ideas, exhibits, networking and panel discussions, the conference is designed to benefit women from all walks of life.
For nearly thirty years, women in California have enjoyed a conference that provided a forum for building successful businesses, strengthening careers, and positively influencing the world around them. The California Women's Conference will continue the tradition of empowering women and providing resources in every aspect of their lives, and embracing philanthropy by donating a portion of programming and proceeds to participating charitable organizations.
MG: Wow! It's been going on for thirty years! I didn't know that. What do you think makes this conference so successful? Also feel free to take a little credit.
MP: When my company and I look out at the attendees of this conference, we are inspired by what we call the "power of with." By that we mean that people seem to be actually speaking with instead of at each other, inspiring each other instead of hitting on each other. And that has inspired my team and I to bring that spirit to everything our company does.
MG: With those inspiring words, I have nothing left to say except thank you for speaking with us today.
Visionary and lauded business accelerator Michelle Patterson is CEO of EventComplete--a full service event management company. She also serves as Executive Director of the largest women's symposium in North America: the California Women's Conference (www.californiawomensconference.com) that has featured the First Lady Michelle Obama, former First Lady Laura Bush, Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, and others. Michelle may be reached online at www.eventcomplete.com.