Last week, Warren Buffet wrote an essay, "Warren Buffet is bullish... on women", for Fortune Magazine about the integral role of women in the American workforce. He believes that women will continue to propel America in the 21st Century. Buffet said that, "Women are the key to America's prosperity...The closer America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater the output of goods and services will be." Buffet's essay reminded me of my hardworking mother and her experiences during World War II.
My mother was part of the first generation of women who actually worked at jobs that were specifically designed for "men only" before the war. The confidence that these women gained from their independence paved the way for the women's rights movement. When my father was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, my mother was pregnant and unemployed. She had to support herself and her newborn child. She found work at Chase Brass & Copper Company, three months after my brother was born.
As she had only completed the 9th grade, she was hired as an unskilled laborer catching and stacking ammunition shells. She worked for six months until her sister-in-law refused to babysit for her. Without childcare, she had to quit her job and go back to the home she shared with her husband's sisters.
For almost a year, my mother lived off of the $50 a month she received from my father. She was unable to cover her expenses and had to return to work as soon as she found childcare. She got a job at Fisher Body, where they produced airplane parts for the U.S. Air Force. Nine months later, the war ended and all of the women without high school diplomas were fired.
My mother had saved enough money when my dad returned from the war to make a down payment on a house. My father was so proud of his young wife and her hard work ethic. My mother worked exclusively at home for a few years after the war. When my brother started kindergarten, my mother went to work at a local hospital. An original Rosie the Riveter, she wanted to regain the sense of independence she had when she was the primary wage earner for the family.
She was lucky to have married someone like my father who bought the groceries, cooked the meals and even braided my hair when I was a little girl. He worked two jobs to provide for his family in addition to doing the chores at home. I grew up in what was then considered a "modern family," with parents who equally shared responsibilities without regard to traditional gender roles. My mother never cooked a meal for our family, and my father never complained about his wife's choice to work outside of the home.
In the essay, Warren Buffet said that he was encouraged to go to college while his sisters were encouraged to "marry well," even though they were just as intelligent. His sisters, like many other women of their generation, were discouraged from working outside the home. My mother was told after the war was over that she was no longer needed at the factory regardless of her ability to do the work. When the men returned home from the war, they took back their jobs.
Clearly, a fully-employed workforce without regard to gender will increase GDP. Buffet believes that the American workplace needs to embrace women in the workforce by providing more flexible schedules in order to propel economic growth. Individuals in the position as Mr. Buffett have to go a little further to ensure that women in the workplace are not discriminated against, because they have children. Women should not be forced to choose between children and work like my mother during WWII and like I in the 1990's. Seventy years later, women are still having problems finding reliable and affordable childcare.
Men and women have children, and they both have to take responsibility for raising them. Facebook has one of the best leave policies for mothers and fathers with newborn children: 16 weeks paid maternity and paternity leave, and a $4,000 bonus for the birth of a child. Now, Mr. Buffet and fellow CEO's, put your money where it counts, and create a workplace where all women can work even if they chose to have a family.
As pioneers, my mother and other Rosies laid the foundation for equality in the workforce. It is time to make more changes to allow my daughters to actually be able to achieve the dream of equality.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I have always been so proud of you.