Marsha Miller came to the 2009 Women's Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center for inspiration. By the end of the day, the attendee she says she got it – sometimes from tales of how women overcame abuse and sometimes from more unexpected places.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drew guffaws from an unintentional laugh line, "my wife, Maria, changed by thinking."
This year's conference celebrated the Oct. 16 release of a groundbreaking report by the Center for American Progress and California first lady Maria Shriver. But the lives of the extraordinary women highlighted by the conference are what remain with Ms. Miller, an administrator at Unified Grocers in Cerritos, Calif., who has attended the event for the past 10 years.
"Women come here, see concrete examples of other successful women, and get inspired to go out and emulate them," she says.
The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, chronicles some of these achievements:
• Women are now half of US workers. "This is a permanent change in our culture – unlike temporary spikes in female employment in the past when, for instance, men left the workforce and went off to war."
• Three-quarters of Americans view the rising proportion of women in the workplace as a positive development, with 70 percent of men saying they are comfortable with women working outside the home. But both fathers and mothers are concerned about the negative effect on their children when there is no longer a stay-at-home parent.
• Women are more likely than men to graduate from college. Women get half of all graduate degrees. The changes have shifted gender relations in the country in a profound way. "The battle of the sexes is over," the study says. "Now it's negotiations between the sexes – about work, family household responsibilities, childcare and eldercare."
Some attendees were witnesses to these changes.
"It's just reality that the days of women staying home to make beds and cook and clean the bathrooms is behind us, thank goodness," says Leanne, taking a snack break in the massive convention center.
She declined to give her last name but said she works at Boeing in nearby Huntington Beach. "When I grew up, moms did stay home and took care of households. My mom did have a job but she was not the norm," she says.
The Shriver study also found that "more than 80 percent of men and women agree that businesses failing to adapt to the needs of modern families risk losing good workers. But the increase in women's proportion of the workforce will continue, because future job growth is predicted to be most robust in industries, such as education and health, where women dominate."
Sociologists say the findings will continue to ripple through the American economy.
"Cultural and organizational change is slow ... yet we live in a culture with a new generation of people that continue to challenge and change the face of organizational life and practice," says Melanie Hulbert, a sociologist at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.
Both Generation X and the up-and-coming Millennials are very different than past generations, she says. "Once organizations begin to actively respond to their workers need for career and personal life balance, and as American culture continues to evolve towards gender equitable beliefs and practices both in and outside the home, we will see a reciprocal relationship between these two spheres emerge."
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