Women make big strides in past century

By Jing Zhao Cesarone
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, March 3, 2010
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On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the International Women's Day, a senior woman executive said that women have come a really long way in the last 100 years, but cautioned they are not quite there yet in terms of equal pay and equal treatment.

"We have made significant progress over the last 100 years. Women are respected for what they can bring to the job. A number of companies actively seek women for certain positions because they know what they can bring to the table: intelligence and a strong work ethic," Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago (WBC), told Xinhua on Monday.

On March 8, 1909, American women from all social sectors staged a demonstration in Chicago to demand equal treatment. A year later, a resolution was passed in Copenhagen, Denmark, to make March 8th "International Women's Day," in memory of the Chicago demonstration.

As president of WBC, the city's not-for-profit economic development corporation chaired by Mayor Richard M. Daley, Athas leads a talented team aimed at advancing Chicago region's global position as a thriving business location.

"When I look at the young women working for me now, it is amazing to see how far we've come in these many years. Young women in their 20s, 30s or

40s have all these opportunities. They don't have to struggle as much. They can just concentrate on their job and work hard," she said.

"However, although we have come a long way, we are not there yet," said Athas. "If you look at numbers nationwide, women are paid slightly less than men. If you look at board rooms, the number of women executives is still very small. We are still working on that. But all major changes take time and there are certainly way more opportunities than there were back then."

Athas went through many significant changes during her career. "In the beginning, I found myself very often being the only woman in a room full of men. At that point, I was very conscious of how I was acting and what I was doing. As years have gone by, more and more women have joined those meetings, -that has been a significant change," she said.

Another big change Athas noticed is in women's behavior in the workplace. In the beginning, women thought they had to copy men and be more like men in how they approached business decisions and how they conducted themselves in meetings. As they got more comfortable, women realized that they could bring something different to the table, something valuable that they should use instead of hide.

"For example, women tend to be more sensitive and can read people around the table," said Athas. "We can be tough as well. At the beginning, men were not as comfortable with having many women joining them in business. However, I noticed over the last 10 to 15 years, men have become more comfortable. I don't feel that divide I felt when I first started working," she added.

On difficulties facing today's women, Athas said the biggest obstacle is still how to balance between family and work. "I don't think women face many challenges on the job. If you are good at what you do and you are smart, you are going to get promoted. It is important to make sure you are true to yourself. Don't feel that you have to adapt to things you are not comfortable with," she said.

Athas also suggested that businesses and government care more about how to accommodate families, such as offering better childcare and flexible work hours.

"Women are still, in a lot of cases, more responsible for family. If we want women to keep moving up the ranks, we have to be more accommodating to women's needs. There should be enough accommodations that they can be able to comfortably raise their family while being a strong career person," she said.

Athas also urged women to learn to embrace their own strengths. "Women, like me, are used to juggling a lot of balls. We can multitask, an ability built into our nature. Our collaborative style is also very effective," she said.

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