Two different prescriptions -- and some unconventional measures -- for women to ascend to senior positions around the world emerged at a development conference here today.
The three-day International Development Conference which began here yesterday is debating many of the issues to be confronted at the March 6-12 World Summit for Social Development and the Fourth World Conference on Women in September.
Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the major women's conference to be held in September, says her formula, the "women's manifesto for the 21st century," would eventually establish a 50-50 partnership between men and women in decisionmaking.
But Inge Kaul, of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) presented a 10-point plan that would have women around the world hold 30 percent of the top positions in top sectors of society.
Some of her suggestions were offbeat, such as the one to give "golden handshakes for men to quit certain jobs and start a new career," and point 10 of the plan (which yielded great applause) called for women to marry younger men rather than adjust to the life of an older partner who is ahead on the education and career front.
"I am really wondering whether much of the dilemma that we see and the extremely hesitant change that occurs has to do with the fact that we women don't marry younger men," she said.
Nevertheless Kaul, who is director of the U.N. Development Report Office of the UNDP in New York, insists there is evidence that in a given situation, gender stereotypes would collapse if women held 30 percent of the decision -making positions.
"If they are less than 30 percent, they get drowned in traditional male behavior. They have to adjust," she argued.
Mongella, who will head the latter conference in Beijing, condemned the estimated $3 trillion the world spends on arms in a year, while 1.3 billion people, most of them women and children, live in poverty.
Women remain the most disadvantaged sector in the spheres of human rights and political life; they are the ones who suffer the most in environmental degradation, and they are the most insecure sector in armed conflict, she said.
"Women will change the world when they lead it, but they will change it with men as their partners," Mongella said, noting that the "manifesto" women will take to the Beijing conference will call for a 50-50 partnership in decision -making.
But Kaul argued that "30 percent in 10 years" is a more do-able goal for women. "We should be in defense, in the toughest research...only then will traditional gender stereotypes become brittle and collapse."
She advocated setting firm quotas of 30 percent in every sector, so that universities, private companies, government ministries, and international organizations employ women to fill at least 30 percent of the top positions.
And monitoring is key. Kaul proposed a "World Women's Watch" to annually oversee employment patterns around the world.
Kaul, a co-author since 1990 of the UNDP's Human Development Report which provides a human development index, called for national, regional, and global listings of women and their sphere of expertise "so that headhunters find us more easily."
She suggested that systematic studies be undertaken to "prove in a very empirical way the win-win effects of women leadership...sharing responsibility."
"Many women have spent most of their lives working in the home," says Renee Lazer, program director of the Suffolk Vocational Center and Displaced Homemaker Center in Hauppauge, N.Y. "And when these women have lost their primary source of income - because they are divorced, separated, abandoned or widowed - they are ill-prepared to be wage earners."
A recent nationwide survey of 3,839 women 55 and older who are either widowed, divorced or separated showed that only 5.5 percent received pension benefits, and money from savings and investments represented only 12.8 percent of the women's total income. Less than 2 percent of the divorced women surveyed received alimony.
"Fulfillment and personal satisfaction are factors in why older women enter the job market. But the main reason is because they need the income," says Rebecca Loew, an assistant professor in the school of social work at Adelphi University, who conducted the survey. "The data suggests that older men are retiring at younger ages, and older women (who are widowed or divorced) are staying in the work force longer."
For older women who are entering the job market for the first time or re-entering the work force after an absence of some years, it can be dishearteningly difficult to find employment. Some older women have no professional work history, no concrete office skills and no idea of how to talk prospective employers into hiring them.
But, experts say, older women can put together a winning resume and land a job, even in today's tough job market. The key is to present their life experience as the kind of expertise that will sell in the workplace.
"Women tend to undervalue their own abilities," says J. Robert Connor, author of Cracking the Over-50 Job Market (Plume, $12). "A woman who has raised money for political campaigns or who is involved in church or synagogue activities does possess specific skills - whether it's managing funds or coordinating special events. But when you ask her about it, chances are she'll say: `Oh, I really haven't done anything.' "
Her resume should stress functional skills, counselors say, instead of chronological experiences, which, for those who had jobs, are usually a list of previous employers. One sample resume in a brochure available from the American Association of Retired Persons, for example, was written by a woman who is seeking work as a caregiver for elderly people in a private home or in a small day-care center. Under caregiving skills (which were unpaid), she lists caring for a bedridden relative for eight years, maintaining daily medication records and assisting a wheelchair passenger on trips. Under communication skills, she describes coordinating support services for aging relatives.
If you've been out of work for more than eight years, it's better to leave your past job history off your resume, because it would call attention to the fact that your skills may be dated. Instead, focus on more recent activities, such as time spent volunteering.
Experts also suggest that job-seekers consider their interests and hobbies. If a woman has been painting all her life, she might try to get work in an art gallery, says Dorothy Clarke, associate director of the National Center for Women and Retirement Research in Southampton, N.Y.
Another possibility is companies that demonstrate an openness to hiring mature workers. Some corporate giants, such as McDonald's and Days Inns, have employment programs that target older workers.
At least initially, older women may have an easier time finding part-time work. Jensen, for instance, was able to find temporary assignments (lasting anywhere from one day to nine months) with three temp agencies. Like many other older women, she found work only after she took a training program in basic business skills.
Older workers need to emphasize their assets - dependability, maturity, commitment - to combat stereotypical thinking. "You should walk into an interview with an upbeat, positive attitude," says Connor. "If you walk into an interview feeling tired and old, you'll never get the job."