The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays (though, I must admit, I prefer it when it's attached to a weekend, not floating on a Wednesday). Who doesn't love a day spent with family, grilling and watching fireworks?
But this year, it has taken on a bit of a different meaning for me. I've been thinking not just of our country's independence, but our own individual declarations of financial independence (or our lack thereof). Blame the recent media rehashing of the ongoing debate over whether women can have it all, kicked off by Anne-Marie Slaughter's cover story in The Atlantic about her decision to leave her job in the State Department.
In that debate, I side squarely with Team Slaughter. She argues that "juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible." I don't have experience in government, but I know I've had to skip career opportunities in order to have a happy home life with my own two teenagers (and my husband).
But I also acknowledge -- as does Slaughter -- that it's not possible to make choices like those without financial security and independence. Many, many parents must work long hours to put food on the table for their children. And the next generation is off to a rocky start: In a recent survey of 20-somethings from PNC Bank, only 23% rated themselves as totally independent financially.
So if you feel like your finances are out of your control -- your debt is spiraling, you don't know where your money is going, you're leaning heavily on your parents -- take some time after the barbecue to consider what you can do to win your own independence. Here are a few things you can do to get started:
• Get in the game. When you're part of a couple, you fall into a rhythm. He takes care of the lawn, she cleans the bathrooms. He does the Fourth of July grilling, she makes the potato salad. Something similar happens with finances, and often not in a good way: One person tends to steer the ship, and the other becomes inattentive. If you're the partner who's not at the helm, it's time to change that. Start paying attention to bill paying and money managing. Ask questions. Set up a new arrangement, where you each manage things for six months, then switch. If the unthinkable happens -- death, divorce, severe disability -- you won't be caught unaware of the family's finances.
• Run your numbers, and set up a plan. Often, the root of our money problems is that we don't know where the money is going. Whether you're trying to build up some savings so you can move out of mom and dad's house, or if you want to pay down debt, it helps to track your spending, says Stacy Francis, a New York financial adviser. Then you can put a plan in place to get you where you want to go: If tracking reveals you're burning $200 a month on pay-per-view movies, smartphone data plan overages, and dinners out, trim that spending and put the money you save toward your goal. You'll instantly feel better.
• Steel yourself for the unexpected. That means having an emergency cushion -- even if it's just $1,000, though the smart money recommends having a fund equal to three to six months worth of your usual expenses -- and other protections. "Do you need to stop and think more closely about your insurance?" asks Francis. "What happens if you get hit by a bus tomorrow? What if you are disabled?" Having policies in place -- even if they're just for a minimum amount of coverage - will help you sleep better at night.
• Automate. If you take your eyes off the grill for too long, those burgers are going to burn. But in some cases, you can take your eyes of your finances and actually end up in better shape: Ask your bank to automatically transfer money into your emergency fund and retirement accounts every time you get paid. The money won't pass through your hands, so you can't spend it. You can do the same thing with bill payments, so long as you do periodic spot checks to make sure you're not paying for services you're no longer using.
-- With Arielle O'Shea
Do America's Most Valuable Companies Welcome Women Executives?
Twentysomethings: It's Time to Declare Your Financial Independence
Many studies have demonstrated the income disparity between women and men who do the same jobs. Others have pointed to how poorly women are represented on boards and corner offices of American companies. The discrimination problems are clear. And, according to analysis done by 24/7 Wall St., they get much worse among the ten most valuable companies in America.
24/7 Wall St. examined the top officers and board members at the largest companies in the U.S. based on market cap. Exxon Mobil and Apple, the two biggest, each have only one board member and no women in senior management. Even consumer products giant P&G, which has five women on its 11-member board, has no senior female executives based on both SEC "named executive officers" and company's public website reports. This makes P&G the one standout in terms balance board balance among the top ten, despite the absence of female senior management listed at PG.com.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed proxies for board and management composition, as well as data from the investor relations sections of the companies on this list. We took note, when necessary, of any board or management additions or retirements that the firms announced after proxies were issued. In order to compare all of the companies on the same basis, SEC data was the primary source for the analysis of the ten companies. 24/7 also examined the public comments made by the companies about equal opportunity, particularly as it pertains to women.
Number of women on board: 1 of 11
Number of women named executives: 0 of 5
Total employees: 83,600
The largest energy company in the world has just one female board member, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the chairperson of Carlson Companies. Regarding executives, Exxon's SEC filings list no women and its website -- which notes that the company has 24 senior execs -- doesn't name any women. On the other hand, further research has revealed that only two of the officers are women.
Exxon has stated the company understands "that creating economic opportunities for women is one of the wisest investments [it] can make." It subsequently launched the Women's Economic Opportunity Initiative -- "a global effort that helps women fulfill their economic potential and drive economic and social change in their communities."
Number of women on board: 1 of 7
Number of women named executives: 0 of 9
Total employees: 46,600
While Apple famously encouraged consumers to "Think Different," its boardroom is surprisingly traditional, at least when it comes to the gender mix. Of seven board members, only one is female: Andrea Jung, chairperson and CEO of Avon Products. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs' ten-person management team is entirely composed of men. That might have something to do with Cosmopolitan magazine's decision to rank the Apple Store as one of "the best places to meet a guy." Noting that "More men than ever are stopping by Apple boutiques," the magazine added that "the vibe at the stores is conducive to man meeting."
Number of women on board: 2 of 9
Number of women named executives: 2 of 6 (two of whom left after the proxy was filed)
Total employees: 90,000
None of Steve Ballmer's senior management is female, but two of the members of the board are: Dina Dublon, the former CFO of JPMorgan and Dr. Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College, both hold seats. The company has had a Women Employee Resource Group since 1990, which, in addition to other goals, spearheads diversity initiatives. Microsoft also runs a Graduate Women's Scholarship Program.
Number of women on board: 2 of 12
Number of women named executives: 1 of 4
Total employees: 436,085
One of the world's largest employers and one of America's oldest large companies, IBM sports two women on its board of directors: Joan E. Spero and Shirley Ann Jackson. Spero is a former executive vice president at American Express and the head of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, while Jackson is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Women are also underrepresented in Big Blue's executive offices, where only two of its 13 execs are women. Still, the company's female representation was impressive enough to net it a sixth place position in the National Association for Female Executives' Top 50 Companies for Executive Women for 2010. This ranking considers the number of women in senior ranks and the policies that support women's advancement.
Number of women on board: 1 of 13 (three board members retired)
Number of women named executives: zero of six, one of whom retired
Total employees: 62,000
When it comes to gender, the make-up of Chevron's board and management are not terribly different from Exxon's. The company's sole female director, Linnet F. Deily, has been on the board since 2006. Before coming to Chevron, she was a Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
Chevron's website provides a longer list of management than the one in its SEC filing. The site shows 18 corporate officers. Three of them are women, including the CFO, head of policy and planning, and corporate secretary. In April 2011, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council "recognized Chevron as a top corporation for women's business enterprises" for the 11th time. According to Chevron, "this is the only national award honoring corporations for programs that create level playing fields for women's businesses to compete for corporate contracts."
Number of women on board: 2 of 9
Number of women named executives: 1 of 7
Total employees: 28,768
While Google is famous for its impressive R&D and inventive power, it is a bit less advanced when it comes to hiring women. Out of nine board members, two are women: Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman and Ann Mather, who is also on the boards of MoneyGram International and Netflix. As far as female executive officers are concerned, things are a bit more confusing: Google's SEC filing suggests that one of its seven named execs is a woman, but the company's website only features six men. On the other hand, Google does encourage success among women through a number of awards, including the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship and the Google India Women in Engineering Award.
Number of women on board: 3 of 15 members
Number of women named executives: 0 of 6, one of whom retired
Total employees: 2,100,000
Walmart, the world's biggest private employer, is a mixed bag for women, at least when it comes to corporate governance. Of 15 board members, three are women: Linda S. Wolf, formerly of ad agency Leo Burnett; M. Michele Burns, head of Mercer Human Resource Consulting; and Aida M. Alvarez, a former head of the Small Business Administration. Six of its 37 senior managers are women, but none of its named executives are. And outside the corporate suite, things are also tough for women: While the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this summer's $1.5 million class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, a recent poll conducted by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart found continued and widespread dissatisfaction among women at the retailer.
Number of women on board: 2 of 12 members
Number of women named executives: 0 of 3
Total employees: 260,000
Run by famed investing pair Warren Buffett and Charles Munger, Berkshire-Hathaway only lists three "named" officers, all of whom are men. The board is more diverse, with two female members -- Charlotte Guyman, formerly of Microsoft, and Sue Decker, the former president of Yahoo!. Outside the boardroom, however, women remain rare: the company's five best-known subsidiaries -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., GEICO Auto Insurance, NetJets, Benjamin Moore & Co., and Johns Manville -- all have male chief executives.
Number of women on board: three of 12 members
Number of women named executives: zero of five
Total employees: 258,870
America's largest fixed-telephone provider has three female directors: Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Joyce M. Roché, and Lynn M. Martin. The trio sports some impressive credentials: Tyson is a professor at the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and is also on the board of Eastman Kodak Company; Roché is a former CEO of Girls Incorporated, and Martin is a former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Congresswomen.
Out of 11 senior managers that AT&T lists on its website, there is only one woman: Catherine M. Coughlin, the company's Senior Executive Vice President and Global Marketing Officer. In 2009, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) named AT&T "one of America's Top Corporations for Women's Business Enterprises."
Number of women on board: three of ten members
Number of women named executives: zero of six
Total employees: 129,000
Procter & Gamble, one of the largest consumer products companies in the world, has five women on its 11-person board. Two of these members -- former eBay CEO Margaret Whitman, and University of California Chancellor Susan Desmond -- joined the board within the last two months; the other three include WellPoint CEO Angela F. Braly, Frontier Communications CEO Mary Agnes Wilderotter, and Archer Daniels Midland Company CEO Patricia A. Woertz. Outside of the boardroom, women are notably missing from P&G's executive suites: the company's senior management is entirely male.
Still, Procter & Gamble has been recognized as a leader in gender-balanced governance: in May 2011, Women Corporate Directors awarded it the first ever WCD Visionary Award. According to the company, the award recognizes P&G "as an outstanding top performer with three or more women board members serving as a role model in both corporate leadership and best governance practices."