According to my organization, ACLI's, analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there are now 76 million of us women in the labor force compared to 17 million just 60 years ago. That's an incredible leap, and with that leap comes a host of new concerns, needs and anxieties about our families' financial and retirement security.
Over the next three days, as I join other women from business, government, philanthropy, education and the arts for the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, this is the topic I am most interested in discussing. What do these leaders – as employers or policymakers – think is the most effective way to strengthen retirement security for women and our families?
From the board room to the kitchen table, women are making decisions about finances and their future selves. As part of ACLI's big picture outlook of Americans' financial and retirement security, we drilled down further to understand more about how women are preparing for retirement.
First, because women typically live longer than men, they are more likely to be widowed and live alone in retirement. Fortunately, they are also more likely than their male counterparts to own life insurance, own individual long-term care insurance policies, and own at least one individual annuity – all critically important components of building a financially secure future.
But here's where it gets even more interesting. Even still, women are less likely to feel very confident or extremely confident that they will reach their most important financial goals.
Now, this may not come as a surprise to those of you who are women. Women often feel like they are on the outside looking in.
What this tells me, though, is that we need to redefine the way we empower women to think about financial security and preparing for the future.
Women all over the country are working full-time or part-time. They are CEOs of their homes. They are nearing retirement. They are in the middle of retirement. They are caring for kids and aging parents at the same time. They are juggling their current needs and they are thinking about their own long-term security. Whatever the situation, every woman needs her own retirement strategy.
The great news is that there are solutions to empower women in this regard. Congress is on the brink of passing once-in-a-generation legislation that could greatly enhance America's retirement system, encouraging small employers to join together to offer their workers 401(k) or similar plans, and making it easier for employers to offer annuities in their retirement plans. We know that the more employers enable savings – whether for retirement, disability, long-term care needs, or others – the more likely women and others will take advantage of them.
But more can be done. The life insurance industry offers products to support women no matter what life stage they are in, and when women have greater access to these products and understand how they can benefit from them, they are better prepared.
Financial literacy empowers women to recognize the importance of retirement savings and to better manage their risk and protect their savings. Organizations like the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement are on the front lines working to improve the long-term financial security of all women through education and advocacy.
Smart public policy can enhance these efforts, helping women and all Americans develop a basic understanding of financial risk.
Congress must not miss this opportunity to enact comprehensive retirement security legislation that empowers employees and employers to better ensure savings last a lifetime. And we, as women and leaders, need to discuss how we empower each other in our financial decision making.
That's the theme of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit – Redefining Power. And as we go into this time of conversation and collaborating as leaders, I challenge us to consider…how can we empower women to build a financially secure future for themselves and their families? And more importantly, let's educate and empower one another to feel confident doing it.