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Business must nurture women, banker warns

Women more than any other group will dominate the work force in 2000, forcing businesses to come to terms with such career and family issues as equal pay for employees and parental leave policies, the president of the Kentucky Bankers Association said Wednesday. JoEtta Wickliffe, president of State Bank and Trust Co. in Harrodsburg, Ky., said that unlike women's first inroads into the work force _ during the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s _ the growing clout of business women will be fueled by sheer numbers.

Women will make up 50 percent of the work force by 2000, she said, adding that among people entering the work force for the first time, only 15 percent will be white men.

Not only will companies be hiring more women, but they also will be forced to train and develop their female employees, cultivating women executives. The alternative is to lose good employees to competitors.

"Companies will not have too much choice about who to train," she said.

Wickliffe is a featured speaker at the Business and Professional Women statewide conference in Tampa today and Friday. She is expected to speak about businesswomen finding their niche.

Business and professional women must prepare themselves for a changing workplace, one that employs increasingly technical skills, she said. Most working women are computer illiterate, but they will have to master computers and other high-tech machinery, she said.

"We need to keep training and retraining ourselves," she said.

The faster growth of service industries over manufacturing accelerates this trend, she said.

Family issues, now being debated in Congress, will be decided in boardrooms, she said. While Congress attempts for a second time to pass the Family Medical Leave Act _ which would mandate that businesses allow unpaid leave for workers caring for children or parents _ companies will be forced to allow time off for family crises because their work force will bear more of the burden for family medical problems.

Emergency leave for all employees makes sense, Wickliff said.

"It's much easier for me to let an employee off for three months to handle a family crisis than to hire a new employee," she said.