RUTLAND—Members of the Rutland community heard startling statistics about women’s economic security at a discussion cohosted by the Vermont Women’s Fund (VWF) and College of St. Joseph (CSJ) on July 20. Attendees were urged to do all they can to “change the story” regarding women’s economic empowerment, since the trends are still mired in gender inequality that persists even in this “post-feminist age” and decades after the women’s movement began.
“Change The Story–Advancing Women, Powering the Economy” is the title of a collaborative initiative between the Vermont Women’s Fund, the Vermont Commission on Women and Vermont Works for Women in an effort to align policy, programming and philanthropy and significantly improve the economic status of Vermont women.
VWF Director Meg Smith presented details about the initiative to local business leaders, human resource directors and education administrators, providing a sampling of data on why and how gender inequity affects earnings, career mobility and overall economic security for women, and what the Change The Story initiative is doing to address these critical issues for society.
Women who work full-time year-round earn just 84 cents for every dollar earned by men and the gender wage gap isn’t projected to disappear until 2048, according to statistics provided by Change The Story. Smith explained how it is still difficult for some to re-imagine the perception that women’s income is a “nice to have” or “optional”–although that notion is very outdated. “The reality is that for many women, especially for single mothers, a good income is essential, rather than supplemental,” said Smith.
“It’s riveting when one out of three women are the breadwinners of their family, but 47 percent of women can’t afford basic needs,” she said. “We’re really out of balance.”
Smith shared information on poverty rates for single mothers, education levels and the influence of the wage gap, and added that interest in good-paying careers involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) needs to be nurtured at a young age.
“By the time girls are in high school, their career paths are already set, and there is still a tendency for women to opt for lower-paying jobs than those chosen by men,” Smith said.
HR Leader Terri Ballou of GE Aviation shared that her company is committed to attracting and mentoring female workers. “It’s frustrating because GE is such a good employer, and right here in our own backyard,” she said.
Ballou added that GE holds a Girls Day where eighth-graders from across Rutland County can tour the facilities and learn about daily operations through hands-on workshops and exploration.
Other attendees shared their own anecdotes about the gender gap in careers and earnings, including Patricia Cuddy, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley and long-time CSJ trustee. Cuddy said that she has often been the only female in her workplace, something she always found disconcerting especially after attending Smith College, one of the “Seven Sisters” elite schools of Ivy League stature. Cuddy added that her industry began concerted efforts in the 1980s to recruit women from elite colleges, but decades later and with the increased earning power of women, the financial services industry remains dominated by men.
Joan Gamble, a strategic change consultant who was also part of the discussion at CSJ, recalled a Hewlett Packard internal report found that men don’t hesitate to apply for jobs for which they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, but that women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. Gamble, who also runs a fashion business, traveling the U.S. and meeting hundreds of women, pointed out that self-esteem in women needs to be encouraged at a very young age by mentors, teachers and parents.
Smith noted that employers should be more conscientious even about how they write job descriptions, in order to attract more women.
“The word ‘technical’ is a word that is traditionally perceived as masculine, whereas ‘digital’ appears more feminine,” she said. “Another company we spoke with lamented that they were doing so much to attract women, to little result, but then the firm realized that all the photos on its company website were of men!”
College of St. Joseph’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Liz Weinmann, who serves on the VWF Council and teaches in the college’s MBA program, indicated that CSJ is working to encourage more women and men to expand their learning horizons, whether traditional college-age or older, especially since it is a major goal of elected officials in Vermont to support workforce development.
The college offers undergraduate programs across five divisions and a generous financial aid package available through the Provider Scholarship Program.
“But last year, after meetings with several local businesses, we expanded our certificate courses via the launch of the Pro-C.E.E.D. at CSJ Program (Professional Continuing Education, Enrichment and Development at College of St. Joseph), targeted to women and men of all ages,” said Weinmann. CSJ is also the only higher education institution in Rutland County to offer a master of business administration.
For more information, visit changethestoryvt.org.