Washington Area Women's Foundation

Careers for Women: A Key to Economic Recovery

IMG_0096Last month, The Women’s Foundation was among a group of organizations and individuals invited to an important discussion about women and the economy held by the White House Council on Women and Girls.  Created by President Obama in 2009, the Council works to ensure that federal agencies are taking the needs of women and girls into account as they draft policies and create programs.

At the briefing on women and the economy, we got a sobering look at how women have been impacted by the recession and recovery.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that administration officials say jobs will be the key to all of us – women and men – recovering successfully.

Dr. Judith Hellerstein of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers explained that working women have been concentrated in industries that fared better at the beginning of the recession.  Since the recovery began, however, industries where women are concentrated (e.g., the public sector) have not fared as well.  Dr. Hellerstein added that African American women and Latinas have faced the highest increase in unemployment rates and African American women continue to lose jobs drastically.

So what are the jobs that will help women get onto successful career pathways now and into the future?

“Women have to think green,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.  “Green is going to be the future.”

Secretary Solis said that 2.7 million jobs have already been created in the green sector.  She also said that more women need to be exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Dr. Rebecca Blank from the U.S. Department of Congress told us that STEM jobs are growing faster than other sectors and pay 26% more; however women and people of color are enormously underrepresented in the field:

  • 24% of STEM workers are women;
  • 6% of STEM workers are black;
  • 6% of STEM workers are Hispanic.

So why do fewer women enter a growing field that pays well?  Dr. Blank said that while women are more likely than men to go to college, they are much less likely to enter college prepared for STEM studies.  She suggested that positive attention focused on science and math for girls beginning at an early age would benefit them from elementary school into their careers.

“Girls can do science and math, have great fun doing it and contribute to the world!” Dr. Blank said.

There are many fantastic organizations right here in our community that are working to prepare girls and women for these types of careers.  The Campagna Center, for example, used a grant from Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Rainmakers Giving Circle to start a program that encourages students at T.C. Williams High School to explore STEM careers.  The Latinas Empowered to Achieve their Potential (LEAP) program helps students improve their leadership skills, learn more about topics like physics, and conduct their own experiments.

Goodwill of Greater Washington – another Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner – holds green construction classes for adults through the Green Pathway DC program.  The 10-week pre-apprenticeship program includes four weeks of green construction training and three weeks of weatherization, green advantage or smart meter installation.

“We’ve seen an increase in women coming through the program.  There was a time when there weren’t any women and now we’re seeing three or four,” Latoria Strickland told me last year.  Latoria is a senior career trainer with Green Pathway DC.

Our Grantee Partner Year Up also takes a hands-on approach, training young people for internships and jobs in Information/Technology.  In addition to practical lessons in IT, Year Up helps young people think about career pathways.girl at computer

“My internship phase allowed me to meet with the head of my company and collaborate with them,” said Kimberly Holloway, a recent graduate who now works for a cyber intelligence company.  “It really opened up a lot of opportunities for me financial-wise and professionally.”

Programs like these are setting up women and their families to have brighter futures.  By providing women and girls with the resources that will enable them to enter career pathways with stability, benefits and family-sustaining pay, we’re making investments in the economic well-being of our entire community.

Dr. Adriana Kugler, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor summed it up best: “By helping women, we’re helping the entire country.”

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