Women’s Fund Study Examines Economic Security for Women in Central Ohio

Columbus was ranked the seventh-best city for female entrepreneurs in 2013 by a Forbes study. While Columbus provides a strong platform for female business creators, a recent Women’s Fund of Central Ohio study paints a bigger picture of the economic status of women in Columbus. Below, the organization’s president, Nichole Dunn, answers The Metropreneur’s questions on the study.

Nichole Dunn — President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio

The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio is working toward creating gender equality and influence in the community. Together with Battelle, Fifth Third Bank, The Columbus Foundation and Illuminology, we recently released Womenomics, a research report that examines women’s economic security in central Ohio. By applying a gender lens to economic security, we can begin to understand the issues local women face, then create solutions – plus build on existing successes – to address these issues as a community.

[M] Describe the general economic status of women in Central Ohio.

According to the recently released Shriver Report, “If women received equal pay, the US economy would produce $447 billion in additional income and cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families.” When we look closer at women’s economic security, the data reflects an impact on women’s ability to thrive. This lack of security to thrive is affecting our economy, our workforce, and future generations with the children living in these households that are not reaching their full potential of education attainment and future employment attainment. This is not an issue of disparity or one of women versus men, financial security impacts us all – women, children, families and the whole community.

Our Womenomics Report found that one in four women householders are not economically secure in central Ohio. (For our research we defined economic security as a household having financial resources sufficient to meet a basic needs budget. This budget includes items necessary for a basic standard of living. It includes housing, childcare, health care, transportation and other essential needs. The basic needs budget does not include items like savings, college, retirement and the like.) Furthermore, when we compare full-time workers, women in central Ohio earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The status of these women not only impacts their own potential, but also the livelihood of their children.

[M] In 2013, Columbus was ranked the seventh-best city for women entrepreneurs. What factors do you believe make Columbus a strong city for female entrepreneurs?

Columbus is striving to make its mark as a smart, open, innovative leader of positive social change. Since Womenomics didn’t look specifically at entrepreneurs, we asked one of our board members – Angela Petro, CEO of Two Caterers – to weigh in:

I believe the biggest factor is that Columbus community and business leaders support entrepreneurs in general. Columbus is a fertile space right now for startups of all types, not just the tech industry. And when a community experiences very successful women-led companies in diverse fields from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to Thirty One Gifts, it perpetuates the understanding that women have a lot to contribute to the business landscape in Columbus, and the creativity to expand and dominate non-traditional markets. Simply put, women are a good bet and the people and organizations that can help women succeed in their businesses see this without the traditional gender bias that occurs in established organizations.

We also have a deep pool of talented and motivated women in the banking industry. This translates to having someone on your team with the power to get us money! Underwriters are looking at cash flow, capital and collateral when making lending decisions. But in my experience, having a female banker who may be more willing to understand the root of what is going in my business, where I’m heading and what my plan is, gives me the edge. Julie, my Huntington business banker, knows enough about my business to go to bat for me when the underwriters need a little push, and is willing to coach me on what to do in the future to get money if I don’t qualify now. Having women on my team who might come at problem solving from a different angle equals more power in access to what I need for success.

[M] How are entrepreneurial opportunities affecting the economic status of women in the area?

Companies that recognize the reality of working parents through policies such as paid sick leave, flexible work schedules and parental leave will find that they have loyal employees, less negative turn over, higher retention rates, improved productivity and ultimately an improved bottom line. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to implement policies in the workplace that positively impact their employees and their profit margin. Additionally, entrepreneurs can assess their workplace for diversity, ensuring that women are represented at all levels of the business and that pay is distributed equitably.

[M] What can we do to improve the economic status of women in Central Ohio?

The Women’s Fund promotes social change through collaborative efforts with the community. We believe the economic status of women in Central Ohio can be positively impacted through efforts in four primary areas: family structure, childcare, work place policies and education. By developing new models, and building on those that have already proven effective, we, as a community, can make positive change a reality.

Paid leave: Paid leave is not required and is often not found in many positions, especially in the low-wage positions in which women are over-represented (64 percent of minimum wage and low-income workers are women). To meet the needs of the modern workforce, especially since women are the predominate care givers to children, employers must implement paid leave policies.

Equal pay: Looking at full-time workers, women in central Ohio earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. We need to work to close this gap.

Flexible schedules: Women with children report that the ability to have some level of flexibility at the beginning or end of the day in order to meet the scheduling needs of their family is of high importance. In fact, employers who provide this level of realistic flexibility decrease turnover, increase employee loyalty and improve productivity.

On-site / supported child care: Affordable, high quality childcare – located near work or home – is a high priority for working parents. Employers who assist in the provision of quality childcare find they have more satisfied and less stressed employees.

Career advancement opportunities: Provide access to continuing education, mentorship and coaching geared toward women rewards the employee and the employer. Again, this leads to increased retention of valued employees, less turn over, improved productivity and a healthier bottom line.

Too many women are not meeting their potential because of workplace policies that are not conducive to their lifestyles and basic needs. This is more than a gender issue, it is a community issue. We have the opportunity to make a lasting impact in the lives of women and their families through these workplace policy changes. Together, we can change what economic security looks like for women today, which will change the future for children and the community as a whole.

[M] Any other important information you would like to add?

The level of pay that can be earned is largely dependent on education levels. While men across the board still earn more than women with equal education, both experience increased income as their education levels rise. It is vital that women be afforded the ability and access to continue their education to the highest level possible. Encouraging women to delay childbirth until their education is complete is also helpful, as childbirth is frequently a deterrent to education for women.

For more information, visit womensfundcentralohio.org.