Make no mistake, there is a gap: In position, pay, prominence and, some would say, possibilities, women lag behind their male colleagues.
According to The Center for American Progress, women hold almost 52 percent of all professional level jobs, yet they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
Locally, the Women’s Fund of Omaha reports area women in leadership mirror national trends, with just 4 percent of the Metro’s women holding CEO positions and more than 80 percent of local board of directors’ positions occupied by men (nationally, Fortune 500 board seats are 16.9 percent women).
The good news is, with such wide disparities in representation, there is room to grow. Indeed, Omaha women in leadership seem to share a mantra for a city in which they believe: Engage everyone in the community, and we all win. The ways in which area women are doing just that abound.
UNDERSTANDING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Mentoring offers opportunities for both the mentor and the mentee to engage each other—and the community—in new and different ways.
Janice Garnett, Ed.D., an instructor in the Educational Leadership Department at the University of Nebraska of Omaha, says there are several mentoring programs available in the Omaha metropolitan community. “The Omaha (Neb.) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated is working with the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Office of Multicultural Affairs to provide a comprehensive support system for first time, full-time freshmen women of color,” Garnett says. “Being positive role models, providing guidance and advice, assisting with difficult situations and being a cheerleader on the side is a must for the next generation of women of color.”
Garnett notes that mentoring young women “encourages them to break through stereotypes and assists them with creating a pathway to be leaders in the future.”
“We need to take the time to invest in the future of our next generation”
There are other benefits, too. “Statistics by The Office of Juvenile Justice Programs showed that 87 percent of young women who attended mentoring programs went to college within two years of high school graduation, 52 percent were less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years and 46 percent were less likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol,” she says.
THE INCOME DISPARITY IS REAL
Like her colleagues, Garnett applauds mentoring as a function of community engagement, but recognizes gender inequities continue, particularly for women of color. For those who might argue otherwise, consider the median income of Omaha men relative to area women.
In 2016, The Women’s Fund of Omaha reported the median income of white men as $40,515, followed by a median income of $28,558 for white women, $21,140 for African-American women and $17,385 for Hispanic/Latino women.
Such a wide gap in income might appear shocking—but is not surprising—given the current climate for women in leadership (both nationally and locally), especially for women of color.
According to the Center for American Progress, “Women of color occupy only 11.9 percent of managerial and professional positions. And of those women, 5.3 percent are African American, 2.7 percent are Asian American, and 3.9 percent are Latina.”
With women representing more than 50 percent of the population, those supportive of an inclusive community rightly suggest engaging greater numbers of women increases a city’s diversity and opportunities for growth, while also being more reflective of the population as a whole.
As for understanding the value of community engagement, researchers suggest halting gender bias early: Negative perceptions about women in leadership impact girls’ self-esteem, career choices, opinions about others, group behavior and relationships.
“We need to take the time to invest in the future of our next generation,” Garnett says.