In order to move the needle and to be strategic in their work, many organizations focus on certain areas of intervention to improve the lives of their clients. At the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas we have become laser-focused on economic and educational equity for women and girls.
Equity is different from equality. The work of equity means ensuring that every person has access to available resources and opportunities. Historically, women and girls have been barred from, discouraged, or denied access to economic and educational opportunities. The focus of our work is to disrupt those inequities in Arkansas.
In order to disrupt, you must first understand what the inequities are and where there exists an opportunity to move the needle. In early 2017, our organization started the conversation about the economic status of women in our state. While small in population size, we are geographically and resource diverse. If we were to understand how to move the needle for women’s economic security, we needed to understand women’s particular circumstances.
As a rural southern state, Arkansas routinely shows up in the bottom of national reports on the status of women. Yet, we know that economic status looks different based on where you live, your level of education, and of course the color of your skin. In 2018, our organization commissioned a report, Economic Indicators for Women in Arkansas: State, Region, and County. We intended to use this research as a guide in our own work in addressing and solving economic inequities that exist in our state; moreover, we hoped that this report would attract other stakeholders in their pursuits to strengthen the status of women and girls.
We organized our Economic Indicators under two broad categories, Poverty and Opportunity and Employment and Earnings. Simultaneously while working on this report, we collaborated with the Clinton School of Public Service on a Gender Equity in the Workplace Initiative. What we asked the Clinton School to do was to develop a self-assessment tool for Arkansas companies to use to gauge the internal culture of workplace equity.
A part of the process in developing this tool was to survey women in the labor force soliciting their feedback on what is important to them in their work environment. In October 2018, we released our Gender Equity Scorecard, and invited Arkansas companies from around the state to be a part of our beta cohort helping us refine the tool.
Our research report not only provided us a nuanced look at women’s economic circumstances within our state, it also highlighted some trends that are worthy of future investigation and collaborative work. Under the category of employment and earnings, we were able to see where women’s labor force participation is the highest.
In the Northeast Region of our state, the counties of Craighead, Mississippi, and Crittenden have more women than men in the labor force, with Mississippi County having 53% of women making up their labor force and Crittenden and Craighead counties both having approximately 56% of their labor force women.
We are leveraging what we now know from our own research about how to deploy tools that are available or need to be developed. From our beta cohort of companies participating in the Gender Equity Scorecard, what we heard over and over again was that the self-assessment tool helped them have a broader conversation about work culture. The tool by design gauges where you fall on the spectrum of workplace equity practices and creates environments better for all employees. You can learn more about the Scorecard here.
The work ahead is to educate and inform Arkansas businesses that improving work place equity is good for your bottom line. It serves both as a recruitment and retention tool and addresses the needs and values of our ever-changing workforce.
Stronger women at work equals a stronger Arkansas. Workplace equity doesn’t diminish the role or opportunity of some, it increases the productivity and commitment of all. _____________________
Editor’s note: Anna Beth Gorman is the executive director of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.