Woman have come a long way, but the road toward equality remains long.
That holds as true in Columbus as anywhere else in the nation.
Ahead of the 2022 YWCA Women of Achievement lunch noon on April 27, a diverse panel of of former honorees were convened for Dispatch presents Columbus Conversations: “How can we empower and advance women in Columbus?”
The panelists were:
- Sue Zazon, president, Huntington Bank, Central Ohio Region
- Dr. Mysheika W. Roberts, Health Commissioner, Columbus Public Health
- Janet Jackson, former Columbus city attorney, Franklin County Municipal Court judge, and president and CEO of the United Way of Central Ohio
- Barb Smoot, president and CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD)
- Sandra Anderson, retired attorney, Planned Parenthood board of trustees
The Dispatch is a YWCA Women of Achievement sponsor.
Hosted by Dispatch Opinion and Community Engagement Editor Amelia Robinson and in association with the Columbus Foundation, the Columbus Conversations series seeks solutions to issues of importance to this community.
What’s holding Columbus women back and how can those hurdles be overcome?
“If I were all-powerful and I could pick just one thing to fix, it would be pay disparity. If you look at studies by Fast Company and others, just eliminating the pay gap alone would add over 500 billion to the United States GDP.
“That would have an immediate and favorable impact to everything from healthcare and higher education in middle class, criminal justice, you name it.
“Even when you factor in higher education, that’s no longer a solution to the issues that women face when it comes to pay equity, it’s no longer the equalizer. College women disproportionately share more of the college debt and even the more educated women become, the greater the pay disparity.
“The second thing that I would pick is eliminate all the hoops and obstacles that women-owned businesses face when they try to get capital to invest in their businesses. They have to prove their abilities in countless ways and go through so many different training programs just to get capital infused into their business. If you look at some of the research done out there on women-owned businesses.
“They ask for less funding for men, they get approved at a lower rate. They pay higher interest rates. These stories show that we have some work yet to do.”
“There was a recent study by the Pew Research Center on the gender pay gap, which had some very interesting information where we can find some clues on how to close the gap. And it was it focused on younger women.
“For women age 30 and under, in certain metropolitan areas, not Columbus, but in certain metropolitan areas, younger women actually make as much as — and sometimes more than — their male counterparts.
“And these are women 30 and under. And those metropolitan areas include New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., but in Columbus, younger women, ages 30 and younger have a pay gap with their counterparts of about 93 cents on the dollar.
“In Dayton, it’s only 80 cents on the dollar. So the study analyzed why younger women are doing better in some places and the factors that they identified were at least three: One, educational attainment. Second is transparency.
“That means pay audits so we know what everybody else is making. And also there are pay equity laws that enforce pay equity. So transparency is a big factor. And then finally, awareness — because the young women are aware of their own value and they ask for what they want and they go into jobs that may be so-called male-dominated jobs and they actually do better.
“The study also showed that after age 30, the wage disparity starts growing again, and that’s because a number of factors, including the “mommy track” that women are penalized for being parents, passed over for promotions in greater numbers, and that disparity compounds over the years.
“Those obstacles and the lessons we learn from some cities where there is pay equity show us that we need to encourage and support lifelong education, that we need policies that promote pay equity and transparency and that we need to encourage not just younger women, but all women to speak up and ask for what they want and negotiate and take a chance in the higher-paying fields.”
DR. MYSHEIKA W. ROBERTS
“When we think about our girls here in Columbus, our girls —particularly our young girls of color — are really having some challenges. Fortunately, we had former Councilmember Priscilla Tyson, who started the Commission on Black Girls (which) is now housed at Columbus Public Health, and we are working hard to make sure that our young Black and brown girls living in our community have the resources they need to be successful.
“We know that our Black and brown girls are more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to start a family before they might be ready or prepared to do that, and they don’t have all the resources and training that they need to be able to not only care for themselves, but to care for their families.
“Violence is hurting our community and our young women are affected by that, so we need to instill them with a sense of confidence, a sense of hope for the future, because they are our next generation. They are our future and we need to invest in them now and not wait until they get to college age or they’re professional women.
“We need to start investing in them now. Because that is the future of women in Columbus.”
How can Columbus men be better allies to women and girls?
“It’s important to recognize specifically in the last couple years, that there’s a big gap between men and women as far as mental health.
“There was a study done on women in the workforce in 2021 and there is twice the burnout rate of women right now that are in (child)-bearing years or have children than men, just because of all the things the pandemic has accentuated, so you think about childcare and all of those things.
“From the standpoint of allies, one, it’s just awareness and education that these stresses exist, and then the flexibility and foresight to be able to come up with policies —but even just within the policies you can control at your workplace to allow for flexibility and the empowerment of a foundation that’s strong for women to be able to continue to thrive in their chosen career, whatever that might be.”
“Quit interrupting so much and listen more. Studies show that men interrupt women way too much and they’ve got to learn to stop that. And we women have to learn to do interruptions ourselves. Madeleine Albright said that we have to learn to interrupt.
“The listening piece is also part of being champions for women, mentoring women and not just telling us and mansplaining, but actually to listen to what women have to say and to encourage women to have their say.”
How can Columbus women become better allies to each other?
“It is critically important to me personally that we show and demonstrate support for other women. So one of the ways that I do it in my years of so-called retirement is to actually spend time with younger women.
“And when I say younger women, I’m usually talking about anywhere from 35 to 50 or 55 to coach, and to mentor them.
“And sometimes that coaching and mentoring is how to handle all the women in their workplaces or in the community. Because I’ve had that experience over many, many years of working and being a leader in this community.
“I would look back to my years both as the city attorney and at United Way to demonstrate it in terms of how I personally treated the women who were on my staff.
“If I had a situation where I could see one woman not supporting another woman or other women, I would go to that person and have a conversation with her. Many times, very challenging and tough decisions, but If you’re the leader of the organization, then it’s your responsibility to step in and to nip that in the bud as quickly as you can.”
“I don’t know who said it but they are two of my favorite quotes: ‘Strong women support strong women‘ and ’empowered women empower women.’
“Truly strong women who are confident in what they bring to the table see working with other strong women as excellent opportunities to deliver results and learn new skills.
Read More: How can women get ahead in Columbus, Ohio?