From mentors to salaries, summit tackles issues for women in leadership

Braid artists in Missouri used to have to obtain a cosmetology license to practice legally — but cosmetology training didn’t include instruction on hair braiding.

Now, thanks to a bill that was signed into law last year and survived a legal fight that advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court, people desiring to braid hair in the state can apply for a hair braider’s license. It costs $20 and takes four to six hours of instructional video with a board’s assessment, rather than the 1,500 hours previously required.

Wendy Doyle, founder and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, shared this story at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Women in Leadership summit to illustrate why women should be engaged in policy decisions that affect women and why it’s important for them to hold positions of power.

The inaugural summit, held Friday in Columbia, brought together businesswomen from across the state to address ways to help women advance in the workforce.

Here are four main recommendations from speakers and panelists at the event:

Seek mentorship and be an ally

Doyle, whose Kansas City-based foundation promotes equity and opportunity for women, cited research from Project Diane, which looked at focus groups of men and women in the military to learn what holds women back from advancement. She said that women benefit when they have mentors, especially male ones.

The project found that having a mentor with different perspectives can assist in success for women. Catherine Hanaway, a St. Louis attorney and former Missouri House Speaker, echoed that sentiment, saying she found it important to confidently work with male counterparts and mentors.

“Don’t think of it as one of the boys, think of it as one of the team,” Hanaway said.

Doyle said women in focus groups noted that being supportive to other women was increasingly important. They said that when women were in the minority, their mistakes would be attributed to women as a group, rather than to the individual.

Hanaway and others on a panel about women in politics said women in public office were more likely than their male counterparts to work with one another across party lines.

“Be good to other women,” Hanaway said. “If we don’t start being better to each other, we’re going nowhere.”

Negotiate confidently 

Compensation was a prominent theme at the event.

Becca Castro, the founder of Castro Coaching and Consulting, which advises women entrepreneurs, said that preparation can lead to confidence when negotiating salary.

She said it is important for job seekers to be clear about what they bring to the table in terms of experience, skill and education, and to present in a confident manner. Castro said research about average wages for the market can be helpful, and she recommended having a “walk-away number” — that is, a minimum acceptable salary.

Castro began her business after experiencing two instances in which she was paid less than male counterparts for the same work.

Women have more degrees and professional licenses than men, said Emily Johnson, associate director of the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri. However, women in Missouri make an average of 78 cents for every dollar men make for the same work. In rural Missouri, that average drops to 51 cents.

Seize leadership opportunities

Maida Coleman, a commissioner for the Missouri Public Service Commission and former Senate Minority Leader, said women wait to run for public office until asked. She said this contributes to a lack of women in office.

Coleman and other female officeholders at the event said women have approached them saying their presence in positions of leadership has helped to show others what is possible.

“You do get stopped in the hall by women in the agency just to say ‘It’s made such a difference for me to see you in your role to see that it can be done'” said Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Beware the ‘parental penalty’

Johnson said many women in the state experience what she calls a “parental penalty” for taking a break from work after childbirth. She believes policy changes to paid family and medical leave could help solve the problem.

“We suggested that although it is important to address the gender bias, what could also be done is making some headway in what could also be causing the pay gap beyond just that,” Johnson said. “A lot of times women have to make the choice between working a full-time schedule or also being there for their families, and so any time work might be more flexible, they might be able to be work in the workforce longer, that’s definitely something that could, I think, play a part in narrowing that gap.”

Child care in Missouri remains a barrier to some women becoming economically sustainable, Johnson said. She cited research indicating that, in Missouri, 31% of female earnings go to child care and 38% of counties don’t have accredited child care.

Doyle mentioned that former Gov. Eric Greitens signed an executive order giving six weeks of paid leave to primary caregivers and three weeks to secondary caregivers, but she believes there is room for improvement.

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