Empowering women in the workplace

Television’s iconic “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which ran from 1970-77, was a paean to strong, savvy, independent working women. More than three decades later, it’s no longer considered a novelty for a woman to enjoy her career.

Television’s iconic “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which ran from 1970-77, was a paean to strong, savvy, independent working women. More than three decades later, it’s no longer considered a novelty for a woman to enjoy her career.

But one year out of college, women working full-time in 2008 earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn. And 10 years out of college, the gender pay gap grows even wider, with women earning only 69 percent as much as men.

These grim statistics are from the AAUW (American Association of University Women) Educational Foundation’s report “Behind the Pay Gap.”

The AAUW has a Kirkland-Redmond branch which helps young women just embarking on careers as well as “displaced homemakers” and others returning to the working world.

Co-presidents Peg Eagle of Redmond and Diana Preice of Kirkland explained that their local Education & Equity outreach programs include a scholarship for a woman resuming her education at Cascadia Community College, University of Washington-Bothell, Lake Washington Technical College or Bellevue Community College and a community grant for a local agency that fosters advocacy for girls and women.

Currently, the Boys and Girls’ Clubs “Smart Girls” program is benefitting from this support, providing cultural enrichment for young teen females.

The AAUW Kirkland-Redmond branch also co-sponsors an annual “Expanding Your Horizons” conference at Bellevue Community College, to motivate middle-school and high school girls toward studies of mathematics and technology.

Why? Because professional positions in those fields tend to be higher paying than a lot of traditionally “pink collar” positions in education, administrative, clerical or legal support occupations.

And female secondary students in the Lake Washington School District are eligible for AAUW Kirkland-Redmond scholarships geared toward math or science majors in college.

It is interesting to note that while college-educated men’s earnings typically go up as they age, the disparity in pay between men and women “increases as time goes on — women start out earning less from the beginning and factors like maternity leaves have a negative impact,” said Eagle.

As noted in the “Behind the Pay Group” report, “Too often, both women and men dismiss the pay gap as simply a matter of different choices, but even women who make the same occupational choices that men make will not typically end up with the same earnings.”

Besides, “the difference between motherhood and fatherhood is particularly stark. Motherhood in our society entails substantial economic and personal sacrifices. Fatherhood, on the other hand, appears to engender a ‘wage premium,’” said the report. “Indeed, men appear to spend more time at the office after becoming a father, whereas women spend considerably less time at work after becoming a mother. Women who do not have children may still be viewed as ‘potential mothers’ by employers, who may, as a result, give women fewer professional opportunities.”

Eagle and Preice agreed that there is also an offensive myth that women who’ve taken time off to raise children or assist aging parents are less committed or capable than those who’ve always been in the workforce.

And most mature women have heard those not-funny jabs at housewives or stay-at-home moms who allegedly do nothing but sit around watching soaps and eating bon-bons.

“But young women don’t always believe that that prejudice still exists,” Preice added.

A University of Connecticut graduate and former manager in the court systems of that state, Preice clearly remembers all the times that people would ask her, “Can you type this for me?” because of the expectation that a woman had to be a secretary or clerk.

Eagle graduated from Purdue University with a degree in microbiology and worked as a medical laboratory technician, but when she returned to work, after raising her kids, she found her skills were out of date. She took a job as a teacher’s aide in the Lake Washington School District and eventually worked in benefits administration for the district. Reinventing herself wasn’t easy, but that’s what many women end up doing, she remarked.

“We have engineers, mathematicians, ex-judges, women from many career fields among our members,” said Preice. Social events and fundraisers allow for networking, fun and ways to help other women succeed.

To learn about membership in the AAUW Kirkland-Redmond branch or programs sponsored by the group, visit www.aauw-wa.org/branches/kirkland_redmond.html, e-mail kirklandredmond@aauw-wa.org or call (425) 885-2823.

Mary Stevens Decker can be reached at mdecker@reporternewspapers.com or (425) 867-0353.