Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Professional development will enable women to ascend, Oct. 20, 2019

AAUW Honolulu Career and Leadership Development Grant recipient Sara Ward penned this op-ed about the importance of professional development for women.

Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.


Column: Professional development will enable women to ascend
By Sara Ward

Oct. 20, 2019

It’s been a very long time since women were a novelty in the workplace — but why does equality still elude our workplaces?

Nationally, women make 20% less than men do on average. In your place of work, chances are the women make 82 cents on the dollar that a man, who’s doing the same job and with the same experience, makes on the average. That number is from AAUW’s most recent research into the issue, “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap” (from 2018’s U.S. Census Bureau numbers). That pay disparity increases for women who are minorities.

In Hawaii, AAUW’s research on gender wage-gap numbers, also from the Census, found that the state was above that average in 2015 with 84 cents to every dollar a man made on average. But in 2017, women made just 81 cents to every dollar a man made; in 2018, it was 83 cents.

In a state where the cost of living is unbearably high to begin with, any kind of pay disparity — especially one tied to gender — is too much.

It’s been estimated that at the current rate of progress, the gender wage gap will close in 2105. That’s not a typo. But even if the gender wage gap was eliminated, women in the workplace face even more hurdles.

Women also face the challenge of advancement in their careers. Nationally, less than 29% are executives, according to AAUW’s 2016 study, “Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.” The numbers are even worse for women of color, comprising less than 4% of executives and managers.

This is why just addressing the gender wage gap isn’t enough. Women need to take the issues of wage equity and representation in upper management as intertwined and symbiotic.

Hawaii’s made progress in addressing the wage gap through recently passed laws that allow employees to talk about how much they make without fear of retaliation or ask for salary history.

But C-level executives shouldn’t just pat their backs and call it a day. They must examine their employee pool and their management teams and take an honest look at their policies regarding pay and advancement. Even companies with corporate cultures that think of themselves as progressive have implicit bias that underpays women and holds them back from contributing fully as senior management members.

Researchers have found stereotypes associated with leadership are overwhelmingly masculine and this shapes subconscious promotion decisions that skew toward men, even if people claim to have no bias toward which gender is in charge.

Grooming the next generation of leaders is always an important responsibility of any company’s leadership. But in many cases the continuing education for additional training and certification overlooks women. The opportunity to attend important networking events like conferences and conventions, which help build the professional relationships so important to becoming an effective corporate leader, often go to men.

I am lucky to work in theater production. I’ve worked as a volunteer, a child actor wrangler, line prompter, set changer, props designer, box office manager, officer manager and now assistant executive director.

It’s a profession I feel passionate about. However, I’m even luckier to have worked for people, and to continue to work for people, who recognize the contributions I bring to my job and nurture my potential with management responsibilities.

The faith and opportunities my superiors have shown me and given me in my career are true blessings. However, I do realize that many women, who are deserving of being managers or executives, are often overlooked.

Companies across Hawaii should ask themselves if they are doing enough to give the women in their organizations the opportunity to reach their full professional potential.