Women’s History Month: Local nonprofits continue the fight for equality through education
Mar 22, 2021
The photo above features graduates of TBCIO’s Corporate Edge Business Skills Training
Each March, Women’s History Month is celebrated to commemorate the countless contributions that women have made to shape and strengthen our country. It not only acknowledges their accomplishments but also the struggles women have faced in the continued fight for recognition and for equality.
Leaps have been made toward the achievement of gender equality in the United States over the last century, but stubborn gaps remain. For the last four decades, women have outpaced men in the attainment of bachelor’s degrees, a strong indicator of socioeconomic mobility, yet they hold fewer full-time jobs, earn less than men on the dollar, and more often bear the responsibility of caring for children. These disparities are even more pronounced when looked at through an intersectional lens.
Consider these statistics:
– For every dollar earned by white men, Latinx women earn 54 cents, Black women earn 62 cents and white women earn 76 cents.1
– Black and Latinx women are more likely to be classified as “working poor,”2 despite the fact that a higher percentage of Black and Latinx women participate in the labor force than white women (62.4, 59.4 and 57.6, respectively).3
– Mothers in low-income families are more likely to be primary breadwinners.4
– Black mothers are more likely to be their family’s primary breadwinner than any other racial or ethnic group.5
While the causes of inequality in the United States are multi-faceted, “progress in the education of women and girls has been an important step to (and byproduct of) advancing gender equality in all facets of domestic and work life.”6 Women who are educated are less likely to be victims of violence, have improved health outcomes for themselves and their families, and are more likely to invest in the education of their children. There is also a strong correlation between education and earnings, which not only impacts women and their families, but society and the economy as a whole.
LouAnn Bloomer, who founded The Bridge to Independence and Career Opportunities (TBICO) in Danbury in 1993, believes strongly in “teaching women skills that make them more competitive for jobs with potential.” Bloomer, who credits support from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation with helping her sustain the organization throughout the years, says that 95% of students are women, many of whom are mothers and the primary breadwinners for their families. By offering employment-focused training and mentorships, TBICO is a resource for women to “improve skills, expand options, and enhance their future and the future of their children” Bloomer says.
She notes, however, that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mothers are bearing more of the responsibility for child care, which has posed a challenge connecting women with jobs. By offering flexible online classes in the evenings and on the weekends, TBICO is continuing to keep students “engaged and motivated” with the ultimate goal of securing them on a path to “sustainable self-sufficiency,” Bloomer says.
Child care issues, which impact many working parents but particularly Black, Latinx, and low income women,7 have indeed been compounded by the pandemic. Coupled with the fact that 95% of child care workers are women and a disproportionate amount of them are Black or Latinx who often struggle to find affordable and quality care for their own children, the ongoing child care crisis has amplified gender and racial disparities.8
With the knowledge that 70% of child care businesses had shuttered within the first month of the pandemic and that the majority were owned by minorities, the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC) collaborated with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood to provide assistance to these vital businesses. Led by Chief Executive Officer Fran Pastore, WBDC provided business training and helped with grant applications so that child care businesses across the state could reopen and rebuild. “In December,” says Pastore, “we awarded 105 child care providers with $1.6 million in funds.”
Providing access to funding is just one way that WBDC, a grantee of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls, supports women entrepreneurs in Connecticut who want to start, scale or diversify their businesses. Offering classes that focus on an array of business fundamentals and one-on-one coaching, WBDC is fulfilling its mission of supporting economic prosperity for women
Yvonne Oxley, who started her Bridgeport-based natural soap business, Komfort Zone, with just three recipes, enrolled in a WBDC course with the goal of developing a more robust business plan for growth. She now has ten times as many varieties of soap and offers several additional products. Pastore, who recently interviewed Oxley for her podcast, “Courageous Conversations,” was happy to share that Oxley was able to grow her business by 186% over the past year by stepping outside her own comfort zone and expanding her social media presence.
Sharing the achievements of women to inspire others to reach their goals is one of the primary missions of Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, an organization dedicated to honoring its inductees through outreach, education, and a scholarship fund. The Hall offers programming that engages girls from elementary school through high school, including partnerships that encourage their interest in civic engagement and the pursuit of careers in STEM or finance.
With support from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls, the Hall offers other resources, such as presentations, traveling exhibits, and webinars, to groups and organizations.
“We bring relevant information about women to women,” says Sarah Lubarsky, Executive Director, designed to “educate the public and inspire the continued achievements of women and girls.”
“Every day is Women’s History Month at the Hall,” jokes Lubarsky, and it’s true. The daily work she, Pastore, Bloomer and their organizations do to support and educate women is critical. Although there are complex, interconnected factors that contribute to the persistent gender, racial, and socioeconomic inequalities in the United States, education is one of the most powerful tools available to combat it in all its forms.