Nichole Dunn of The Women's Fund of Central Ohio shares five workplace policy changes to help local women.

by Nichole Dunn

If women received equal pay, the US economy would produce $447 billion in additional income and cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families, according to The 2014 Shriver Report. Lack of economic security directly impacts a woman's ability to thrive, which affects our economy, our workforce and future generations with the children living in these households limited from reaching their full potential.

The Women's Fund of Central Ohio is working toward creating gender equality and influence in the community. Together with Battelle, Fifth Third Bank, The Columbus Foundation and Illuminology, we recently released Womenomics, a research report that examines women's economic security in central Ohio. By applying a gender lens to economic security, we can begin to understand the issues local women face, then create solutions –plus build on existing successes –to address these issues as a community.

Womenomics unveiled some startling statistics, including 1 in 4 women in central Ohio are not economically secure. (For the report, we defined economic security as a household having financial resources sufficient to meet a basic needs budget. This budget includes items necessary for a basic standard of living, i.e. housing, childcare, healthcare, transportation and other essential needs.)

To give depth to our data, we also talked to women throughout central Ohio to hear their stories about what were barriers or access to opportunities. Through these conversations, it became apparent that, in addition to equal pay, benefits such as paid sick leave (for both women and their family members), parental leave/flexible work hours, on-site/supported child care and career advancement opportunities are key to building secure workplaces:

Paid leave: Paid leave is not required and is often not found in many positions, especially in the low-wage positions in which women are over-represented (64 percent of minimum wage and low income workers are women). To meet the needs of the modern work force, especially because women are the predominate caregivers to children, employers must implement paid leave policies. Equal pay: Looking at full-time workers, women in central Ohio earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. We need to work to close this gap. Flexible schedules: Women with children report that the ability to have some level of flexibility at the beginning/end of the day in order to meet the scheduling needs of their family is of high importance. In fact, employers who provide this level of realistic flexibility decrease turnover, increase employee loyalty and improve productivity. On-site/supported child care: Affordable, high quality childcare – located near work or home – is a high priority for working parents. Employers who assist in the provision of quality childcare find they have more satisfied and less stressed employees. Career advancement opportunities: Provide access to continuing education, mentorship and coaching geared toward women rewards the employee and the employer. Again, this leads to increased retention of valued employees, less turn over, improved productivity and a healthier bottom line.

As a community, we have the opportunity to make a lasting impact in the lives of women and their families through workplace policy changes. Together, we can change what economic security looks like for women today… which will change the future for their children, the community and the economy as a whole.

Nichole E. Dunn has served as President and CEO of The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, a public foundation focused on creating gender equality and influence in the community by amplifying the voices of women and girls, since 2008. Nichole is committed to strengthening her local community as a proactive leader of change with an emphasis on building women's leadership.

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