THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF WORK – JEN OLDHAM
Vermont Works for Women (VWW) strives for a world where “women and girls are empowered to make confident, deliberate choices about life and work that reflect an expansive grasp of the world’s possibilities…” It is a powerful vision of which I’m thrilled to be a part. But it is actually further down the VWW mission statement that I find my real inspiration, in language about the “transformative power of work.” Specifically, it says: We believe that work can be transformative. It helps us move towards financial independence and stabilizes our families. It connects us to others, our communities, and to a broader sense of purpose. At its best, work is an expression of our talent, our passion, and our values.
Heck, yeah! While we all might not be fortunate enough to love our jobs, we all benefit from being reminded that our work matters, that all jobs have value, and that work is essential to human development. Paid or volunteer, in the home or out, highly paid or minimum wage – there is nothing that makes one job more or less important than another, because we all ultimately benefit from work done by others, whether we recognize it or not. This web of economic and social interdependence existed long before that other “Web,” and programs, systems and policies that forge paths to productive, meaningful work, for all citizens, are foundational to personal and societal transformation.
At Vermont Works for Women, we focus on the female half of the population because women remain stubbornly disadvantaged in their pursuit of economic stability through work. In Vermont, and nationally, women are less likely to be exposed to the breadth of careers opportunities, are disproportionately employed in low wage jobs, and 43% of women who work full- time do not make enough to cover basic living expenses. As our vision implies, we can and must do better!
We are not alone in our efforts. On September 16, the Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, hosted by Senator Leahy’s office, offers a full day of workshops and discussion (along with free registration and childcare) for women to explore career opportunities, discover financial resources and build contacts. Mercy Connections in Burlington offers a Women’s Small Business Program for aspiring female entrepreneurs. Change the Story Vermont is a research and advocacy initiative to align policy, program and philanthropy to improve women’s economic status in Vermont. And on October 12, VWW hosts Women Can Do, a one day career immersion experience for 9-12th graders featuring dozens of volunteers providing hands-on workshops and action stations highlighting careers in skilled trades and STEM.There is also good news on the job front. Employers increasingly recognize the value of gender diversity in the workforce. Vermont unemployment is at a low 3.1% and there are employers actively looking to fill positions that offer a living wage, benefits, and opportunities for advancement. There are training programs to assist with skills development to access these jobs. And there are statewide efforts to better define career opportunities and align education and skills training to enter these careers.
VWW will continue to promote policies that support working women, gender equity in hiring and employment practices, and education and training that opens doors to females at all stages of life. But regardless of your gender, or where you may be in your own professional path, there is a bright future in Vermont for a labor force that is economically secure and socially connected.
– Jennifer Oldham, Director of Women’s Program