Women make up the majority of the U.S. population — 149.1 million, compared to144.5 million men as of July 1, 2004 census numbers. But being the majority doesn't remove the second-class citizenship that has characterized the female sex for generations.
While the argument still rages about whether women are treated as equals, having raw data to evaluate is the most reasonable way to move from opinion or myth to fact. The Women's Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation wanted to understand the reality faced by women and girls in the area, so they commissioned Pulse: A Study on the Status of Women and Girls in Greater Cincinnati.
The report (www.greatercincinnatifdn.org/page497.cfm), released in 2005, revealed a variety of challenges. Translating the data into positive action and desirable outcomes prompted the Women's Fund to set four priorities.
"Many of these problems or challenges, however you want to describe them, are tremendously complex in terms of solving them," says Vanessa Freytag, chair of the Women's Fund Leadership Council.
Closing the gaps in order to "reduce the disparities faced by women of color, women in poverty and women heading households alone" and growing strong girls by increasing "opportunities for girls to connect with their families, peers, school and community" are the two most complex goals, according to Freytag. Promoting women leaders and improving data quality are more straightforward.
"The Women's Fund has reached out across the state of Ohio to the other major women's funds in the state ... and shared with them our learnings.
We have worked together to pool our knowledge," Freytag says.
A key finding is gaps in data collection. Freytag's voice takes on a note of incredulity as she explains.
"There are mind-boggling gaps in the data," she says. "The one that always stays in my mind is when you ... look closely at the issue of child abuse. Child abuse statistics are not gathered by gender. I think any logical person would say, 'There's probably some differences in causes and solutions that we would want to look at.' We would want to know by gender the numbers as well as what else we can gather."
Data is critical to designing effective policy and solutions, and Freytag believes awareness about how different sexes are affected is essential.
"If you want to actually solve a problem, and the problem affects one gender more than another, why wouldn't you look at gender-focused solutions?" she says. "Let's go back to the issue of child abuse. I'm not saying you ignore the issues that would be affecting boys, but the solutions might be different. Let's not put in place a generic solution that solves neither problem."
A statewide effort to educate legislators is just one of the efforts in which The Women's Fund is participating to ensure that lawmakers are considering potential legislation through "a gender lens."
"Public policy absolutely affects women, when you're talking economic development, support programs, whatever that might be," Freytag says. "We know from looking at this data the women tend to have the greatest burden of those issues on their shoulders and, in turn, on their children."
Focusing on healthy children is the goal of Harmony Garden, a center being developed for "girls' health self-efficacy."
"The long-term goal of the Harmony Garden is to catalyze a collective community vision and action plan to achieve and sustain the health of girls in our region from birth through adolescence and to eliminate health disparities for low socio-economic urban and rural girls," says Judith Harmony, a steering committee member of the Pulse study.
Harmony, Dr. Lisa Mills and Dr. Kathleen Burklow, who were involved in the Pulse research, are designing the center and will take a "leading role in determining what works for preteen girls, particularly those with greatest health disparities, and in translating lessons learned from research into education and practice."
That practical application of data is also being utilized to address the need for the development of women leaders.
"The statistics show that we have been very successful in having women in high-level positions in the region," says Myrita Craig, vice president of small business development and Pulse volunteer. "But one of the key challenges really was to fill the pipeline of women that are advancing toward top positions. That really seems to be lacking."
'A consistent voice'
While diversity is an integral part of the leadership model at Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, a new program — WE Lead (www.gccc.com/usaccc_b.aspx?id=1591) — is designed for women who are "more established leaders" who have "reached a pretty significant point in their career." WE Lead is accepting applications for its first class.
"It is focused on women, wherever they may be — as a business owner, working in a not-for-profit, educational — looking for the tools and resources to go to the next level of leadership," Craig says. "It is a 10-month program, but we will have four of the sessions focus specifically on individual coaching for the participants. Each participant will have an individual development plan that will come out of her experience."
While the progress made disseminating Pulse information that has resulted in this first rush of activity is noteworthy, it's just the beginning.
"One of the things that came out of the study is the need to have a consistent voice at the table," Freytag says. "That table can be in a business setting, in a legislative setting, everywhere."
With a full-time staffer paid by Federated Department Stores for one year, the Women's Fund will use that expertise to develop the infrastructure to make the consistent voice possible. Freytag says the Women's Fund's first employee will focus on the four priority areas.
"She will be a person who gets up every day, thinks about these issues every day and will give us her focus," Freytag says.
This and other next steps for the Women's Fund are critical, she says. Referring to research by a company called Catalyst, she says companies with the most progressive policies about "including women in their recruiting, retention and promotion have the best (return on investment).
"Equal is not the same thing as a carbon copy. If we didn't have a need to look at these issues, there wouldn't be a gap in leadership. Women have been in the workforce for a long time in great numbers. We wouldn't still see these issues present themselves." ©