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Another Voice: The work goes on to close the gender equality gap

As you glance through our annual Women in Business supplement (in this issue), you would be forgiven for thinking women are doing just fine in the workforce — but the gender gap persists.

Most would agree women’s roles in society and business have evolved dramatically in the last 100 years. In the early 1900s, just 18.8 percent of women worked outside the home. According to the 2010 census, that figure has now jumped to 47 percent. Women’s participation in the workforce increased by nearly 5 percent between 1970 and 1980 alone, and by over 3 percent in the next decade. The 1980s saw a number of “firsts” for women, including the first female Supreme Court justice and the first female astronaut. Women’s representation as accountants, pharmacists and physicians, veterinarians, lawyers and judges has increased dramatically.

But many professions have yet to embrace women, or pay them/us for equal work. According to the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, the median weekly earnings of women who were full-time workers in 2010 was 81 percent of that of their male counterparts; some estimates today put the ratio at 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Barbara Young, President of Soroptimist International of Hood River commented, “The Women in Business supplement does a fantastic job of showcasing successful business women in our community, but the fact that we need it at all is testimony to the enduring notion that successful women are the exception rather than the rule.” Since it was chartered in 1948, Soroptimist International of Hood River has contributed over $130,000 in grants for local women who are heads of households and furthering their education to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Young acknowledges that the reasons for the persistent gap in gender equality in the workplace are many and complex. “Soroptimist is not a political group,” she said, “but there is still a huge need for our work. Soroptimist is as relevant today as it was when the organization was founded in 1921. We welcome women who are in any phase of their work life to join us. That includes stay-at-home moms and retired women. We have a great time together while we work to improve the lives of women and girls.”

In addition to the education grant program, Soroptimist raises and donates money to local organizations making a difference in the lives of women and girls, including Helping Hands Against Violence, HRVHS Inspiration Circle and other girl empowerment groups, and New Parent Services. The local club also supports women in developing nations through microloans and other business opportunities, healthy childbirths following the hurricane in Haiti and support for a vaginal fistula repair hospital in Uganda.

Soroptimist International is a worldwide service organization of business women, established the same year the Columbia Gorge Hotel and the Columbia River Highway were under construction. Loosely translated from Latin, Soroptimist is a coined term meaning “best for women.” Find out more at www.soroptimisthoodriver.com.

Faith Keolker is co-owner of Hearts of Gold and Secretary of Soroptimist International of Hood River.

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