Helping Oklahoma women improve their lives
On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee heard from a panel of state leaders and female business owners about issues facing Oklahoma women and what we can do to help improve their lives. My bipartisan study brought in experts to look at the issues and problems facing women so we can introduce policies to address them.
Our first speaker was Jenna Worthen, a mom of three, CEO of thHelpe James Martin Company and the creator of the online community, Women Who Work, for women to share their struggles and successes as they manage their families and careers. She shared how Oklahoma women are paid less than men – 74 cents to $1, which is the largest gap nationally – and have less career mobility, including promotions and other opportunities. Four in 10 Oklahoma women are the bread winners for their family and 73% have children, so the fact that they make less and don’t have the same career opportunities as men is hurting families and our state. Given that women make up just over half of Oklahoma’s population and a large percentage of the workforce, Worthen noted that without them, companies can’t survive, so supporting them and meeting their needs is crucial to our economy.
StitchCrew and VEST founder, Erika Lucas, shared that less than 6% of CEOs are women and less than 3% of venture capitalists invest in female businesses. Women are burned out in the workforce – they make less, they have less opportunities and then they have the added responsibilities and stress of caring for their children. Society must change and better meet the needs of this particular workforce because companies can’t survive without them.
Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling said that Oklahoma needs about 38,000 more employees to meet all the open jobs and needs of our state’s workforce. The agency has started numerous programs to try to fill this gap and give the business community the tools they need to encourage people back into the workforce. Oklahoma is working to better align state services with school curriculums, as well as investing in marketing to attract workers to our state. A lot of Oklahoma’s workforce problems stem from the fact that we’re way above the national average for the number of people who retired during the pandemic, who are ill or disabled, formerly incarcerated and not looking for employment, or who have responsibilities at home preventing them from working, like lack of child care or caring for an elderly or disabled parent.
I’ll share more about the study next week but some of the most common recommendations included companies increasing pay for women and providing more schedule flexibility, career opportunities, equal pay, paid maternity leave, and compensation to cover child care costs. The state must also improve access to affordable child care – many parts of Oklahoma are considered child care deserts. Other suggestions included improving overall medical and preventative care for women, prenatal care, access to domestic violence services and affordable housing for women trying to escape their abusers.
If you’d like to share your thoughts on these or other recommendations to improve the lives of Oklahoma women, please write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5522.
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