Fueling change | VailDaily.com

Fueling change

Christine Ina Casillas

Tuesday marked the first symposium of The Status Project: Women and Girls in Colorado, which focuses on the economic boundaries and opportunities of women and girls in Colorado. Based on studies commissioned last year by Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the project analyzed the roles of women and girls in Colorado compared to those in other states.

“There are more Colorado women in the work force, making more money, more-educated and better-looking – really, look around,” Marla J. Williams, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, said during the symposium, which was held at Manor Vail. “It’s not a question of whether women should be working. Women are working. It’s a done deal.”

Pinpointing 15 Colorado communities, the foundation has created a multi-faceted approach to changing the societal and economic status of women and girls in the state. In a three-part series, the project provides the research on women, convenes forums to generate discussions and solutions and offers funding to towns and cities that present action plans for fueling change.

“We needed to feel that we knew exactly what the status was for women and girls in Colorado,” Williams said. “We needed to find a basis for change and not let that information we found lie on a shelf, gathering dust.”

The study shows that while more economic opportunities thrive for women in Colorado than in the rest of the nation, women do not earn as much as men for comparable work, Williams said.

More than 130 women in various fields of various ages in Eagle County joined the forum. Tables were split into groups for discussion about the economic, educational and societal status of girls today. About 78 percent of the women in Eagle County are in the work force, which is higher than the statewide average, she said. Many women also are working more than one job.

Although the women in Colorado are highly educated, there still are economic boundaries in the work force and “a stubborn wage gap” that needs to be narrowed, Williams said.

Women in technology show a significant gap in wages, she said.

(People are) “well-paid, get good benefits; but women are not there,” she said. “It’s a field where women are clearly underrepresented.

It dates back to gender issues at an early age. Some children receive computers first as a toy. But as children reach middle school, the toys become more gender-oriented instead of gender-neutral, she said. The games become more violent.

“Men like to fiddle with things, fiddle with software and technology,” she said. “Finding girl-friendly software is nearly impossible.

“You don’t see a Game Girl out there, do you?” she added. “It’s called a Game Boy.”

The status report shows that 25 percent of boys who take the SAT specify engineering as a major and 7 percent indicate a computer science major. Only 4 percent of girls specify engineering majors and only 1 percent indicate computer science.

“Girls can quickly become invisible in our society,” Williams said.

Girls tend to choose traditional college courses meant for lower-paying jobs and career choices, she said.

“Some women who chose to work in tech fields came from no technology backgrounds,” she said. “They had friends and teachers who were supportive of their choices and had one-on-one encouragement to choose that particular field.”

One third of all high-tech companies report they have no women in top management positions, the report shows. Women in high tech earn more, an average of $57,780 per year, than women in other parts of the private sector. But women earn less than men in high tech, who earn an average of $60,418 annually.

“Women are twice as likely to inhabit low-end wages and men are twice as likely to inhabit high-end wages,” Williams said.

Frighteningly, she said, one in every three single mothers lives below the federal poverty level.

Women earn 74.5 cents to every $1 men earn in Colorado, the report shows. The findings also indicate that the median annual earnings of women in Colorado are $26,422, nearly $1,000 more than the national average.

One estimate predicts that by 2008, the high-tech industry will have grown by 5.3 million more jobs nationally.

“Technology is the language of the future,” she said. “If women want to be part of the conversation, they need to learn to master that language.”

For more information on The Status Project visit. http://www.wfco.org.

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