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Professional Power Group Plugs In Younger Women

Monday, August 17, 2009

The dinners and conferences of the National Council for Research on Women are where veteran crusaders mix and mingle. Now they're hosting two initiatives to bring younger women into the fold.

Subhead: 
The dinners and conferences of the National Council for Research on Women are where veteran crusaders mix and mingle. Now they're hosting two initiatives to bring younger women into the fold.



NCRW conference in New York City.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Despite all the advances that women have made in work force participation, younger women still face some of the same hurdles of their trailblazing older counterparts.

That was the message of a paper presented August 9 by Ohio State University sociologist Donna Bobbitt-Zeher at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. It suggests that the gender-based wage gap has roots in college and the majors chosen by women and men.

That was also the message of a study a couple of years ago by the American Association of University Women, which found that women right out of college make only 80 percent as much as their male peers.

It's also one of the reasons the National Council for Research on Women has begun promoting mentors and peer support for younger women.

"We've really seen evidence of a need for organizations and networks that focus on younger women," said Margurite Bouchner, a volunteer at the national council who works in the the financial services sector. "There seems to be this gap between women in college and right out of school and then women who are established in their careers. We decided to make that our focus."

Earlier this year, the council launched a leadership group for younger women in the corporate sector.

A similar group for younger women in the nonprofit sector is now forming. On August 4, about 12 participants met at the council's New York headquarters to discuss ways to get the group off the ground and gear up for career-focused workshops, discussion groups and social gatherings.

"This is something the council has been talking about for the past few years," said Lisa Rast, development coordinator at the council.

Career-Building Goals

Already a longtime provider of internships for young women, the council wants to offer more services for women who are just graduating from college and starting their careers.

Access to professional networks, skills-building training and support--all things the council has offered to women further along in their careers--are the goals.

The National Council for Research on Women--a 28-year-old institution that brings together 120 organizations in the research, policy and advocacy sectors--usually musters up women who can fill a room with career clout.

Its dinners, conferences and meetings often bring together women at the forefront of their fields--university presidents and chairs of boards among them--to help advance the group's agenda of ending gender inequities and also, along the way, help each other.

At the council's annual conference in June, notables in the fields of politics, business and academia mingled like old friends who'd survived many of the same fights and strategy sessions.

The council is trying to work younger, less proven, professional women into this scene with its two fledgling efforts, designed to provide careers boosts and group support.

All of that is particularly important in the current recession, which has made it harder to start careers and easier to take job detours. Some of the big topics young women are interested in are consulting, freelancing and balancing multiple jobs--signs of the changing climate.

Advancing Career Interests

The council's group for younger corporate women,"The Emerging Leaders Network," started with four young women at an annual awards and fundraising dinner in March. It now involves about 10 women who work in the corporate and financial sectors.

Members make a financial commitment to the council and its programs and also meet regularly to advance their own career interests.

For them, access to women's networking groups within their high-powered offices may not come until they have more experience under their belt. They are seeking both a group of contacts and an outlet for their own interest in promoting gender equality.

Bouchner got involved this way. She'd been a women's studies major in college and wanted to continue to cultivate that interest even though she was busy working in the business world. An older friend was being honored at the council's dinner and suggested Bouchner check out the organization.

Soon thereafter, council staffers Lisa Rast, 26, and Kyla Bender-Baird, 25, began to consider starting a similar group for young women in the nonprofit world that will focus purely on career networking benefits.

With nonprofits on a slim budget--often only one or two staffers can attend conferences--younger workers in the lower rungs have limited chances to compare notes with counterparts in other organizations, says Bender-Baird, the National Council for Research on Women's research and programs coordinator.

"We often don't get an opportunity to meet each other," she said. "When you look at directors and executive directors, they choose a network of other women like them. Women just starting out have difficulty making those connections."

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer in New York City. Her work is available at http://www.sarahmseltzer.com.

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National Council for Research on Women
http://www.ncrw.org

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