Poverty & Safety Net

Being a woman, surrounded by women: Collaborate Cleveland Women’s Breakfast

Madison Van Epps
Communications Associate
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May 6, 2024
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There is something incredible about walking into an 8:30 A.M. event on a Wednesday morning and being met with the faces of hundreds of other women. On May 1st, a few of my colleagues and I attended the first annual Collaborate Cleveland Women’s Breakfast, an event that The Center for Community Solutions was proud to sponsor.

For more than half of 2023, Community Solutions worked on research and data analysis exploring the challenges and needs of women in Ohio. The 160 data points we explored in the Status of Women fact sheets included the wage gap, along with other health, social, and economic indicators of women’s lives in both the State of Ohio, and each of the 88 counties. We are invested in this work.

Hey! I am recognizing the work that YOU do today!

So walking into a space and being surrounded by women was, simply, uplifting. I saw young professionals like me, new to the workforce, and older professionals, women who have spent much of their career working in and around Cleveland. Making eye contact with women in the room, it felt like we were sharing a secret message, “Hey! I am recognizing the work that YOU do today!” Our keynote speaker, Wendy Chun-Hoon, the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor said it best, “I think this is the most powerful room I’ve been in, in a while.”

The gender wage gap is also a racial wage gap

Collaborate Cleveland is a nonprofit that works to co-create a Cleveland that supports, amplifies, and celebrates women – a community where gender justice is at the heart of policies and practices. Wednesday’s event was dedicated to conversations about equitable workplaces for women and the ways in which we can advance gender justice. Fittingly, May 1st is International Worker’s Day—a day to uphold workers’ rights and improve working conditions. During the 30-minute dialogue between Abby Westbrook, Executive Director at Collaborate Cleveland, and Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon, the audience was held captive by their ability to both celebrate women and discuss the many areas in which there are opportunities to improve gender justice in the workforce.

Nationally, women earn 0.73 cents to every dollar that a white, non-Hispanic man makes.

The reality is that women are underpaid compared to their male counterparts, especially women of color. Nationally, women earn 0.73 cents to every dollar that a white, non-Hispanic man makes. Black and Hispanic women make even less than the average.

Graphics source: U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau

Women deserve the wage and benefits that reflect the importance of the work that they do

The U.S. Department of Labor notes a few reasons for this wage gap.

  • Jobs in which women are more likely to work pay lower wages overall compared to jobs that employ a majority of men. These occupations include care work, such as childcare workers, domestic workers, or home health aides—jobs less likely to provide benefits to their employees.
  • compares the wage gap by sex, race, ethnicity, and occupation group and demonstrates that there are no occupations in which women earn more than men on average, either nationally or in Ohio.
  • The average pay for an occupation has been shown to decrease when women enter an occupation field in large numbers. Regardless of education, skills, or experience, occupations that employ a larger share of women pay lower wages.

As Director Chun-Hoon said, “women deserve the wage and benefits that reflect the importance of the work that they do.” She said, “Collaboration is a huge part of this. Keep working together. Everyone has a role in this.” It would be of note to mention that two of my male colleagues attended the breakfast. In a room full of women and only a handful of men, I was honored that male colleagues that I work with every day, joined the conversation to learn more about how they can work against gender injustice in the workforce. I am proud to work for an organization of both women and men, who want to be apart of the collaboration.

During Wednesday’s morning event, I felt recognized. I was proud to be a woman, surrounded by women. I felt empowered to be among women who work in Cleveland, who live in Cleveland, and who want to see other women in Cleveland thrive. To be in a room full of individuals who want to work towards a more equitable workplace, made me optimistic for the future.

Community Solutions staff impressions

Five of my colleagues also attended the Collaborate Cleveland Women’s Breakfast.

Angela Maher: The Women's Breakfast was truly a special event; one that felt hopeful in spite of addressing topics and conversations that most in the room have probably been having for years. I did not realize the Women's Bureau dates back to 1920; yet its current budget is only $23 million, "pennies in the federal budget" for an agency tasked with safeguarding and promoting the interests of half of all American workers.

Eboney Thornton: There was so much serenity and quiet power in the room, filled predominately with women from all walks of life and careers. Being able to be relaxed and heard, without the worry of mansplaining or information being misconstrued was a welcome safe space. The call to actions that were strategically placed throughout the event, like signing up for the Bureau newsletter, or making a connection with someone new, also offered inspiration and connection that met the needs of all in the room.

Emily Campbell: As a working mother, I acutely FEEL the data that was shared and its impact on everyday life. But while bad news was presented as a call to action, I appreciated how Director Chun-Hoon repeatedly called back to local efforts to extend paid family leave as an important solution. I was struck by the sense of shared struggle and collective uplift. Everywhere I turned I saw women (and a few men) who are working every day to improve conditions for people (not just women) in greater Cleveland.

Jason Kluk-Barany: Although Director Chun-Hoon presented data that was both shocking and sadly unsurprising, I left the event feeling hopeful and inspired. You could feel the desire throughout the room to take action as collective notetaking took place when resources were shared, and as introductions and new connections were encouraged and easily made. One striking point was the currently missed/potentially gained economic activity if more women and families had the adequate supports (e.g., paid leave, affordable childcare) to be able to participate in the labor force.

Alex Dorman: Something that really struck me is how the systemic undervaluing of women-dominated (largely, black women) care-based occupations is rooted in slavery, unpaid and forced labor. Our modern care economy depends largely on women's labor. I valued the attention Director Chun-Hoon paid to how increasing accessibility to all kinds of work is not always a positive. Remote work can be a great flexible option for those with commitments like raising children or caring for an older family member. But should we be blindly celebrating that women who are already doing undervalued work can now work even more hours, even if it is flexible?

Everywhere I turned I saw women (and a few men) who are working every day to improve conditions for people (not just women) in greater Cleveland.

The Center for Community Solution is committed to being a leader in the conversation and action required to improve health, social, and economic outcomes for women and girls in Ohio. In addition to our recently released 2023 Status of Women factsheets, we are soon releasing a 25-page report detailing the lives of girls under 19 in Ohio. Our Chief Executive Officer, Emily Campbell, was recently appointed to the Cuyahoga County Women’s Health Commission. My colleague, Taneisha Fair, recently joined the City of Cleveland Black Women and Girls Commission. At The Center for Community Solutions, we value the collaboration that it will require to create equitable outcomes for women and girls, and we thank Collaborate Cleveland for uplifting the conversation.


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