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More opportunities for women to lead but Region professionals say still plenty of work to do

January 10, 2018

Maura Durham has some career advice for today’s young women.

“You definitely don’t want to take yourself out of the equation,” said Durham, president of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce in Chesterton. She’s referring to jobs — any job — even those perceived to be male-dominated fields.

Trailblazing women took chances and made inroads into a number of professions over many generations, opening doors for more women to follow.

“There definitely is a ‘why not just go for it’ attitude among women today,” Durham said.

As women narrow the gap with men in the nation’s overall workforce, Durham expects even more career opportunities to emerge for women, including those that could lead to leadership roles.

“I think in some professions that historically were more heavily populated by men have started to become more populated by women,” Durham said. Economic development and government are among the many professions that have seen more women join its ranks, she said.

“As women have moved into these roles, they have worked their way up the ladder,” Durham said. “There are more women getting involved in the political arena and city planning.”

Changing landscape

The nation’s workforce is closer to a 50-50 split between men and women.

While men represented 84.8 million, or 53 percent, of the nation’s overall workforce of 160 million people in December, women made up the rest at 47 percent, or 75.2 million. In 1948, the workforce was 67 percent men and 33 percent women.

It’s likely the gap will continue narrowing, the government projects, as the nation’s workforce ages and available labor pools shrink.

Anthony Sindone, assistant professor of finance and economic development at Purdue University Northwest, believes there is more to it.

“If you talk to younger women today, they don’t talk about obstacles and hurdles,” he said. “They simply see a world of opportunity in front of them.”

Sindone, who also is director of Purdue University Northwest’s Center for Economic Development, said in his observations the past 15 years, a mindset has developed that employers seek the best people, regardless of gender.

“There really should be nothing that holds back women anymore,” he said.

Hurdles and barriers for women to enter the workplace may have existed for previous generations but many say that isn’t the case today.

Lorri Feldt, regional director of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center in Crown Point, doesn’t recall a time during her career where she wasn’t encouraged to pursue managerial or executive-level positions with past employers.

“I worked for larger companies for a long time in the 1990s and through the 2000s and always felt there were opportunities,” Feldt said. “Some may say there were challenges for women at that time or talk about the glass ceiling, but honestly, I think it really depended on the organization you worked for because with a lot of organizations, many have encouraged advancement for women for a long time.”

Feldt, who has served in her present role since 2012, said in recent years, organizations across all industries are hungry for talent.

“In the past 10, maybe even 20 years, (businesses) realized that what they want are strong, skilled, talented people,” she said. “It’s sensible human capital strategy to consider every candidate, because you want to pull from the widest universe possible of people who can become leaders.”

Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of The Center of Workforce Innovations in Valparaiso, agrees.

“I think there has been a changing mindset, and women are seen as bringing a variety of skills to the table,” said Woloshansky, who has served in her present role since January 2000. “There has been a movement in the last decade, maybe even longer, to bring more women into leadership roles.”

Heather Ennis, who has served as president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum nearly four years, said the willingness to put women into leadership positions is stronger today than in the past.

“It’s exciting to see more women in leadership positions and the opportunities that are available for them,” Ennis said.

But Ennis acknowledges there still is a lot of work to do.

“Across the board, there still isn’t equal pay between men and women for doing similar work,” she said. “And while women are moving into leadership roles, the highest levels, still are not 50-50.”

The Department of Labor said men still dominate the title of CEO in the U.S. About 27 percent of CEO positions in the country were held by women, according to March 2017 government labor data. A recent report by the Indiana Institute for Working Families also found women working full-time in Indiana on average earned 74 cents to every dollar earned by men.

In other industries, women have made considerable gains in leadership roles, the government said.

About 74 percent of people serving in human resource manager positions are women and 71 percent of individuals serving in social and community service managerial positions also are women.

In the education sector, about 65 percent of individuals who serve as education administrators are women, the government said.

Sindone said higher education was among the first industries that placed women in leadership roles. As women’s achievements and successes grew, it gained notice outside the academic community.

“One thing people pay attention to is other industries and what they’re trying to do differently to provide the best service,” Sindone said. “We’re finding that women made tremendous inroads because of women who have paved the way for them.”

Finding inspiration

Durham with the Duneland chamber credits mentors she had for her career development. Durham served as the chamber’s membership director under Ennis, before she left for the Northwest Indiana Forum.

“I was lucky to have (Heather Ennis) as my predecessor,” Durham said. “Having strong women role models in your corner can help propel you forward and that was key for me.”

Ennis said she too has found inspiration from the professional accomplishments of Woloshansky; Barb Young, former long-time director of the Porter County Community Foundation; and former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo, who recently resigned her post to accept an appointment from Gov. Eric Holcomb to become Indiana’s first secretary of career connections and talent.

“When you look at what these women have done, being around strong women has been amazing,” Ennis said. “The confidence level has dramatically changed in women.”

For the past three decades, organizations including the South Shore Leadership Center in Portage has provided training to develop future leaders, both men and women.

Harry Vande Velde, president and CEO of the leadership center, said the organization has more than 1,500 alumni who have received a range of training including leadership development.

He said the center’s leadership training regimen often examines quality of life topics and what can be done to improve the Regional environment to make it a desirable place to live and work.

“I have to believe as these (alumni) go back out into the community, they become more informed and then become more engaged in the community,” Vande Velde said. “So when you look at organizations in the Region and as they begin to think about succession planning, they want the most talented people regardless of their gender.”

Vande Velde believes people who are active in the community or completed leadership development training stand out.

“When you start to ask who’s missing from the table, that’s what opens doors to finding good people,” he said.

Shifting society

Ennis said as more women enter the workforce, especially those raising children, another shift that’s occurred is men taking on other responsibilities at home.

“There are more balanced home lives today where men aren’t as afraid to take on some of those roles at home once always handled by women, like leaving work and picking up a sick child from school,” Ennis said.

She said in situations where marriages are more like partnerships and responsibilities are shared, it makes it possible for women to have a career and raise a family.

“(Women) can have a great marriage, be a great parent and be a valuable employee, you just have to be organized about it,” Ennis said. “It takes a lot of hard work, but anyone with the ambition who wants to do it, can do it.”

Article by: Larry Avila, The Northwest Indiana Times (January 10, 2018)

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