In Vermont, 43% of women who work full-time do not make enough to cover basic living expenses, such as food, housing, transportation, and healthcare. To radically change the story for these women, Vermont Women’s Fund decided they needed to scale their efforts. To do this: they needed partners.
In 2014, they committed $90,000 a year to a 3-year initiative called “Change the Story.” By partnering with Vermont’s Commission on Women and Vermont Works for Women, and through support from several local philanthropic foundations, they have almost doubled their initial financial commitment. The annual budget for Change the Story is now nearly $145,000 a year – proof that strong partnerships can make all the difference.
The partners are tackling the issue from three directions: policy, program, and philanthropy. “The initiative is animated by the idea that women’s economic status will change only when state, business, and community leaders embrace and take action on the belief that gender matters,” said Tiffany Bluemle, executive director of Vermont Works for Women.
Engaging policymakers is critical. To do this, Change the Story has funded research to create a series of data-driven reports, including the broad-state level report Women, Work, and Wages in Vermont (January 2016) and the nuanced report of women at work in the state Where Vermont Women Work … and Why It Matters (April 2016). Two more are on the way.
State agencies, advocates, business organizations, and higher education institutions have widely embraced the findings. Both reports are featured on the Vermont Department of Labor’s website, and the state legislature has included Change the Story in developing a state dashboard to measure economic progress. The reports are cited in the Vermont Workforce Investment Board’s initiative Let’s Grow Kids, as well as state initiatives to increase the number of Vermonters who complete college.
By arming themselves with key data on women in the workforce, Change the Story has also been invited to work with two of Vermont’s major business alliances: Vermont Business Roundtable and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
These reports also clearly demonstrate that women in Vermont are significantly more likely than men to live in economic insecurity and are not gaining access into highly paid jobs. Where Vermont Women Work … and Why It Matters revealed that “50% of women who work full-time earn less than $35,000 as compared to 13% of all men.” Clearly, there was a need for Change the Story to look at pipeline issues preventing women access into higher paid science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs.
In 2014, only 18% of women nationwide were earning computer science degrees compared to 40% in the mid 1980s. In February 2016, Change the Story partnered with Vermont Technical College to recruit more women students into STEM courses. The project aims to increase its female enrollment by 15 to 25 percent over the next three years – one piece of the puzzle.
Another piece is culture. To engage employers in changing the experiences of women’s work, Change the Story kick started the Business Peer Exchange program. By bringing together 11 local businesses for monthly meetings, the began sharing ideas and talking about gender diversity in the workplace, building the case that diversity has a positive impact on the corporate bottom line.
Finally: they invested in leaders. For this, they introduced “Vermont FabFems,” an online, national database of women in STEM professions who are inspiring role models for young women. It is accessible to young women, girl-serving STEM programs, and other organizations that are working to increase career awareness and interest in STEM. Bluemle believes “women and girls benefit tremendously from seeing and learning about women working in nontraditional fields, and this database is one way for that to happen.”
Change the Story is not envisioned as a long-term initiative, it is intended to connect and support allies who are committed to generating awareness of women’s economic vulnerability and supporting public, private, and nonprofit policies and programs that are critical to advancing women.
Read more about Change the Story here.