By Madi Tortora
Because March was Women’s History Month, it was important for Washtenaw Community College to touch on the successes and triumphs of powerful women. Now, in April, it’s important that these issues are still talked about, even without a dedicated month.
On Wednesday, March 23, the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce, along with the help of Women of Washtenaw, brought a panel of strong women to WCC to discuss their journeys.
The panel consisted of a WCC nursing graduate and current RN, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist, an entrepreneur/franchise owner, a best-selling author and financial coach, and an Olympian and pharmacist. With the sharing of their success stories came the reaction from the audience, consisting of both men and women, many of them showing their appreciation for these women.
Many stories were similar, discussing falters in their journeys – sometimes to do with people holding them back, whether because of their race, their gender, or their privilege.
“Whether I was African American, white, anything, I would always look for the best in others. Underneath, we’re all the same people,” said Gail Perry-Mason, best-selling author and financial coach. “Sometimes, it was hurtful, because people would look down on me. They would come in to a luncheon meeting or something like that, and they would look at me and think ‘Oh, she must be the secretary,’ and I wasn’t.”
This is not uncommon for women in modern society. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, 57.2 percent of women were in the labor force, down 0.5 percentage point from 2012. Women may feel less likely to work for multiple reasons, some including lesser pay than men, lower expectations to become higher level positions, and definite work stereotypes.
Many women on the panel shared their stories about speed bumps along their rise to success. Several women were young mothers, some even having their children while attending school, but didn’t let it affect them. They included their stories of adoption, of grief, and of relationships.
Without the support from many people, they mentioned, they wouldn’t be where they are today. Perry-Mason even discussed creating one’s own board of ‘personnel directors,’ people one can look to for inspiration and support. They may not even know if they are on your board, she joked, but they are important all the same.
The support provided to women in times of turmoil may be one of the most important things. At WCC, there is a group of women called Women of Washtenaw. This group, WCC’s own chapter of Michigan American Council on Education, also known as ACE, empowers women to network with other women and learn from one another, all the while sharing constant support. Many women in WOW have been able to share and highlight their skills on WCC’s campus, and work on other initiatives, including helping to raise funds for the community, on Strategic Priority Committees and Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce. It’s growth since the Women of Color Collaborative Luncheon held last November at Grand Valley State University is substantial, and shows the hunger women have to help each other succeed.
“After that event, we got so much great feedback and participation from women here on campus we just decided to start our own chapter,” said Andrea Hemphill, operations coordinator at WCC and also an institutional representative of WOW. “(WCC) President Bellanca and Kim Hurns had been members with MI ACE, and had been involved with the women of color group for some time before that. They definitely helped bring that to Washtenaw.”
WOW is focused on professional development opportunities, and runs lunch and learn sessions where a guest speaker is brought in, Hemphill mentioned. It’s a lot about networking and support.
Although this group started only about a year and a half ago, WOW have had many opportunities to host events and have many ideas, including a possible yoga luncheon to focus on staying calm and collected. This was thought of after having a guest speaker come in to discuss balance, said Shana Barker, scholarship and alumni coordinator at WCC and institutional representative of WOW.
“I hope that we continue to grow and continue to receive the support, and just to get every woman involved,” Barker said.