Donna Haghighat: Women's Fund data should worry county

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SPRINGFIELD — The Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts has just released our report Status of Women and Girls in Western Massachusetts 2019. Our chief reasons to undertake this research were threefold: to inform our own strategy as we deploy our donor dollars, to provide data and guidance to nonprofits who serve women and girls and through whom we achieve much of our mission, and to arm our legislative delegation with timely information. This information also matters to our community as a whole and we urge you to read it because it contains vital information that matters to you personally. The highlights can easily be gleaned from the Key Findings section of the report.

If you live in a household that has women contributing income to it or not, the findings regarding the wage gap for women should concern you. If women aren't being paid equitably, that is a family and household issue, not just a woman's issue. When a woman brings home less than she should due to inequitable pay practices, the whole household suffers.

Berkshire County has the highest percentage of women participating in the labor force when compared to the Pioneer Valley counties. This seems great. However, what Berkshire women bring home in terms of pay from participating in the labor force varies by their gender and is further varied by their race.

Black and Latinx women and women who identified with two or more races had the greatest gap in their earnings as compared to white men in the Berkshires. This will become a bigger problem if the slow trend toward diversity, which our report shows, continues: 88.9 percent of Berkshires women are white in this report as compared to our 2013 report where that figure was 91 percent.

The contrast between women in the Berkshires who receive adequate prenatal care and those who don't also shows real and varied outcomes depending upon race and is cause for concern. As our report notes, studies show that these disparities are linked to systemic injustices facing many individuals of color, including lower insurance coverage rates, practitioner stereotypes and unequal education opportunities.

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If you are concerned about the mental health of our youth or the mental health of our future workforce, the data we presented should concern you.

Looking at business leadership, Berkshire County has the lowest percentage of women-owned businesses of the four counties.

While you will see that we have made gains in women's political leadership, you will also see that with only one-third of all elected offices in Western Massachusetts being held by women, we have a long way to go to achieve parity, particularly at the local level. Furthermore, as "Invisible Women" author Caroline Criado Perez stresses, "The solution to the sex and gender data gap is clear: we have to close the female representation gap."

In creating this report, we ran into barriers that did not allow us to collect all of the data we would have liked. That is not just frustrating to us and the other women- and girl-serving nonprofits that could use this data in applying for grants, it should be frustrating to you as well. Without better data, we can't get a full picture. We plan to highlight these barriers with those who have the power to address them.

We welcome you to join us as we attend the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women hearing on Oct. 8 and other Listening Sessions where you will have the opportunity to share why the information in the report matters to you and what else you would like to learn. You can find the dates and registration pages for these free sessions on our website at mywomensfund.org. The information in our report matters to you and your opinion matters to us.

Donna Haghighat is the CEO of the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts.


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