Shattering Ceilings and Still Climbing

Women are an integral part of the American tapestry of success. At every step of the American experiment, women have played a vital role. America literally would not be the land where dreams come true without the dedication, vision, creativity and commitment of women — especially Black women! Although, all too often unrecognized and overlooked, there is no disputing the impact of Black women.

No matter your political affiliation, the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States marks a momentous occasion for women’s rights in America. Vice President Harris punched a hole in the proverbial glass ceiling and has paved the way for more inclusive political leadership. The ceiling is not shattered but there are holes in it! Pennsylvania still ranks in the bottom of states for female elected officials, but State Rep. Joanna McClinton is the House Democratic Leader! Another hole in the ceiling!

A woman is just one heartbeat away from the Presidency. Celebrate today but get back to work! We have not arrived. There is still much work to be done. Women still earn less than men for the same work. According to the US Census Bureau, White women earn 83 cents for every dollar a White man earns. The number drops to 62 cents for Black women and 54 cents for Latinx women!

Despite structural barriers, women persevere and continue to break barriers.

Erika Watkins, Philadelphia OIC Graduate and PECO Intern

Renewable energy is a field where women are significantly underrepresented. A recent study documented that 85% of front-line workers in the energy sector are White men. Erika Watkins, a young Black woman worked at a multinational supermarket chain before enrolling in the PECO Smart Energy Technical Training program at Philadelphia OIC. The program provided her with the skills required to break into the energy industry. She was prepared for and passed the CAST (Construction and Skilled Trades Occupational) exam, OSHA 10 certification, residential solar installation certification, and the residential energy efficiency installation training, offered by the Energy Coordinating Agency — four tangible credentials that open doors to employment opportunities in multiple fields. Today, Erika is an intern at PECO on the “Green Power Connect” project where she counsels residents on the process of installing rooftop solar energy systems. She is poised for a rewarding and lucrative career in energy.

Kristol Bryant, Philadelphia OIC Graduate, Award-Winning Chef

Kristol Bryant, Executive Chef and Owner of K.1893, a private dining company, is another barrier breaker. After she graduated from Philadelphia OIC’s culinary arts program, she had to navigate male dominated kitchens that are the signature of high-end restaurants. As a Black woman, Kristol did not fit the perception of what a “chef” looked like. She was not deterred and remained steadfast in her pursuit of being the best. Her dedication resulted in Kristol being selected to compete on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” a cooking television show. She competed against best-in-class chefs from across the country. And she won. Today, she is a highly sought-after chef and a food stylist at QVC Network.

Erika and Kristol epitomize the result of excellent training, hard work and persistence!

While there are many examples of women punching through barriers, there is still much to be done to achieve full equality between men and women.

The best way to attack the employment and wage gap is to create and leverage workforce development training. Workforce training programs are becoming increasingly necessary and in demand. The pandemic has changed the employment landscape. Some of the jobs we have lost due to the pandemic will not return, while new opportunities are being created every day. Our region offers a rich landscape of opportunities in health care and life science in addition to advanced manufacturing. And while it may not look like it today, hospitality and tourism will return. Philadelphia will once again be a foodie, tourist and convention destination!

Workforce development programs that are responsive to the needs of employers are the key to economic recovery and wage equality. Training people for the jobs that exist today and will exist tomorrow is critical to the overall economic recovery of our region, but it is also the best way to break gender barriers. When you possess the skills required — both the technical and the power skills — to succeed, no one can tell you that they “can’t find qualified women”!!

Our challenge is to prepare our citizens — with a deliberate focus on those who have been historically shut out of opportunity — Black, Brown, Indigenous and Other People of Color, especially Women — for these opportunities and to continue to stay focused on preparing for the jobs of the future. Workforce development training programs level the playing field. Without regard to gender or race, motivated individuals must invest their time and energy into learning new skills.

Simultaneously, Corporate America, not-for-profit organizations and all levels of government must take on the gender wage gap. Equal pay for equal work is a simple concept! It is time to stop making excuses. Let’s train our people and demand equal pay for equal work!

Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes

President & CEO | Philadelphia OIC

This commentary was featured in The Philadelphia Tribune on Monday, March 8th — International Women’s Day.

Storied Workforce Development agency eradicating poverty in Philadelphia.