By Sharon Svec
In the past 101 years, YWCA Clark County has adapted to meet the changing needs of the community while honoring an overarching mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Our most recent adaptation has been that of the Women’s Leadership Center. We’ve developed this program as a response to the disparity of women within leadership positions nationwide. Whenever leadership fails to reflect the population, the society is at risk of losing valuable perspective and access to advancement. The Women’s Leadership Center will contribute to creating a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world.
Throughout the nation and in Washington State, leadership roles in business, politics, and education are mostly comprised of men. In 2011, there were only 10 women in Clark County’s 52 political offices. As of January 2015, women held just 32.7% of all elected seats in the Washington Senate and House of Representatives. A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center showed women making up 26.4% of university presidents and 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. The tech industry has also struggled with being supportive of, and advancing females. While 74% of girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science, a report from 2014 shows women holding only 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies.
The dissolution from roles of leadership begins early on for women. Most experience a high peak of confidence and self-identification as leaders around age 8 or 9. Then it declines rapidly. According to heartofleadership.org, “7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends.” The Women’s Leadership Center aims to lift up girls and women to help them maintain confidence and a positive self-identity beyond age 8 and well into the future.
With a mission firmly grounded in empowering women, and a long history for advocating for women’s rights, YWCA Clark County is uniquely positioned to support the advancement of women and girls in Southwest Washington. Based on on our research, and insight from the Women’s Funding Alliance’s report on the Status of Women in Washington, we’ve aligned with what they’re defining as a strong need to “expand training and support programs that increase the number of women in positions of political leadership and create a pipeline for young women to take on leadership roles.”
The Women’s Leadership Center will serve as this pipeline in Clark County. It will empower women of all ages to realize and harness their innate leadership potential, and to combat stereotypes and inequities that obscure the path to leadership. Programming will consist of high-quality trainings, workshops, and activities, as well as a mentorship program. Women and girls will develop life skills essential for success, self-confidence and self-worth, and be guided by a values-based philosophy that embraces equity, inclusion, and service.
We’re proud to have a supportive board, staff, and community behind these efforts, and hope that you will join in our excitement of welcoming the Women’s Leadership Center to Clark County.