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Working women: 'We still have a long way to go'

A study on working women in the area is helping the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce to create an awards program that aims to recognize the top women-friendly workplaces in Tarrant County

09/04/2011 8:23 PM

09/04/2011 11:26 PM

Equal pay is the top feature of an ideal workplace for working women in Tarrant County, but women say adequate healthcare coverage and family leave for personal issues are just as important, a local business study has found.

"The most important factors that all women definitely want in their ideal workplace are compensation and leave, organizational ethics and work flexibility," the study said.

Commissioned by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, the study was conducted by Texas Woman's University business management students and headed by Dr. Pushkala Raman, an associate professor of marketing.

The chamber is using the results to mold a business award program to recognize the top women-friendly workplaces in Tarrant County. The first awards could be presented in December. The chamber hopes it will become a sought-after prize.

"I really wanted to do this to learn more and share best practices," said Marilyn Gilbert, the chamber's executive vice president of marketing. "There are unique issues women deal with."

The idea for the award was generated by the chamber's Women Influencing Business group, started five years ago to heighten women's role in the local business community. The group has steadily grown; nearly 200 women attended its most recent event to hear an author and motivational speaker.

The study was done through a series of focus groups, followed by a written survey completed by more than 430 women. Most of the participants and respondents, 83 percent, said they have been working for more than 10 years.

Moreover, the survey spanned several age groups, levels of education, and the age and number of children living at home.

Raman said some women in the focus groups cited disparities such as companies allowing men to play golf for business, but considering it frivolous for women to take clients to a spa.

"Some of that did emerge," Raman said.

One message that came across strongly was that when women telecommute, they are not given autonomy and management doesn't trust that the work will get done, she said.

"They felt that they were being allowed to telecommute, and then someone was constantly breathing down their necks to see if it was done," the study said.

Said Raman, "To me, that was the biggest message."

Fifteen percent said they work from home some of the time, and 44 percent said they do so five days a week.

In other findings, the women said that they appreciate having mentors and funding to further their education, and that it's important that their companies are involved in community service.

"One had a mentor in California," Raman said.

Cynthia Sadler, senior vice president at Frost Bank in Fort Worth, and chairwoman of Women Influencing Business, said the study did a good job of identifying areas that concern working women.

Sadler called the results "informative" and pointed to issues that women have faced for decades. Women want to be given opportunities and made to feel they are making contributions to their company and community, she said.

"Obviously, people want to be in a nice work environment," Sadler said. "We've made progress, but we still have a long way to go."

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

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