Women’s initiative addresses local employment issues

Sheri Regnier, Trail Daily Times

Trail council became the first signatories on a regional accord that supports increasing women’s access to local economic opportunities.

Following a presentation from “Women Creating Change (WCC)” coordinators Tara Howse and Jan Morton during the Monday night meeting, city council committed to supporting regional decisions that would increase women’s access to opportunities such as affordable education, skills training and higher waged employment.

The women’s initiative is a partnership between the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre and the Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society (Trail FAIR) that launched in May 2012 after being awarded three years of funding by the Status of Women Canada to address barriers to women achieving economic security and stability in the region.

Women comprise 51 per cent of the population in Lower Columbia communities and through a gender based study, WCC gathered a snapshot profile of women in the workplace and identified social factors that support or limit economic security.

One third of the local female labour force works in low wage occupations, according to WCC’s report, and more than half the women in the region earn less than $24,000 a year.

Most of the female workforce (86 per cent) is employed in health and social services, retail trade, education or in the business sector.

However, the report includes Teck Trail Operations, the largest company in the region, which employs about 1,500 workers, but states “most of the work opportunities are typically male-dominated occupations.”

In the higher tax bracket, the disparity grows wider with only 16 per cent of the area’s women earning $50,000 annually compared to 43 per cent of men.

“Through this gender analysis we are asking why does this statistic exist,” explained Howse.

Taking into account that for every three female single-parent families there is one male single-parent family, which can account for the number of women in Greater Trail not earning enough to maintain a “normal standard of living.”

“Most of the women work in traditional jobs that pay a lower wage and being a single parent is more of an obstacle compared to a two parent family,” said Howse.

She explained that in a two-parent-two-child family, each parent must work 35 hours a week, and earn $18.15 per hour for a net income of $60,000 in order to live in the Greater Trail community.

“Remember, we are not talking about anything extravagant,” said Howse. “We are taking into account the basics like healthcare, transportation and child care.”

The glimpses into the area’s workforce are the basis for WCC’s long term vision to create equitable economic opportunities to all women in the Lower Columbia region by 2020.

An advisory committee made up of local women representing various communities, ages and employment experiences, determined two regional priorities with an action plan to encourage and support the entry and retention of women in sustainable, non-traditional employment and to make education and training more accessible and affordable to women living at or below the living wage.

A key pattern identified through the gender based analysis was women in better paying and nontraditional jobs had difficulty entering their prospective field, and retaining employment.

“Women in jobs such as in the trades are vulnerable and in the first couple of years the drop out rate is significant,” explained Morton.

“We are focused on how we can provide mentorship support to women who are in nontraditional and better paying jobs.”