By June Mathews
As a mother, Jeanne Jackson knows firsthand what it’s like to want the best for her children.
As executive director of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Jackson works to help other mothers wanting the same thing for their children.
A recent study commissioned under Jackson’s leadership called “Clearing the Path: Removing the Barriers to Sustainable Employment for Working Single Mothers,” is the organization’s most recent step in moving a growing group of women toward better lives for their families.
Founded in 1996, The Women’s Fund has long sought to encourage the participation of women and girls in their communities. But a study conducted by the organization in 2012, called “Stepping Up for Women’s Economic Security,” revealed that a lack of economic security for women, single mothers in particular, was holding them back.
“Three issues came up,” said Jackson. “One, single mothers were the most likely women to be in poverty, and that number was rising; two, a woman needed more education than a man to get a higher-wage job; and three, the cost and availability of childcare was a big problem.”
To help women combat these issues, The Women’s Fund began a program to form collaborative relationships with educational institutions, childcare centers and other entities that could help.
“We had phenomenal luck with that program and most of the women would go on to higher-wage jobs,” said Jackson. “But we realized last year that the same issues continued once they were in the workplace, so that became our next focus.”
And that’s where “Clearing the Path” came in.
The main data for the study, said Jackson, was drawn from interviews and surveys.
“We hired Marketry Inc. and Parker Consulting to interview women recommended by some of Birmingham’s largest social service agencies to find out what challenges women were facing,” said Jackson. “They talked with women who were working full time, had children and were making less than $30,000 a year. From that information, a survey was created.”
The surveys were then conducted in person by social workers and agencies, online by email, and via paper surveys distributed at organizations and events. The process rendered 200 completed surveys.
The key findings revealed that 90 percent of the respondents worked two jobs or extra hours to make ends meet; 55 percent had lost a job or promotion because of time off related to children; and on average, single mothers earning less than $30,000 annually spent 39 percent of their income on childcare.
But along with those not-so-pleasant results, the report revealed some encouraging news out of Birmingham’s corporate world.
“We’re realizing there are companies in Birmingham with large numbers of employees that have some good policies for working women,” said Jackson. “And what we want to do is highlight these companies for what they’re doing. The idea is that we set some nice models in the community and hope other companies will follow suit.”
And now that the conversation has begun, The Women’s Fund wants to keep it going. Plans are underway for a panel discussion among representatives from large employers in and around Birmingham about workplace policies pertaining to women. The Clearing the Path: Women, Workplace and the Economy event will take place May 12, 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., at the Florentine in downtown Birmingham.
It will feature a conversation between Foundation President and CEO Teresa Younger and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute President and CEO Andrea Taylor. A panel discussion will follow.
The panel will be made up of senior executives, including Alesia Jones, chief human resources officer at UAB; Scott Adams, chief administrative officer at Protective Life; and Jenna Bedsole, labor and employment attorney with Baker Donelson.
Tickets are $50. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Jacob Smith at 326-4454.
For more information, about the Women’s Fund, visit womensfundbirmingham.org.
The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham serves Blount, Walker, St. Clair Jefferson and Shelby counties.