My name is Rachel and I serve as an AmeriCorps member at the University of Washington Women’s Center. As the Gender Equity and Leadership Coordinator, my responsibilities include facilitating events, coordinating the Alene Moris NEW Leadership Institute, assisting the Executive Director with research regarding human trafficking, and further support the goals of the Women’s Center to promote gender equity. This work is important since the gender pay gap remains inequitable, with women only making around $0.79 for each dollar men make in 2019. Along with this, current research shows that it will take 40 years (or until 2059) for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower (Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2019). These are statistics that we at the Women’s Center are passionate to change.
My service so far has included planning a reunion event for participants of the 2019 NEW Leadership Institute, a 6-day intensive event aimed to encourage and empower women to pursue leadership opportunities in their own communities. This reunion was an opportunity for alumnae to reconnect with their cohort, and for some it was a way to receive some much needed support and guidance. One participant, whose name I will keep anonymous, revealed to the group that she was struggling with networking and making professional connections on her own. She mentioned that she was advised to offer some of her digital artwork for free to these professionals in “return” for the time they would spend mentoring her, which she was willing to do, but was still a bit unsure. At the reunion she was encouraged to value her art and intellectual property, with some mentioning that there was no reason why she should feel like she needed to buy her way into a networking opportunity. They provided her with a long list of suggestions for how to find networking opportunities, create and foster professional relationships, and resources for her to learn more. There was certainly a lot of information thrown her way, but it was clear that she was grateful for the support, and even took the time after the event to thank us for bringing everyone together again.
Watching this group of women come together to support one another was really refreshing to witness and was a great reminder of the power of community and a strong support system. Our society sometimes makes it difficult for women to foster positive professional relationships, and even though having a sense of community is vital, it isn’t necessarily easy to navigate. This is where the beauty of the NEW Leadership Institute lies—bringing women from varying backgrounds together in a safe space where they can respectfully address issues of diversity, discuss the difficulties associated with leadership, and ultimately create a support network of women who understand each other.
This discussion of community and support systems is something that affected me. Before I began my AmeriCorps service term, I was living in my hometown in Knoxville, Tennessee. I had just finished my Master’s degree at New York University and was struggling not only to find a sense of community, but personal fulfillment and purpose as well. I wondered if moving to Washington would only heighten these internal struggles, but fortunately my concern was unfounded. The incredible people in the Women’s Center have made me feel welcomed and accepted, and are a constant source of encouragement for me. I am still on my journey to find my purpose, but the fulfillment that I feel every day when I walk through the front doors of the Center is indescribable. I am encouraged to know that the work that I am doing is benefiting the future of gender equity, but even more so, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to better myself and others through my service term at the UW Women’s Center.