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Luwanda Jenkins: Women in higher education unite through forum

The Women’s Forum recently hosted its annual conference at Towson University, which drew a large turnout of women who are employed by or who attend member campuses, inside the University System of Maryland and at other universities. This year’s theme, “Redefining Having It All,” examined women in the new economy and federal and state/USM policies affecting working women. And it offered networking opportunities for the women who attended.

Hosted by Towson University and its president, Maravene S. Loeschke, a dynamic leader and champion of advancement for women in her own right, this year’s conference marked a number of milestones. These included an endorsement from national women leaders, including Congressional Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. In attendance were Maryland’s first lady and Judge Katie O’Malley, along with other influential elected women in Maryland.

While the Women’s Forum is an organization for women staff, faculty and students within the USM, the takeaways for women are universal, as the forum highlighted the disparities that still plague women and offered actionable options for seeking change. The Women’s Forum was started in 1989, just one year after the state created the University System of Maryland, which today includes 11 institutions. Collectively, these form a university system of over 37,620 employees and more than 150,000 students in Maryland alone. The USM is one of the state’s largest employers.

Disparities women still face

Despite overwhelming evidence that organizations and businesses are more successful when women are part of the leadership structure, here’s where things still stand:

-Only one in 10 boards in the U.S. have female representation (Harvard Law School Report on Women on Boards, 2012).

-Four in 10 businesses worldwide have no women in senior management.

-Despite national census figures showing that women are in the majority in the U.S. population, nationally, just 36 percent of judges in top courts are women. In state legislatures, 24 percent are women.

-Women earn less than men in 99 percent of all occupations. In virtually every field, women can expect to earn less over their lifetimes than their male counterparts.

Taking action

There are several actions women can take for seeking change:

-If you happen to be a woman who is employed by a USM institution, you should check out the Women’s Forum at usmwf.usmd.edu

-Consider starting a similar group to the Women’s Forum at your company or organization.

-Learn more about and support public policy affecting women in the workplace by checking out a new congressional agenda entitled “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families” focusing on family leave, affordable child care and the wage gap, at democraticleader.gov/Women_Succeed

As one who tends to see the glass as half full, I was encouraged by attending the forum and left feeling uplifted and energized by the one-day infusion of woman power.

I continue to be inspired by the tremendous ability that women have to be agents of change and effective leaders in our organizations. I encourage you to find your way to a women’s forum or create your own circle of women from whom you can gain strength, support and a spirit of sisterhood. There’s nothing like it for women on a mission to succeed.

A member of The Daily Record’s Maryland Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence, Luwanda Walker Jenkins is special assistant to the president at Coppin State University.