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Alaska Nonprofits Fight for Fair Pay, Offer Training

Economy loses $1 billion annually because women underpaid


The Women in the Trades program provides hands-on training to help women gain experience and transition into a well-paid construction career.

Alaska Works Partnership


Women make up 48 percent of Alaska’s workforce, and the state’s economy depends on their successes. Yet women often face challenges when it comes to finding the resources they need to start or advance in business and are still fighting to earn the same wages men make for doing the same job.

“Women are an economic powerhouse to the Alaska small business community, yet data shows that there is still a gap in the resources women entrepreneurs receive,” says Nancy Porzio, district director for Alaska at the US Small Business Administration.

On average, women are paid $0.68 for every $1.00 a man receives, with Alaska ranking 48th in the nation for women’s pay. Women also often find it challenging to enter the traditionally male-dominated fields that are so prevalent in Alaska.

Alaska Works Partnership

Students learn ironworking in the Women in the Trades program run by the Alaska Works Partnership

Fortunately, there are a number of nonprofit organizations working to make a difference in women’s career success, providing everything from one-on-one mentoring to classes on interviewing and help finding and filling out apprenticeship applications.

The YWCA’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Program, for example, takes a two-fold approach to helping women enter or advance their careers. “Our economic justice project serves a lot of at-risk Alaskans—both men and women—with the goal of helping them become financially and economically knowledgeable,” says Amanda Laird, development manager, YWCA Alaska, of the program that also teaches career-building skills. Courses in the program range from budget basics and resume building to dealing with debt and salary negotiations.

“We work creatively with clients to help them with whatever they need from job searching to writing resumes to learning how to interview properly to rebuilding their credit after a domestic violence situation,” says Laird. “For example, if there’s a gap between when they left a job and what they’re doing now, we can help show them how the skills they gained while working at home or volunteering at a shelter can apply to different jobs.”

The program is a success: six months after working with the YWCA, 30 percent of surveyed clients have become employed, 55 percent completed a financial goal, and 86 percent stopped using payday lenders. Additionally, 35 percent started saving monthly toward future goals.

YWCA also put into place an economic equity initiative to close the pay gap by 2025. “Not only is this a moral issue, but it’s an economic issue as well,” says Laird. “Approximately $1 billion is being left out of the Alaska economy because women are underpaid.”

The organization’s goal is to collaborate with businesses to help them apply practices and policies so that women receive fair pay. In partnership with AWAIC, Alaska Mental Health Trust, University of Alaska, and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, TWCA also offer salary negotiation training for women to help them know what questions to ask during an interview.

The initiative is currently working with the McDowell group to survey Alaska companies to determine which are best for working women and to help interested businesses learn what they need to do to hire and retain more quality female employees.

“We chose 2025 as a goal because, if you look at the rate of change right now, if everything stays the same it will be 2142 before women are paid equally,” says Laird. “That means that your great-great-great-granddaughter will be the first generation to receive equal pay. We can’t wait 125 years, so we chose to act now.”


Alaska Works Partnership

The Women in the Trades program run by the Alaska Works Partnership introduces women to different trades in the construction field.

Women in the Trades

The Women in the Trades program, run by the Alaska Works Partnership, is geared toward ensuring that women have the same job opportunities as men. Funded by the Department of Labor, the goal of the organization is to provide free, construction-related training specifically for women interested in a career in the construction trades.

“Women can take several different classes—carpentry, electric, welding, for example—to see what they want to pursue,” explains Keri Jones, program administrator, adding that the program is free and open to women over the age of eighteen. “Once they find their niche, we walk them through how to apply to an apprenticeship program and offer an interview skills class specific to the trade in which they’re interested. We can also help with funding for tools, clothes, and other job-related expenses.”

This assistance not only helps women who want to work in male-dominated trades but is beneficial to the businesses that hire them as well. “There are twenty-two apprenticeship programs in Alaska, from bricklayers to heavy equipment operators, and they want more women in their programs,” says Jones. “If women don’t apply, these companies miss out on really good apprentices and employees that are fully capable of doing the same job as men.”

Women interested in applying should visit www.Alaskaworks.org and click on the Women in the Trades tab.


Alaska SBA

Businesswomen attend a training provided by the Alaska Small Business Administration. 

Life After College

At the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), the Career Exploration & Services Department not only helps students prepare to enter the workforce but also helps alumni who are already in the field.

“We provide assistance with cover letters, resumes, mock interviews, job searching, career guidance, and internships, as well as hold several workshops during National Career Development Month in November,” says Employee Relations Specialist Danica Bryant. “We also host career fairs, including a Women in Law Enforcement Fair [sponsored by Women Police of Alaska with the support of Alaska State Troopers], and networking events like etiquette lunches.”

This fall UAA will for the first time hold a private event at retailer JCPenney for UAA students and recent graduates designed to help them augment their professional wardrobe by offering a 40 percent discount on professional clothing.

UAA students and alumni can use their Seawolves@Work (Powered by Handshake) account to register for workshops, make appointments with the career department, and search for jobs. “Handshake has a genius algorithm that does job searching for students based on their profiles and enables them to connect with employers,” says Bryant, who adds that since the system was put into place this past July, the department has conducted a total of 280 one-on-one appointments, and 1,602 students and alumni have activated accounts.

Even if a student has graduated, he or she can take advantage of UAA career programs. “Regardless of where they are in their careers, alumni can benefit from networking to help them with projects at their current jobs or make connections if they want to change jobs,” says Bryant. “Our workshops on salary negotiation and consumer security are also extremely helpful, as is our federal application workshop, which is great for anyone applying for a federal job or who wants to advance in their career.”

While many students begin to think about employability as they near graduation, UAA is working to prepare them from the start. “By 2020, UAA’s goal is to increase the number of graduates in high demand jobs by 2 percent per year,” says Bryant. “To help do this, we need to connect students with good career development throughout their college years, and not just in the last semester of their senior year.”


Political Aspirations

Women considering a career in politics can take advantage of the eight-month Alaska Women Ascend program.

“As a state legislator for ten years, I saw the difference that women made when they were at the table,” says Kay Brown, chair at Alaska Women Ascend. “Yet they are significantly underrepresented relative to their strength in the population. We wanted to give women the tools to be competitive and run successfully for public office.”

The program just finished its first cohort and is now accepting applications for the second round of training beginning in September. “While there was training available before, it was a weekend here or there,” says Brown. “We wanted to stretch it out so that we could help women grow and develop. Public speaking, for example, is not learned overnight; it takes multiple efforts to improve.”

The program costs $200 and is open to progressive women—registered Democrats, nonpartisans, or those undeclared. “We want to work with people who share our values—who believe in women’s rights to control our bodies, reproductive freedom, who support LGBTQ and nondiscrimination against all people, who support collective bargaining, public education, and more,” says Brown. “We want to see them carry these values into public office.”

The first cohort graduated more than sixty women, and a number of them have run for office or are taking active roles as managers or treasurers. “The program was very successful—a lot of women gained the confidence to step forward and run; in fact, we have about ten women running in the upcoming fall election,” says Brown.

While the program takes place in Anchorage, women throughout the state are welcome to take part online, and financial scholarships are available. Applications are available at www.akwomenascend.org.


Alaska Works Partnership

Students get a taste of the electrical trade in the Women in the Trades class run by the Alaska Works Partnership.

SBA to Establish New Women’s Business Center

This fall, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) will be providing a $150,000 grant to an eligible nonprofit to establish a new Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Alaska. Part of the national network of more than one hundred centers, the new center will offer one-on-one counseling, training, networking, workshops, and mentoring to women entrepreneurs on numerous business development topics including business start-up, access to capital, international trade opportunities, marketing, and federal contracting.

“Right now, there are a lot of entrepreneurs working from their kitchen tables who want to take it to the next level,” says Porzio. “We want to provide them all of the services they need to start or expand a business.

“One of main drivers behind the Alaska WBC is that SBA Administrator Linda McMahon wants us to spread the word about SBA services and become more recognized in the community,” she adds. “We want them to know that the SBA is alive and well in Alaska, and that we’re here to help.”

During fiscal year 2017, WBCs across the country provided assistance to nearly 150,000 entrepreneurs, resulting in 17,000 new business starts. In Alaska, the WBC will have a physical presence in a city yet-to-be chosen, and women living throughout the state will also have remote access to its programs.

“We hope to also develop partnerships with other organizations throughout the state to provide services in their areas,” says Porzio, adding that more information will be forthcoming on the website www.sba.gov/ak



Vanessa Orr is a freelance writer and former editor of the Capital City Weekly in Juneau.

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