Creating an Equitable Culture (and Future) with the Greater Cincinnati Women’s Fund
Q&A WITH REDI CINCINNATI’S TALENT DIRECTOR + REGIONAL TALENT PARTNER
REDI Cincinnati’s Talent Director, Adam Jones, had an opportunity to speak with The Women’s Fund of Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Executive Director, Meghan Cummings, on how they are supporting regional companies on a path towards a more equitable future (and culture) with their bold, solution-based Employer Toolkit and additional research and programming.
Take a listen to the full Q&A, below.
1. Can you tell us more about the Women’s Fund and your work in the Cincinnati region?
The Women’s Fund is part of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and we work on women’s economic self-sufficiency issues within the Cincinnati region. We do this work at a systems-level. We look at the ecosystem of the entire region and ask 1. how we can produce research that digs into our region’s most complex issues, 2. how do we catalyze the community around the research so that people can make a meaningful change in their own institutions, and 3. how do we drive systemic change around the issues affecting women’s economic self-sufficiency?
Our goal is to create a region where women can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We know when women are activated in our region, everyone benefits. So, we put women at the center of our work but we want this to be an economic engine for all of us.
2. The Women’s Fund has an incredible toolkit for the businesses, can you tell us more about that kit?
The Employer Toolkit is an exciting project that we have been working on for four years now. We never set out to create this toolkit – it evolved from a project we were involved in called “Raise the Floor”. This project was a partnership with 4C for Children and Gateway Community and Technical College and a few employers. This project was designed to get more women into manufacturing careers. When we started the project there were about 600 manufacturing job openings in Northern Kentucky. And like you know, when there are that many openings, companies can’t take on additional work – so it hurts us all. We had this idea that we would get more women interested and trained for these regional manufacturers.
We had some success in meeting women’s holistic needs in getting them prepared for those manufacturing jobs. A few months after the first women were placed, we realized that they weren’t lasting. We sat down with the CEOs and HR folks to ask them what was going on. We asked, “were they not trained well”? The HR manager said, “No, these are some of our best-trained employees but the issue is that we have a 90 day probation period”. Although employees accrued PTO during the first 90 days, it was frowned upon to take time off. It made the company question the employee’s commitment to the role.
Here we are, we have a tight labor market, we are finally getting people to fill these jobs, they are qualified and well trained but we have this policy that employees couldn’t take time off in those first 90 days which was running counter to the goals of the company. We asked if this policy was creating unintended negative consequences for the workforce and the company’s goals. We started with that 90-day policy that was ultimately affecting single moms who had a sick child during those first 90 days. We then broadened it to think, are there other concrete policies that companies could be aware of that would help them improve the outcomes in their companies?
For many companies, they struggle with attraction, retention, and engagement. We heard those three same words from every company interview that we did. We started to focus on those pain points of the companies and how we could reimagine those workplace policies to be very inclusive across the socio-economic spectrum.
When you think about it, most of our policies and benefits were created by and for the middle and upper-class. We need to have a new eye to how those policies affect our front-line workers. Over the years, after talking with dozens of employers and employees, we came up with the Employer Toolkit, which is a collection of about sixty policies. The Employer Toolkit is a searchable database that is intended to help employers retain their front-line workers. It works for men and women, it works across geographies, whether your company is small or big – there is something in there for every employer.
3. These HR policies were written by legal HR experts, is that correct?
Yes, when we identified what the policies were that needed to be changed – and we did that after a ton of research and interviews – we had three major buckets. Those buckets were around childcare, transportation, and flexible and predictable scheduling.
We had an employer lawyer help us with all of those policies. The idea is that if an employer finds a policy that they want to implement, they can literally copy and paste the policy from the toolkit making a few minor adjustments for their work environment. It is handbook-ready.
The Employer Toolkit has gotten a lot of traction, we’ve worked with the Federal Reserve in Atlanta to present this to their business community, we’ve worked with regional companies and partners like the Workforce Innovation Center and Queen City Certified to make sure that these policies get a lot of exposure. Not only are these policies good for business, but they also are great for families and employees; which has a broader effect across our community. Businesses can be a critical partner in changing the outcome of a lot of these big, complex problems that we often think are disassociated from business, such as poverty elevation. Companies can have a huge impact on that.
4. That leads us to the next question on how employers can be good partners. We have seen concerning data around women (and men) leaving the workforce due to COVID-19. Can you explain why that might be and how employers can better support women and men during unprecedented times?
It has been a very, very concerning year, Adam. Just as we were making really meaningful gains in women’s workforce participation – not only were all those gains erased but add a few hundred thousand jobs to that devastating number.
A few things happened; we had a perfect storm with COVID. But, I’d like to go back to a few years before COVID. We can’t paint this rosy picture of what was going on pre-COVID. COVID exposed the inadequacies of the system – we failed the stress test when COVID came along. One of the main things that were already volatile was the fact that we have a hugely disproportionate number of women in low-wage work, not only women but women of color and people of color. When this pandemic hit it had a disproportionate effect on those that are most vulnerable in our society.
Another reason was childcare. Childcare is an issue that as a society we need to take much more seriously. Childcare is an infrastructure issue just like roads, the legal system, and any other part of our society. We need to get better at making childcare accessible and quality childcare more affordable.
In the first month or two of COVID what we saw was childcare being put to the brink. Childcare centers were closing down due to safety concerns or ratios were changing drastically. We saw kids home from school and many essential workers weren’t allowed the ability to work from home. That was paired with generally, a two-parent working family, with generally the woman is making less than the man. So, you have this pressure cooker situation that is if you need childcare at home and mom is making less than dad, mom dropped out of the workforce.
In other situations, you have a single mom working as an essential worker and now her child is at home, she doesn’t have a choice but to cut back hours. We’ve talked with many women in the hospitality industry whose roles were back or eliminated early in the pandemic and they are having a hard time meeting basic needs and expenses. We talked to women in April 2020 that had no idea how they were going to pay rent in May 2020.
When we have this preponderance of low-wage work in our economy (a third of the jobs in our region don’t pay a living wage) and those jobs are cut off, people don’t have a safety net. The confluence of factors that happened early on in COVID helped us understand that we absolutely must reimagine our economy in different ways as we move on after COVID. It wasn’t working before, we failed the stress test, and now we need to reimagine and have bold ideas for what we can do next so that we aren’t in this situation again.
5. We need bold solutions. The Women’s Fund does much more than just the Employer Toolkit, can you share additional programs that you have?
We think women need to be in the room where all decisions are made and so at the Women’s Fund, we work to elevate women’s voices – and not just women’s voices but voices that we don’t usually hear from. We want to hear from those that are making minimum wage and dependent on public transportation – we think that their input is critically important. We can’t possibly make broad and well-informed decisions unless everyone is at the table. This crosses a lot of areas for us. We make sure that the front-line worker’s voices are included in the policies of the Employer Toolkit, we also have a program called Appointed.
Appointed gets more women appointed to civic boards and commissions across our region. Civic boards and commissions are appointed through the government and they make really important decisions all across our community like zoning regulations, mental health services, quality of water – there are over 300 boards in our eight-county service area. What we found when we audited these boards and commissions is that only 30% of these seats are held by women. In fact, in one county only 12% of women held positions on the board. We think women need to be at these decision-making bodies and women of all races and all backgrounds need to be there.
We created a database where people can sign up and tell us about all their professional and lived experience and then we monitor all the vacancies of these boards and connect qualified women to board opportunities. Our goal with Appointed is to reach gender parity on all these boards and commissions in 2030. We’d be the only region in the United States that has put such an intentional effort to reach gender parity on our commissions and civic boards.
We know businesses make better decisions when their board of directors and management is diverse and the government should be the same way. We can make decisions that are better for everyone in our community when all those voices are at the decision-making table.
6. If companies have questions, what should they do next?
Yes, we love to connect with companies, and companies can get involved in so many different ways. They can take practices from the Employer Toolkit and put those into play, or they can recruit people in their company to join Appointed.
I would say that some of the issues we have in our community seem so large, so complex that companies question how they can make a difference or their employees can make a difference. I am here to say, you can. You can choose that path that leaves inequitable practices in the dust and create a new chapter that is inclusive and equitable (and gives you business returns as well).
You can visit our website to get involved at http://www.CincinnatiWomensFund.org. We love talking to companies, we will talk to any company whether they want to understand our research or add their name to our advocacy list in the region or nationally. If you want to do some more internal work on pay equity that’s a really important place to start, we can help with that.
7. If you have one takeaway for companies what would it be?
If you want different results, we have to have different practices in our companies.
Most employers have realized that employees aren’t going to come to their door perfectly formed, with perfect attendance, and childcare and transportation figured out perfectly every day. Just as we have a growth mindset in leadership, we have to have a growth mindset in our policies. I’m not saying it is okay to not show up to work, I’m saying that we have to work harder as employers to understand our employees and their very specific needs. When we work to transform our policies to make sure that the needs of our employees are met, we will see a positive transformation and cycle for business success.