MONTPELIER — Business leaders, pols and others joined Tuesday at the State House to highlight efforts aimed at improving the work and economic lives of girls and young women across the state.
The event, organized by Vermont Works for Women, was a chance for the Task Force on Young Women and the Vermont Economy to showcase nine recommendations they generated during nearly 20 meetings in the past six months.
Now, ahead of the 2014 legislative session, the task force is launching a “Change the Story” campaign to address challenges identified in a study released in May.
That study, “Enough Said: Why We Should Listen and What We Can Do,” identified several barriers young women face. Among them were few allies and role models, lack of personal finance skills, peer aggression and limited exposure to career opportunities.
Task force chairwoman Linda Tarr-Whelan said the study provided an opportunity, but was “really something that was depressing as well.”
The 29-member task force includes representatives from diverse sectors by design, she said.
“We really felt that we needed different kinds of perspectives,” she said. “We needed business, we needed nonprofits, we needed community leaders, we needed government — because that’s what it’s going to take to make a difference on these kinds of problems that we’ve unearthed.”
Some of the recommendations announced Tuesday include:
incorporating personal finance into statewide educational standards with incentives for school districts to do so before 2018;
initiating a statewide conversation about peer aggression to build awareness and develop the capacity of youth and adults to prevent it both in and out of schools;
and encouraging employers to pursue additional strategies to recruit young women for internships and jobs where they are currently underrepresented.
Gov. Peter Shumlin praised the efforts of the task force Tuesday and offered his support in helping the state’s girls and young women find equal footing with their male peers.
“As the father of two extraordinary daughters, I want to ensure that this report actually becomes reality,” he said. “That we get rid of the wage gap. That we get rid of any form of discrimination of equity. And that we ensure that Vermont is the state where women prosper, have a bright future, make a great living living in the best possible state of the 50 states.”
The recommendations outlined Tuesday will ensure that young women have mentors and internships and opportunities “at all levels,” Shumlin said.
“Together, let’s put an end to the wage disparity, let’s break down the barriers for women that prevent them from moving into the jobs that makes such a difference to a brighter future,” he said.
Mount Mansfield Union High School senior Annalee Beaulieu drew the loudest applause for her remarks inside the packed Cedar Creek room. She noted a “prevailing notion among many that equality between men and women has already been reached.”
But there is plenty work left to do, she said, encouraging others to take part in the campaign.
“It’s far from over and it won’t be over until every little girl is told she has leadership skills, not that she is bossy or mean,” Beaulieu said.
“It won’t be over until every 11-year-old girl that is being bullied is given the tools and allies she needs to stop the problem, not just be told by an equally helpless adult that it’s simply a part of growing up,” she said.
“And it will not be over until every teenage girl has the information she needs to go confidently in the direction of her future, not be blinded by uncertainty.”
Tiffany Bluemle, executive director of Vermont Works for Women, said success will require a “cultural shift,” but people can do several small things to help. She urged parents to include their daughters in activities that will expose them to new things.
“There are things that you and I can do right now that can make a difference,” she said.
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