October 15, 2020

One Step At A Time

Photo credit: The 1971 edition of UVA’s yearbook, Corks and Curls, had a two-page spread about the coeducation of UVA. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Recently, the UVA Alumni Association hosted Retold, a virtual conference acknowledging the 50th anniversary of full coeducation (1970) and to celebrate the transformational impact of UVA women across the generations. As a proud member of Gen-X, I am amazed that this step toward full inclusion for women happened during my lifetime. My mother graduated from college in the early ’60s, when, by and large, women majored in education or nursing.

As part of the Retold event, I interviewed alumna Nancy Twine (Comm ’07), green beauty expert and the Founder and CEO of Briogeo, which is distributed at Sephora. Twine left a successful career on Wall Street to enter the risk-laden world of clean beauty entrepreneurship. In our conversation, we talked about how she found her inspiration, her approach to tackling challenges, the future of the clean beauty industry, and much more. Stay tuned for this recorded conversation to be posted for viewing.

Like so many working women, Twine is contributing to the U.S. economy. During the Great Recession, the participation of women in the workplace contributed significantly to the stabilization of the economy and supporting recovery. During the current downturn, working women are, by far, the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The disproportionate losses being absorbed by working women will likely erase a decade of progress, slow economic recovery, and shatter a generation of working women with young children. Due to the demands for childcare and educational support for school-aged children, women between the ages of 25 and 54 are leaving the workforce. Prior to COVID-19, the employment participation gap between men and women in this demographic was the narrowest it has been in history, and many predict that it will take generations to make up for the current losses.

In preparing to write this piece, I looked over the list of the women who matriculated in the School of Commerce from 1968 to 1977. Women graduated from McIntire earlier than 1970 because we accepted transfer students without regard to gender. The 158 women who graduated from the B. S. Program during this 10-year period represented 13.7% of the School’s graduates. These women went on to be CPAs, executives, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, managers, and more.

Today in the McIntire School, the Class of 2022—our third-years—is composed of 50% women. Throughout our history, the highest percentage of representation has been in the high 40s, so this is a new height. The wage gap for women graduates has declined over time, and the women of the Class of 2020 commanded average starting salaries that exceeded that of their male peers by 7%. In 2019, women became half of the U.S. college-educated workforce.

The challenge that we as a society continue to face is: how do we provide supports for working parents and other working caregivers that contribute to equitable professional outcomes? Equality—equal access to opportunity—is the end goal, and equity—providing individual supports that address barriers—is the means. The contribution of women to the economy is far too valuable to not develop mechanisms that reduce barriers to workforce participation.

As we celebrate 50 years of coeducation at the University of Virginia, let us also reflect on the fact that there remains more work to do. Let us consider how our businesses, institutions, and society at large can allocate resources to support working parents—from affordable childcare and health insurance to paid parental leave after childbirth. Mechanisms such as these go a long way to minimize the adverse downstream effects that occur when women exit the workforce and their children grow up in families that are underresourced. As we are unwavering in our belief that commerce is a catalyst for change, it is imperative to remember that when we put supports in place to help make each individual in our community successful, then our entire community will be uplifted.

Photo credit: The 1971 edition of UVA’s yearbook, Corks and Curls, had a two-page spread about the coeducation of UVA. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

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