By SARA ARTHURS
Since 1881, the American Association of University Women has been working to eliminate barriers for women and girls. They’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still work to be done.
That was the message AAUW’s national executive director and CEO, Linda Hallman, gave at the Findlay branch meeting Monday at Winebrenner Seminary.
Hallman touched upon topics such as how to include younger women and the important role men play in advocating for women’s issues, as well as the differences in how toys are marketed to young girls compared to young boys. She spoke about AAUW’s many efforts to eliminate barriers for women and girls, from promoting education to lobbying legislators.
AAUW started in Massachusetts as a small group of women who were college graduates. At the time women were often discouraged from pursuing education. Hallman made reference to an old report that said educated women were likely to have malformed offspring.
Today AAUW looks a lot different with the world of social networking and “it just is a changing world,” Hallman said.
Hallman said AAUW has supporters all over, such as a man in Germany who is not a member but sent a sizeable donation because he believes in AAUW’s mission.
Hallman said discussion of barriers for women and girls has to include men as well as women.
“We need to have men in this conversation,” she said.
She said many of the issues important to AAUW affect not just women but everyone.
Yvette Darden, president of the Sandusky branch, pointed out in a discussion after Hallman’s talk that AAUW does have male members.
AAUW has published several research papers and the next one, titled “Moving the Needle,” will focus on women in computer science and engineering. Having more women in these fields will make the United States more competitive, Hallman said.
“This is not just a women’s issue … It’s really a family issue,” Hallman said.
Women still aren’t in science-related careers as much as men, with the exception of the biological sciences, Hallman said. But she is seeing interest grow in programs aimed at middle school girls. At one program she attended, a room focused on hydrology was “packed” full of girls wanting to learn.
Hallman said that although there is “an inherent bias that still exists about what girls should do” and what fields they should go into, and even very young girls may pick up on this.
Hallman said a few years ago her staff brought her two boxes of Legos. The two boxes were aimed at children of the same age and sold for the same price. Yet the blue box, aimed at boys, had twice as many pieces and built a more complex item than the pink and purple box aimed at girls, she said.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” Hallman said.
Hallman said there are still “myriad” barriers to women’s and girls’ success but great strides have been made. More women are graduating from medical school and more women are going to college than ever before, she said.
Still, “you know we’ve got many, many more things to do,” she said.
AAUW’s public policy efforts include both registered lobbyists and a volunteer lobby corps that visits legislators to talk about issues of importance to AAUW, Hallman said. These issues include paycheck fairness, legal advocacy for those who have experienced discrimination and sexual assault in the military. Hallman, an Army veteran, said the last topic was particulary difficult for her.
She said AAUW and its branches should pay attention to an event’s impact rather than its outcome; that is, not focusing on how many people attend a particular event but on how the event affects them.
Hallman said there is a difference between an outcome and an impact. The number of people who came to an event or the amount of money made can be easily measured, and these numbers are important “but what I’m most concerned about is the impact,” she said. That is, with one recent event for girls student leaders, she was less interested in the number of girls who attended and more interested in what those girls went on to do because of the conference.
Hallman said AAUW can be whatever its members want to make it be.
“The future of AAUW is really helping women and girls everywhere to be all that they can possibly be,” she said.
Hallman said younger women and men can get involved with AAUW without necessarily becoming members.
“Just get engaged” if the mission “resonates” with you, she said.
Asked what she enjoys about her work, Hallman said she loves meeting people across the country.
“The staff (of AAUW) are incredible,” she said.
She said AAUW practices paycheck fairness, paying its female employees what its male employees earn. Some organizations may say they can’t afford this but truly they can’t afford not to, she said.
“It’s good business,” she said. “It’s the only way to do it.”
AAUW nationally gives away about $3.7 million a year, money which is available for things like scholarships because of the philanthropy of women like the members of the Findlay branch, Hallman said.
“National exists because you’re here… It bubbles up from the branch,” she said.
Hallman said when she visits branches such as Findlay’s she gains “perspective.” It involves “a push/pull of information” in that she is sharing information from the national organization with the local branch but also receiving information from them.
Hallman speaks on women’s issues to other organizations and recently attended the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. AAUW is concerned with women’s and girls’ issues not just in the United States but everywhere, she said.
Hallman said AAUW members, when asked what the organization does, should answer with the acronym PEARL, for Protect, Educate, Advocate, Research and Lead.
“Pearl,” she said. “It’s pretty simple, it’s easy.”
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