THIS IS A HISTORIC moment for women leaders in the Commonwealth. As Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll reach the milestone of 100 days in office, collectively we must address a major challenge Healey referenced in her inaugural address. She noted: “Our companies are eager to expand, but they can’t find workers with the skills they need. Communities and people are yearning to grow and thrive, but they haven’t been given the tools to do it.”
Healey stated that Massachusetts’ greatest strength is our people. However, many of these people face major barriers. Women, and particularly women of color, face the most significant barriers—in 2019, 10.3 percent of all women, and 17.6 percent of Black women, lived below the poverty line in Massachusetts.
Our volunteer-led and managed organization advocates for critical investment in women and girls by supporting nonprofits that offer educational, financial, and skills-based training. By giving women and girls—tomorrow’s workforce—the resources they need to succeed, we can address the shortage of skilled workers soon and for years to come.
Bringing more women and girls into the workforce has a multitude of benefits. Women are key to a thriving economy; they re-invest 90 percent of their incomes in their families and communities, creating a “multiplier effect” and positive economic returns across generations. As Healey stated, “Tens of thousands of jobs in health care, transportation, and technology are going unfilled,” providing a unique opportunity to boost these critical fields and give women the chance to help build our state’s future.
The challenge is that girls typically have their first experiences of inequity during their most impressionable early years. Research shows that educators often underestimate girls’ math abilities, and these biases may contribute to approximately half of the gender achievement gap. In fact, between the ages of 8 and 14, girls confidence levels fall by 30 percent, making them less likely to pursue STEM jobs or succeed in these traditionally male-dominated fields. As a result, women and girls face a massive underrepresentation in STEM, one of our state’s most vital sectors, where new talent is desperately needed.
Role models are critical in building girls’ confidence and empowering them to explore careers in fields they might have considered out of their reach. And, role models continue to be important into adulthood. Peer networks and professional development circles for women at all career stages foster mentorships and build communities of support, which are integral to women in this workforce.
A lack of access to educational opportunities and resources also keep women from pursuing STEM careers, effectively shutting them off to economic opportunity that would help them thrive. And the COVID-19 pandemic did not help—women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to crisis; as of August 2021, female employment rate remained 5.7 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels, compared to 1percent for male workers.
The Women’s Foundation of Boston (WFBoston) has granted over $4 million since 2018 to local nonprofits working to close the gender-based achievement gap, but this only scratches the surface of the need for resources directed to local women and girls.
In 2021, there were nearly 8,800 nonprofits in Greater Boston, only 368, or 4.3 percent, of which solely serve women and girls. That’s why WFBoston commissioned our first Greater Boston Women and Girls Philanthropy Index in 2022, which confirmed that only 2.16 percent of all charitable contributions in Greater Boston are going to organizations that serve women and girls, and the majority of these recipients are colleges and universities. This leaves few resources for nonprofits that provide direct services to lift women out of poverty or train girls on skills for the future.
Healey’s tax relief proposal offers some good news for women, including an increase in the Child and Dependent Tax Credit to $600, and her first state budget proposes programs to prepare all students for a changing economy. This is a start, but government alone cannot close the massive opportunity gap. It is critical that all of us invest in programs that introduce girls to an array of subjects, interests, and careers, and then support them as they explore and excel in those fields. We must seize this moment to ensure that girls can meaningfully participate in tomorrow’s workforce.
Christina Gordon is the co-founder and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Boston, or WFBoston. She has degrees from MIT and Brandeis University and previously worked in various positions at Wellington Management.