WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — “Who opens a business during this time?”
It’s a question Lanice Wilson often asks herself about starting a juice bar in the middle of a pandemic. Her answer: She had a gut feeling this was a spot she needed to establish, and what better time to focus on immune health?
“The Juice Joint has been not just a space for mentoring and collaboration, but it’s like a hub for people to come back and network,” Ms. Wilson said. “I’m so conscious of bringing people forward with me.”
The president and chief operating officer of The Juice Joint on the Wilmington Riverfront opened her site in July 2020 and was kept afloat by grants from the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund and True Access Capital’s First State Community Loan Fund.
However, nothing was as supportive as the “sisterhood” she found with other female business owners.
“In my experience as a Black woman, it’s been a challenge,” Ms. Wilson said. “We tend to overcompensate and work harder because we feel like we have to prove something. I can be standing right next to someone or working as hard as someone and not get the same salary.”
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According to 2022 data from the Delaware Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy, women in Delaware make an average of 83% of men’s median earnings. Females of color face a worse deficit: Black and Hispanic women make 68 cents for every one dollar a White man earns, while White women earn 82 cents per dollar. And yet, a study completed in 2018 by Hive, a New York-based productivity platform, found that, not only do women complete more work on average, but they are assigned 55% of all tasks.
Take Tamara Earl, who went to Johnson & Wales University North Miami for her culinary degree and then worked in a hotel/restaurant environment, where she said it was extremely hard to earn respect from male counterparts.
When the cost of living in Miami became too expensive, she relocated to Delaware and started Delectablez, a line of vegan food like flatbreads, pizza, pancakes and baked goods. Ms. Earl connected with Ms. Wilson via Instagram and now sells her products wholesale at The Juice Joint.
“A lot of people don’t expect you to be resilient,” Ms. Earl said. “To keep going and to overcome obstacles. I don’t know what I would do without (Ms. Wilson). Anything I asked her, she would give it to me if she had the answer.”
Ms. Wilson reiterated that small-business women have a thirst for teamwork.
“If we don’t support each other, who will?” she said. “The thought that I work so hard to get here, and I can’t afford to let someone come and knock me off my game, we don’t buy into that here. We are all confident, and we are all talented. We all have something to give, and we learn and feed off each other, and I’m so grateful to have this sisterhood.”
To squeeze out the importance of the First State’s female-owned businesses for Women’s History Month, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Earl were joined by Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., and the new district director of the Delaware Small Business Administration, Michelle Harris, on Wednesday at The Juice Joint.
“That sisterhood network is information-sharing,” Ms. Harris said. “Everybody has different access points to get that information, but when we are in a group together, speaking to and sharing with each other, that’s where you can really start to benefit each other.”
Rep. Blunt Rochester added that women have had to band together and support each other throughout history.
“The challenges of figuring out the system are still there,” she said. “So even when folks like us get into these places (of power and leadership), it is important for us to try to find ways to connect people.”
Connecting people is Sara Crawford’s everyday job as the program director for the Women’s Business Center at True Access Capital. She said the way to address the gender wage gap is to ensure that women have access to funding and that their business models are sustainable and strong.
“That’s also how our communities do job creation,” Ms. Crawford said. “That’s another thing that is really strong about small businesses that people don’t talk about. When someone has a great vision, they don’t just do it for themselves, they’re impacting someone else’s family and putting food on their tables. You want to make sure your family unit is strong, and they’re safe, and they’re getting the income that they need, so that they are higher on the wage scale.”
Rep. Blunt Rochester said that passing legislation is key to addressing the wage gap, too.
“We have to make sure that there is transparency in how people are getting paid,” she said. “And the reality in the market is people are having a hard time finding people to work. But if you want to recruit me, then pay me.” Legislation that will increase Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 was passed last summer.
Melanie Ross Levin, director of OWAA, said that minimum wage can be classified as a women’s rights issue.
“There’s some legislation that people don’t think is a women’s issue, like minimum wage, but the vast majority of minimum-wage earners are women,” she said. “I also emphasize an intersectional view on everything. I don’t just want data on women. I want data on Black women and Asian women and Hispanic women.”
Caregiving is another factor in workforce inequity, according to Ms. Ross Levin. She said that because of the disproportionate level of those types of responsibilities at home, the high cost of child care and the lack of paid leave, female caregivers are less likely to stay in the workforce.
There are “good strides” in Delaware, however, she said. Legislation passed in the last several years include bills that require state employees to receive equal pay for equal work without regard to gender; that ban wage secrecy by prohibiting employers from preventing employees from disclosing his or her wages; and that prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action against an individual based on their reproductive health care decisions and responsibilities.
Most notably and most recently, the Healthy Delaware Families Act would create a statewide insurance program that would allow Delaware employees to access up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave through the state’s paid-leave trust fund. That bill has passed the state Senate and is awaiting debate in the House of Representatives’ Health & Human Development Committee.
However, there is more to be done, Ms. Ross Levin noted.
“We’re always told that nothing is more important than early-childhood education, but early-childhood educators make close to minimum wage, the majority with no benefits,” she added. “And in terms of their training, they are required more training than a truck driver, but a truck driver makes a lot more money. So it’s not about training. It’s the value we put on women’s work.
“Caregivers are discriminated against and face barriers that result in lower pay. There’s the maternity wage penalty, where mothers make less than fathers, and (that) greatly impacts a family’s ability to earn enough money.”
Nicole Neri, regional administrator for the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, explained that, even in fields evenly divided among men and women, such as higher-education professors, and in occupations where women fill most roles, such as nursing or teaching, females do not make up a majority or even an equal part of senior staff and higher-paid positions.
And those differences can begin during the hiring process. According to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both male and female faculty members in science fields judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than a similar male student, and she was offered a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring.
This points to a trend in occupational segregation, where women are concentrated in certain occupations paying lower wages. These female-concentrated fields were also hit hardest by the pandemic.
“In 2020, women saw more negative effects in employment in part because of this overrepresentation in entertainment, retail, education and child care,” Ms. Neri said. “Women make up 93% of the child care field but only 3% of electricians. We really want to create more equitable education and training opportunities for women in their nontraditional fields.”
A recent report from the Department of Labor found that segregation by industry and occupation cost Black women an estimated $39.3 billion and Hispanic women an estimated $46.7 billion in lower wages compared to White men in 2019. Ms. Neri estimates those numbers to be much higher now, since the fields that suffered the most during COVID-19 are dominated by females, concluding that those women, especially women of color, were most impacted by the pandemic’s toll on the workforce.
Those jobs haven’t been counted in post-pandemic wage data because they have been left empty, so Ms. Neri said officials won’t truly know the current state of the wage gap until those women return to work.
Furthermore, unequal pay remains pervasive even in spite of all-time-high college-enrollment numbers for women and all-time lows for men.
According to the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, spring enrollment for men across all sectors decreased by 2.8% in 2019, 1.8% in 2020 and 5.5% in 2021. Women’s enrollment decreased by 0.8% in 2019, increased by 0.5% in 2020 and decreased by 2% in 2021. At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, with men at 40.5%, according to the data.
There is also evidence that women are completing their degrees at a higher percentage than men are. U.S. Department of Education data shows that 65% of women who matriculated at U.S. four-year universities in 2012 had graduated by 2018, compared with 59% of their male counterparts.
“I have multiple degrees, and I am a certified project manager,” Ms. Wilson said. “But guess what? Now, I make smoothies for a living, and I have never been happier.”
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