In search of equality: Women push to get their fair share of pay, board seats

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Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
From left, Scarlet Morgan, 56, of Oakland, Vanessa German, 30, of Highland Park, Geraldine Scott, 16 and her mom Carolyn Carter, 37, of Garfield rally on Tuesday in Market Square for an "end to the gender wage gap in Southwestern Pennsylvania."
By Dan Fitzpatrick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Women and Girls Foundation Director Heather Arnet appealed to the "grass roots" and the "tree tops" yesterday in her ongoing campaign to close the area's gender pay gap and place more women on corporate boards, starting with a fiery rally in Market Square and ending with a private discussion involving some of Pittsburgh's most powerful women.

To the hundreds who showed up for the lunchtime "Equal Pay Day" rally, some carrying "Will Work for Equality" signs distributed by the nonprofit foundation, Ms. Arnet said in southwestern Pennsylvania, women earn only 69 cents for every dollar that a man makes, trailing national and state averages. "If we don't fix this wage gap, we will leave," she said.

"It is not a woman's issue," added Ms. Arnet, who also is running for a Pittsburgh School Board seat. "It is an economic development issue."

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, speaking to the crowd, said he had not made many female appointments since taking office, citing two additions, but pledged to "diversifying" city government wherever possible.

"I want you to know we will work for equal pay," said the mayor, clutching one of the cardboard "Will Work for Equality" signs.

Ms. Arnet's tone was softer, but no less direct, later in the afternoon as she and The Heinz Endowments President Max King led a private two-hour discussion with more than 30 people interested in improving the percentage of women who serve on corporate boards in the Pittsburgh area. A recent Post-Gazette analysis of publicly traded companies found that women account for just 9 percent of the board positions at 50 local companies, trailing national averages. Twenty companies, or 39 percent, have no women on their boards.

Ms. Arnet tried to build support last year for a campaign called "Zero No More," hoping to pressure more companies to hire female directors, especially those with none. But the effort did not attract the support it needed to get going.

The meeting yesterday in the offices of the region's second-largest philanthropy, one chaired by Teresa Heinz, was an attempt to jump-start the conversation again and agree on a formal approach to the problem. Among the prominent women in the room were Chatham College President Esther Barazzone, Republican fund-raiser and philanthropist Elsie Hillman, former Pittsburgh Cultural Trust President Carol Brown, Buhl Foundation President Doreen Boyce and Houston Harbaugh attorney Sara Davis Buss.

Pittsburgh's reputation on this issue around the country "is not good," said Mr. King. "In too many ways, we are wasting one-half of our population in this community."

Ms. Arnet suggested the group consider six ideas: create an award ceremony to honor the more diverse companies; become shareholders in less diverse companies and use that stake to speak out at annual meetings or other forums; boycott the worst-performing companies; initiate a "social marketing campaign" that inspires change; appeal one-on-one to CEOs and board chairs; and hire executive search firms that make the consideration of female candidates a priority.

University of Pittsburgh Professor Douglas Branson, author of "No Seat at the Table: How Corporate Governance and Law Keep Women out of the Boardroom," told the group, "You're not thinking outside the box." A public relations campaign will not work, he said. "You are David going against Goliath."

One option, he said, is to get more women on the nominating committees, which would give them input into the selection process. Then, "Maybe you'll shame them into playing catch-up ball."

But many others, including Ms. Buss, liked the idea of making noise about poor-performing local companies -- perhaps with a boycott. One suggestion made by several was to target Dick's Sporting Goods -- which has no women on its board, yet relies on the goodwill of customers to buy its products. Such a "public shame" campaign would attract media attention, argued Ms. Barazzone, who also acknowledged that she might not be able to be at the front of the picket line given her leadership position at the college.

Be aggressive, advised several women at the meeting. "If we are going after it," said Diana Bucco, who runs a Downtown-based nonprofit assistance group known as the Forbes Funds, "we have to win."

Ms. Arnet hoped to emerge with an action plan yesterday, but that did not happen in the two hours allotted for the meeting. Instead, the participants agreed to keep the discussion going via e-mail and made it clear that more consideration would have to be given to what happens next.

"I assume this is just the beginning," said Ms. Buss.

Change, said Ms. Boyce, "will take time."


Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752.


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