Status of Women In Michigan After the Passage of Proposal Two

By: Judy Karandjeff, Executive Director of Women’s Leadership Commission

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about Michigan women after the passage of proposal 2.

First, I would like to point out--that while we are having discussions about racism--we aren't talking about sexism--and my job as director of the Michigan Women's Commission is to do just that!

Sexism is any attitude, action, or institutional structure which systematically subordinates a person or group because of their sex.

Of the more than 10 million people in Michigan, women account for almost 51% of the population and 47% of the workforce, but we aren't achieving equality in any of the indicators.

We still earn 69. 8 cents for every dollar that a man earns in Michigan--in fact it will take us more than 15 months -until April 22 (Equal Pay Day) this year to earn what a man earned in 2007.

We vote in the general elections, but we are 18% of the Michigan House and 23% of the Senate. At the county level--23% of our county board of commissions have no woman serving. This is in spite of having our first woman governor.

According to the Michigan Women's Leadership Index, 41 of the 100 largest publicly-held companies headquartered in Michigan had no woman on the board of directors and 69 of the 100 companies had no women in one of the top-five compensated officer positions.

In our colleges and universities, we have more women than men enrolled in post secondary institutions. However, a recent study by the AAUW Education Foundation found that just one year after college graduation women earn only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Additionally these women aren't prepared for the high-tech economy.

In 2005, women earned 14.5% of the bachelors in computer and information sciences; 22.5% of the bachelors in engineering were awarded in MI Public universities.

In businesses, 29.6% of all Michigan firms are women-owned. And we know from data gathered in Grand Rapids a year after proposal 2 the number of women subcontractors working on city projects fell from 18 percent to just six percent, almost a 70 percent decrease. At the same time the dollar value of subcontracts with white male owned companies soared more than 500 percent.

We also know women face unlawful discrimination. In the year Oct 1, 2006 to Sept 30, 2007, there were 1274 women who filed claims with MDCR based on sex discrimination. That means every day approximately 4 women in Michigan voiced concern to MDCR, 13% of all claims filed that year.

And these numbers have nothing to do with some of our attitudes such as our sons need to earn more money because they are supporting a family. However, we know 49% of MI women are not married. (2006 census data)

And then there are the subtle ways we try to control women lives by limiting reproductive choices.

Recently I had the opportunity to work on the report to the Governor on the impact of proposal 2 (the anti-affirmative action ballot proposal) on state government. It was sad to realize how few programs for women were left due to budget cuts and previous administrations.

Regarding the best and worst practices:

  1. For programs to improve career choices for girls, I have heard of school districts that won't allow AAUW and other groups to host technology camps to encourage young girls to look at these careers in spite of the recommendation in the report that education programs be defined as "matriculating to a degree." We know Microsoft continues to run such camps but we lose something locally. On the flip side we applaud those districts that still host those programs.
  2. For programs to get more women in politics, we know a group filed an inquiry in MI as to whether or not the program "Run, Girl, Run" that we and other groups sponsored violated the campaign finance law. The Secretary of State said no and now thankfully we have the new White House Project in Michigan that can use private funds to encourage and train more women to run for public offices and no public funds will be used.
  3. For programs supporting women in business, we have Governor Granholm's Buy Michigan First in the Department of Management and Budget to encourage Michigan businesses, including underrepresented vendor groups, to register with the State as vendors and bid on more than 1,200 contract opportunities valued at over $19 billion. And while we know this program is on the web site so it casts a wide net we know we can do more targeted outreach to women owned businesses which is still allowed. Hopefully Grand Rapids and other communities can do the same.
  4. For scholarships for women, there have been scholarships to encourage women to enroll in certain institutions and in certain fields and those which were in place prior to the effective date of proposal 2 (the antiaffirmative action ballot proposal) remain in place. However, donors interested in establishing new preferential scholarships, are banned from doing so. Thanks to some community foundations and the new Imagine Fund, scholarships for women can still be available.
  5. For programs improving the quality of life for MI women, two Michigan Counties have looked particularly hard at the data we have prepared on the status of women in their counties and have decided this year to establish women's commissions--Oakland and Macomb. We already had one in Ingham County. We look forward to hearing their recommendations for action.

We know state government and other institutions such as MSU and Central Michigan University have done studies to see what the impact of proposal 2 would be and that process has raised awareness and highlighted what can be legally done which is good. It is important for others to do so. Most of all, I think the best practices require all of us to look at ways to bring along girls and women whether it is through mentoring, encouraging young women to look at non-traditional fields, adding them to our networks as well as our board rooms, or sharing our own stories. Ward Connerly and constitutional amendments can't stop these activities. To develop an inclusive community we need to assure women are represented-- and that sexism be eliminated. As Shirley Chisholm said, “Tremendous amounts of talent are being lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”