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'Glass Cutters' Target Proverbial Ceiling
Women who work for Uncle Sam should also try cultivating a certain specialized trade that can help more of their number thrive in the workforce, according to one guest speaker at "Sharing Our Success at One HHS," the agency forum held July 20 during the 2004 national training program hosted by Federally Employed Women (FEW) in Nashville.
"Through mentoring we can begin the process of a 'glass cutting' program," suggested forum guest presenter Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NICHD deputy director. "We can become a network, a powerful sisterhood that can destroy the glass ceiling forever. Let's call ourselves glass cutters."
The forum a collaborative effort coordinated by NIH's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management combined two guest presenters and two panel discussions to address four topics related to personal well-being and professional advancement. The theme of this year's FEW training program was "Sounds of Success." For the first time in several years, the NIH Federal Women's Program and the Bethesda chapter of FEW collaborated to plan a seminar that included representatives from HHS agencies, highlighting the department's "One HHS" concept.
With more than "10,000 women in the NIH workforce alone," noted Lawrence Self, OEODM director, "it's important that we have exchanges like this on quality of worklife, women's health and career development and mentoring so that we make sure our roadmap will take us where we want to go."
HHS deputy assistant secretary for health Dr. Wanda Jones, director of the department's Office of Women's Health, pointed out that HHS employs more than 67,000 people, and is one of the largest federal agencies in the nation. A 17-year veteran HHS'er, she recalled how the department's quality of worklife initiative was galvanized in late 1996 with efforts to address the needs of the "sandwich generation," employees looking for ways to manage their careers while also providing care for aging parents and growing children. Jones said the Employee Assistance Program and organizations like the Recreation and Welfare Association can help make worklife more livable and productive for many.
The forum also offered discussions on tackling menopause symptoms, hormone therapy and other wellness and fitness issues.
Highlighting the emphasis in the last decade or so on women gaining parity with men in career achievement particularly within the scientific community Maddox discussed the importance of mentoring and offered practical advice on professional advancement.
"Even though there may be different tracks and there may be many different approaches to how one is mentored or to developing one's career," she said, "the messages are the same. The infrastructure of developing a career and keeping it on track is the same, no matter what type of career you're pursuing."
She offered recommendations for empowering and maintaining a strong workforce for women as well as men: Institute new recruitment and retention efforts "aggressive, targeted strategies are key"; assure comparable salaries; promote effective mentoring systems; improve the work environment by offering such amenities as day care and elder care programs as well as lactation facilities; support career flexibility ("the tenure clock can be interrupted"); heighten the visibility of women; and increase accountability by tracking the success of programs with evaluation tools.
"Even though we have made enormous strides in improving the workplace for women," she concluded, "we know that there is much more to do. The federal workforce is not something that stays the same. It's dynamic. It keeps moving. So the things we've been saying over the years need to be repeated for new employees and women entering the workforce."
Forum organizers hope to repeat the success of the event, and to keep the momentum going among all the department's components.
"This was a powerful meeting, rich with how-to tools for self-determination being in charge of your health and your career, as well as advice from the best in the business," said NIH Federal Women's Program Manager Rose Pruitt, OEODM senior advisor for outreach and recruitment and chair of the HHS agency forum planning committee. "This event for women was a well-rounded and meaningful forum because of the participation of women throughout the department."
For more information about the forum, visit the NIH Federal Women's Program web page at http://oeodm.od.nih.gov/fwp/ and access the forum video for lunchtime training.
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