November Director’s Report


A letter from the Director, Kim Shumpert

Just last month we were asking ourselves if fall was really on its way or not. Wow! What a difference a month makes. Between community events, kids’ sports, football and Halloween, we are looking at October in the rear view mirror. 

October was a big month for us here at CWLI. Our team has been working hard to compile and evaluate information we have been quietly collecting for the last 18 months. Since I started in Spring 2018, our team has hosted more than a dozen listening sessions (focus groups), multiple partner interviews, and a member survey. Additionally, we have collected multiple state and national data points around women’s issues as they relate to economic and workforce development. 

All of this effort has been motivated by trying to understand a few if/then scenarios driven by what the data is telling us. 

For example…

If women are a nucleus for economic and social vitality, then why aren’t we investing more in their leadership?

If communities are more productive, more profitable and more appealing when women have an equitable voice at the table, then why don’t more women have an equitable voice at the table and equitable wages?

If barriers to helping women access decision-making spaces exist, then what should be done about it to ensure women are being mobilized to their fullest extent?

And finally, if better policies are needed in order to build a better framework for women, then who is responsible for cultivating a new culture from which to function? 

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, recently released projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the female share of the labor force will peak at 47.1% in 2025 and then taper off to 46.3% by 2060, meaning that women will remain a minority of the labor force. If this trend continues, what does the workforce forecast look like here in Chattanooga? 

When we compare this dynamic against our local survey, we discovered that nearly 20% of our own membership is currently working some sort of “side hustle”. While we can’t definitively say that these individuals are seeking an exit strategy from their current situation, we have significant qualitative data to suggest this as a viable motivation. If 20% of our local workforce is seeking an exit (or at least to minimize their impact on our labor force), what can be done to retain this talent resource and extract their best leadership attributes within our existing business community; to say nothing of fueling our startup community with reliable talent? 

The same Pew study mentioned above, goes on to say that most economists say a decline in labor force participation is a matter of concern because improvements in the nation’s standard of living depend on labor force participation and productivity growth. The rapid increase in the share of women entering the labor force between 1950 and 2000 boosted overall labor force participation and spurred an increase in living standards (as measured by gross domestic product per person). The decline in participation since 2000 has worked to the opposite effect, depressing economic growth. (Read the full report here)

We understand economic growth is stunted unless social metrics are equitable. Are we attracting, cultivating and retaining female talent at a pace that will sustain the regional economy we desire? 

Women represent the largest reservoir of untapped talent in the world and CWLI exists to convene and mobilize this talent as a catalyst for the sort of workforce development prominent companies, innovative startups, and female entrepreneurs want to see when they consider making Greater Chattanooga home. The economic development engine runs on human capital fuel. The stronger our human capital, the more attractive we are to sustainable businesses.

Each thread of the society, from education to nonprofit to business, combine to build a tapestry of talent that makes our region desirable to live and work in. We want to design a current so swift that everyone who steps into it is carried with it. We know that a workforce that holistically includes women is one where everyone thrives. It is our civic responsibility to examine the sort of leadership it is going to take to capitalize on this effect and accelerate it to strengthen our region. 

As we turn our attention toward 2020, we will close out this fourth quarter evaluating why unity is essential as we work to move FORward: Mapping a Positive Future for Professional Women. Stay tuned for more information about how the data is driving a new model for CWLI. We are excited about what is to come...

- Kim