Women in Business: advantages, challenges, and opportunities.
March Power Lunch
Oklahoma Women's Coalition
by Lori William
As young Liz Charles traveled the world, she noticed a pattern: “People would tease my mom and they wouldn’t let her speak. So I saw her own personal fight with trying to have her space and equal opportunity.”
“Both my parents were pastors and missionaries, but my mom got shot down because she was a woman.”
Now Liz is in Oklahoma, and she is continuing the fight for women’s rights in her position as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition,
The coalition’s mission is “to champion the collective power of Oklahomans to advance gender equity and justice.” Underscoring this mission are two key initiatives: Pay transparency legislation and a pipeline to politics.
“There’s a lot of mania around the topic of pay transparency,” says Liz Charles, who is eager to clarify the language of two bills being considered by Oklahoma House Committees. One of the bills seeks to raise fines charged for violations against the Equal Pay Act. “These fines haven’t been raised since the Act became law in 1963,” says Charles. “Though we aren’t asking for numbers in line with inflation, we are asking for a bit of an increase for employers who discriminate against women.”
The Coalition is championing another piece of legislation that falls along the same lines. “We want folks to be allowed to inquire, through proper, established channels, about the salary ranges at their workplace.”
“Right now, asking someone with your same experience and education about their salary can get you fired. So we are working on a bill that would allow for more transparent conversations.”
And it takes many conversations to get to that level of transparency. “We’ve introduced these bills during the last four legislative sessions,” says Liz Charles, “and there have been amendments along the way.”
In contrast to a legislative process that may take years and conclude with an unexpected outcome, the annual Pipeline to Politics Conference delivers every time. “It’s a win-win,” declares Charles, “because every woman who attends leaves with an understanding of local level politics.”
“The conference is for any woman of any age who is interested in public service. The speakers are from all levels of government, from school board members to legislators.”
Not surprisingly, the conversations at this one-day conference are very transparent. Topics include how to campaign for yourself, what to do when you win, what to do you when you lose, and how to campaign for another candidate.
The full circle conversations are the best. Says the Executive Director, “It’s awesome when former attendees decide to run for office, get elected, and then come back as conference speakers.”
“I think this belief in equality has always been ingrained in me,” she says. “Women deserve a face and we deserve to have influence and positions of leadership because our experiences matter and our voice matters. There are people who need to hear from us. People need to put women in those positions so that little girls can see women doing things we think only men can do.”
“Because you can’t be what you can’t see.”