By Annie Tubbs, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A project that began with a “gut-level” feeling ended with more than 200 women agreeing that the lives of women in Westmoreland County could certainly be improved.
Funded by the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council and the Women and Girls Foundation, this lengthy report — titled “Status of Women in Westmoreland County” — focused on five areas of concern: pay equity, employment and education; poverty; health and well-being; women in leadership; and violence against women.
The report found that women in Westmoreland County are paid 75.3 percent of what men are paid, and that 19,020 women are living in poverty.
Women’s health had some high points. For example, the study said that “pregnant women living in the county receive more prenatal care and have fewer cesarean sections.”
The study also found that teen pregnancies in the county were lower than in the state, though there was a 9 percent increase in abortions from 2005 to 2006.
The report noted that the key to reducing abortions is reducing unplanned pregnancies, and it said there are an estimated 5,031 women living in poverty without ready access to contraception services.
The report concluded that “women play a small role” in leadership positions in Westmoreland County. One female leader in particular would like to see that change.
Barbara VanKirk, 52, served as a facilitator for the “women in leadership” segment of an Oct. 14 summit at Seton Hill University. She presented the findings of the report.
Ms. VanKirk, a graduate of Point Park University, founded IQ Inc. in 1994 as a business “where people can work together in a non-traditional way.”
Murrysville-based IQ Inc. is a software engineering firm that works on internal projects and contract work for outside companies.
The “non-traditional” part is that Ms. VanKirk wanted to make it possible for software engineers to use their talents even if they couldn’t adhere to a 40-hour work week.
For Ms. VanKirk, one of the important things about starting a business or serving on a board is initiative.
“I definitely had a plan,” she said of starting her business nearly 15 years ago.
But, she added, flexibility is always a key to success.
“We’ve morphed into many different identities over the last 14 years.”
She said the people who attended the summit — more than 200 women with “a handful of men sprinkled in” — were shocked at the results.
Bobbi Watt Geer, project manager for the United Way of Westmoreland County, said the day after the summit the agency began to develop a “strategic plan” to address the issues outlined in the report.
Ms. VanKirk said the results got everyone “moving in the right direction.”
“You set your heart on something,” Ms. VanKirk said, “you put the motion in place … and you create an environment where people can be successful.
“It takes one person, one idea, one thought.”
To see the complete report, go to www.unitedway4u.org.
Annie Tubbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613.
First published on November 6, 2008 at 6:46 am