Commentary: Building community by uplifting all women

A YWCA career workshop in Edmonds offered services and inspiration that uplift women in the workforce.

By Yvonne Terrell-Powell

For The Herald

We, as a community, must do our part to address inequity and cultivate a culture of inclusive excellence that honors and elevates the voices, work and commitment of all women-identified individuals.

Supporting and empowering women means creating more opportunities for us to pursue our personal interests, build new skills or reach our educational and career goals. However, in order to create such opportunities, we must acknowledge and address social, institutional and economic barriers that hinder women and women of color from advancing in their careers. Women are often denied opportunities because of their gender, and women of color face even more discrimination based on their skin color or race, ethnicity and other intersecting identities.

That’s why we must ask: Are we as a community collectively doing our part and providing the support necessary for everyone in our community to thrive? The fact is, we’re only as strong as the opportunity we provide for everyone to succeed; and a critical part of that is supporting all women.

As I reflect on my own experiences as an African American woman, first-generation student and one of nine children, I realize the instrumental role my parents played in getting me to where I am today. My mother — my greatest inspiration — worked, pursued an education and raised a family. Her dedication and drive taught my siblings and me the importance of working diligently towards our goals, no matter the adversity we face.

As I grew older, my support network expanded to my educators, my colleagues and new friends and family. Through my 25-year career in higher education, I have appreciated the ways I have been supported as I climbed the career ladder to reach my professional goals.

I also recognize the importance of what I — and what we, as a community — must do to support others climbing their own ladders as they strive to advance their careers. Now, in my role at Edmonds Community College, I’m proud that we recognize a welcoming and safe environment as integral to our students’ success, and we are committed to the success of all of our students. We intentionally support our students and offer programs and services that meet their academic, professional and personal goals and needs.

In the field of education and beyond it, we have to be mindful of the fact that myriad factors — race, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and more — can determine our access to opportunity and the barriers we face. To me, addressing inequities in career advancement for women means addressing stereotypes, discrimination, unfair policies and practices and other barriers. It also means creating career development and networking opportunities that empower women and offer employers training opportunities that enhance their understanding of the ways they can promote fairness and inclusion for all.

As a community, we must recognize that people start from different places in their lives, often based on factors beyond their control. So how do we close these gaps and ensure that all women have the opportunity to thrive?

We must listen, learn and uplift women on an individual and collective level and elevate all voices within communities, institutions and systems. We’re seeing ways that community organizations are leading by example.

Just last week, the YWCA hosted its first-ever RISE career-training workshop in Edmonds. RISE, which stands for “Rise, Inspire, Support and Empower,” brings together a diverse set of women from all stages of their careers for an afternoon that supports women in the workforce by offering resume reviews and interview practice, provides childcare for working mothers and crowd-sources art that celebrates inspirational women of the past, present and future. It demonstrates how we can turn the honest conversations around addressing racial and gender inequity into meaningful action, and the critical role organizations and institutions play in uplifting our women in our community.

By closing these gaps, we not only create a stronger workforce, but a healthier, more inclusive community. If we want to be a community that lives by its values, we must hold ourselves accountable and commit to providing equitable support systems that empower all women to rise to their full potential.

Dr. Yvonne Terrell-Powell is vice president for equity and inclusion at Edmonds Community College.

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