Woman at work

Women’s Resource Center Lifts Up Working Women in West Michigan

As a single mom to three children, Kristy Baker felt stuck in a low-paying job, unable to provide the life she wanted to give her family.

She connected with the Grand Rapids Women’s Resource Center, where she worked on her interviewing and computer skills. She also found a mentor who believed in her.

“I didn’t believe in myself until I found the Women’s Resource Center,” Baker said. “The mentorship really helped me believe in myself.”

Through her mentor’s encouragement, Baker found a program that allowed her to work three days and go to school the other two on her way to becoming a medical assistant. She now works at Mercy Health and aspires to be a nurse.

She no longer feels stuck and tells everyone she knows about the Women’s Resource Center. “Thank you for being that bridge,” she told a banquet room full of people during the WRC’s recent Pillar Awards, the 30th anniversary of the luncheon that recognizes West Michigan workplaces doing their part to “improve recruitment, retention and advancement of working women within an inclusive culture.”

A place for women to grow and thrive

Founded in 1973, the Women’s Resource Center was started to help women in the community grow professionally and personally. Stories like Baker’s are the norm here, with 79 percent of job-ready women finding meaningful employment through the WRC and 82 percent of women served able to retain employment after one year on the job.

In 2018, more than 600 women benefited from WRC services, which include a business center open to women to conduct online job searches, work on digital job applications, update resumes and develop computer skills, computer classes to help women learn programs such as Word and Excel, resume coaching, a scholarship program, mentoring programs, job training and more. A Business Boutique even helps women find appropriate clothing to wear on job interviews.

The center helps unemployed or underemployed women become self-sufficient through meaningful employment. No matter where you’re starting from, the WRC has a way to empower you, explained CEO Sandra Gaddy. She said a rising number of women are trapped in jobs with wages that make it unsustainable to raise a family, particularly as many are also faced with being the head of household as a single parent. Women who have been incarcerated also find it difficult to return to the workforce, Gaddy said.

“Each woman has a unique story,” Gaddy said.

Encouraging women-friendly workplaces

In addition to the services offered through the WRC, annual Pillar Awards recognize companies working to advance women at all levels in their organizations. Gaddy said priorities for all companies should include paid sick leave, fair and flexible work schedules, paid family medical leave, protection against harassment and equal pay for equal work. Career development and mentorship are also important components for companies to work toward and creating an inclusive and supportive workplace for women requires top-down leadership.

“I challenge you to advocate for working women at all levels,” Gaddy said to the assembled business leaders at the Pillar Awards.

Companies receiving 2019 Pillar Awards included Axios HR, Consumers Energy, Management Business Solutions and National Heritage Academies. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was the champion sponsor of the awards.

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Photo credit: People Images

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