The American Association of University Women’s Wilmington branch celebrated 60 years of working toward gender equality Saturday, May 3.
The national chief operating officer Dr. Jill Birdwhistell came to Wilmington to speak during the anniversary luncheon.
“This fight is a long fight,” Birdwhistell said during a Friday, May 2 interview. “The only way we can do it is on a multifront.”
With 100 staff members, the national organization is almost completely run by the 170,000 members in 1,000 branches and 800 university partners, including the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The Wilmington branch has 76 members and is one of 20 North Carolina branches.
In Wilmington and across North Carolina, the local branch has advocated for equal rights, equal pay for women, reproductive choice and legal support for female professors wrongfully denied tenure and promotion.
Telling the stories of several men and women who have benefitted from the organization, Birdwhistell mentioned landmark court cases, including military assault cases.
“We’re always looking for precedent-setting cases,” Birdwhistell said about the legal advocacy funds. “…We don’t pay lawyers ever. We pay the other costs, which are substantive.”
As far as funding priorities, Birdwhistell said they are currently science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skewed, with the goal of interesting girls in fields that pay better.
About 51 percent of graduates in biologics are women.
“What they’re being paid for it, that’s another issue,” she said.
Dr. Michelle Scatton-Tessier, director of women’s studies and resource center at UNCW, said every fall for the past four years, the university hosts a free $tart $mart workshop for 35-40 female college students to prepare them to negotiate their first job and salary.
“It’s really a two- to three-hour workshop, which trains young women how to prepare for the job market with the idea that the women will be more confident and will have better skills to navigate that interview,” Scatton-Tessier said. “The real goal is to close the wage gap.”
The university also hosts another workshop, Elect Her, with a facilitator from Washington, D.C., who teaches women how to carve their voice, understand their constituency and find their passion. The idea, Scatton-Tessier said, is if women run for campus office, they will run for public office later on in life.
Across the country, only 23 percent of statewide offices are filled with women. North Carolina currently ranks No. 29 for the number of women in the state legislature, which is why Elect Her workshops are offered to help elect female students to student government and later political office.