Toni Atkins a member of the California State Senate and former Speaker of the California Assembly, representing San Diego, CA. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Toni Atkins

Anything that might inspire women to broaden their horizons and consider an unexplored professional field is important to me. There are a disproportionate number of women who work low-wage jobs, and positions where women dominate, like caregiving and social work, also receive lower pay than other fields like finance and sales.
My father was a coal miner and my mother was a seamstress. I fight for a living wage because my parents worked hard and were not paid enough for the work they did. The things I work for, like affordable housing and better conditions for women in health care and the workplace, are a direct result of what happened to my family.  Family is integral to everything. It’s the core of what we believe in life, and work for in life.

#WomenCanBuild is a positive way to expose women to new possibilities that could pay off for them in the long-term, with better salaries, and better chances for advancement and achievement.

It’s an important effort to encourage women that they can do anything they put their minds to. In public service, women still have catching up to do. We make up about a quarter of the California legislature and even less than that in Congress. Just 4 % of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. But we see time and again that when we get the chance, we lead, we achieve and we succeed, even in non-traditional fields.

The manufacturing sector has been a challenge overall for women. Women make up about half of the country’s workforce, but hold less than a quarter of the jobs in the factories that produce, test and fine tune so many of the products we use every day. A survey of women showed that 80 % believe manufacturing firms do a poor job of promoting the industry to qualified women.

But that also means this sector is a big opportunity for young women just starting out. For instance, a Manufacturing Institute study found that 51 % of the nation’s transportation firms are facing a shortage of skilled workers. For women, the time is now to make a move.

I want women to see our futures in a new way. One major issue is STEM education. When more girls have access to advanced classes focused on science, technology, engineering and math, they will be exposed to lessons that will stoke their interest in fields that have been regarded as traditionally male.

And manufacturers must play a part. Alcoa, the aluminum industry leader, reports that in one company plant run by a woman, one third of the managers are women and more than 20 % of the workers are female. They are aiming for half of the workers to be women and I agree with their reasoning – once other women see these jobs being filled by people who look like them, more will apply. And of course, more will be hired.

We all know Rosie the Riveter – women have built before when our nation needed them most, and we will again now that we can truly choose to go into any profession that draws our interest.