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Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Initiatives challenge pay gap for women

By Katarina Poljakova and Joanna Amberger

With salaries falling below the national average and a notoriously high cost of living, it’s no secret that Hawaii can be a tough place to make it financially. According to recent research from AAUW, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls, it’s even tougher to make a living if you’re a woman in Hawaii. AAUW reports that women here earn about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men — better than the national average of 80 cents on the dollar, but still not equal.

For minority women, that pay gap widens even more. For example, AAUW reports in 2017’s “The Simple Truth” that in 2016 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women earned just 59 percent of what white men were paid on a national average. AAUW also found that women are more likely to take out loans for higher education and college debt, which reduces their potential net earnings even further. Additionally, women are more likely than men to make career sacrifices to accommodate having a family.

Further, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, men were twice as likely as women to be in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which are typically higher paying.

What can be done to level the financial playing field and reduce the pay gap? A combination of nonprofit and private initiatives in Hawaii are finding ways to help give women an economic boost in the form of grants, scholarships and professional development programs.

For instance, AAUW Honolulu’s recently launched Career and Leadership Development Grant aims to provide women with opportunities to further careers that might otherwise be too costly to pursue. The grant helps women pay for certifications, training, seminars or other activities to advance in their careers; it’s also available to graduate students and women working in academia who plan to present their research at professional conferences. AAUW Honolulu also continues to offer scholarships and salary negotiation workshops for both students and those already in the workforce.

In the private sector, local venture firm Sultan Ventures is dedicated to providing Hawaii’s community with equal access to entrepreneurial opportunities as a compelling way to secure an economic advantage in an increasingly competitive job market. In an industry where only 10 percent of all venture funding went to startups with at least one female founder in 2017, Sultan Ventures is working to close the gender gap by offering multiple programs that empower women to bolster their financial future. Its XLR8HI program offers scholarships for women and minorities to attend entrepreneurship workshops, helping them gain the creative and critical thinking skills for a competitive edge in the workplace.

To inspire changemakers in the community, motivational stories of female and minority founders making a difference are featured on Sultan Ventures’ podcast, The Startup Catalyst. The firm also hosts the annual InnovateHER Challenge, a pitch competition that champions products and services with a measurable impact on the lives of women and families. These initiatives help promote greater inclusion in the business community and aims to democratize onramps to economic self-sufficiency not only for women but for all of Hawaii’s residents.

Investing in the advancement of women doesn’t just benefit women; it benefits Hawaii as a whole. According to AAUW’s research, if employed women in Hawaii were paid the same as men, the poverty rate would be reduced by more than half, as would the poverty rate among employed single mothers. Working to reduce Hawaii’s pay gap not only elevates women but also strengthens our families, our communities, our businesses, our economy. That’s a cause we should all get behind.


AAUW Honolulu President Joanna Amberger and Sultan Ventures Financial Analysis/Operations Associate Katarina Poljakova co-authored this op-ed about the importance of programs that offer women professional development.

Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.


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