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Deborah Frett Headshot

Workforce Demographics: Who Are We Creating Jobs For?

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On the one year anniversary of the stimulus bill, and as President Obama and Congress wrangle through passing a jobs bill, we must not only concentrate on what jobs we are creating, but who exactly will fill those positions.

Women comprise nearly half of the US workforce, therefore we must remove the gender lens and realize that women have the ability to not only be our country's teachers and social workers, but can succeed in the sustainable jobs of the future.

The green economy is ripe with equitable opportunities. This sector will offer new -- and sustainable -- opportunities for consumers, business owners, employees and the environment.

As an organization dedicated to creating successful workplaces for both working women and employers, Business and Professional Women's Foundation is particularly interested in ensuring that women are a part of the workforce to meet America's clean energy needs. Many jobs that were historically defined as non-traditional for women were no longer non-traditional in 2008. Despite these strides, highly-skilled women lack access in non-traditional industries. The green sector offers a unique opportunity to provide equity and access regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and physical ability.

Paying particular attention to women with technical skills, women veterans should naturally be a part of the green job creation discussion. Women veterans are a growing and important part of the U.S. Labor Force. While women veterans comprise only 8 percent of the total U.S. veteran population they comprise 18 percent of the Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

As women veterans enter the civilian workforce, they say they desire the same things from the workplace as other working women and experience many of the same challenges. However, as this unique group of working women return home to their civilian lives and families, their needs are not receiving adequate attention and support. Issues impacting all working women -- including pay equity, career advancement, and access to benefits such as health care -- are magnified by challenges such as re-establishing family ties, injury, sexual trauma, homelessness and PTSD.

Women, including veterans, are an under-recognized and under-utilized group of workers and they should be targeted for jobs in the green economy. The advantage to creating a new labor force is the ability to select qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds. Sustainable jobs can be shaped for many different types of workers, from those that succeed in physical labor, such as retrofitting residential properties, to those that will be creating the greener jobs of the future, such as Sustainability Officers (akin to Diversity Officers) in corporations, non-profits and government entities.

Women veterans are one such population that has the pre-existing skills to align well with sustainable positions. On a related note, women servicemembers are accustomed to a male dominated workforce; they've had to meet a physical requirement for employment; and have mastered many soft skills, such as leadership and critical decision making.

The Senate Jobs Agenda references dislocated worker training programs which would provide grants to programs which retrain unemployed workers in new skills and trades. Such programs are apt for inclusion of women, especially for training in green sector jobs. We must ensure that all potential workers are targeted for job training and recruitment.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 added Unemployed Veterans to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) Program, a tax credit incentive to encourage private sector employers to hire unemployed veterans. I hope that there will be additional incentives for employers to hire women veterans in this job creation bill. I do know, however, that women veterans' priorities are being taking seriously, as indicated in the President's FY 2011 budget: there are specific dollars dedicated to "Focus on the unique needs of women veterans, from an appropriate environment of care to specialized medical and counseling services."

BPW Foundation is committed to workforce development that will rebuild the country's economy. This includes increasing the number of women in better-paying, non-traditional fields and ensuring that the careers of the future are pursued equally by all genders. Women today remain under-represented in green sector jobs and I am hopeful that the Obama Administration and Congress will focus their efforts to make sure women are trained, recruited and retained for sustainable careers.