10/09/2012 08:28 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Beyond Jobs - Giving Women the Tools They Need to Succeed

Did you know that more than three in five American families now rely on women to be sole or co-breadwinners? In this highly charged political season, one thing I'm sure everyone can agree on is that our families and communities will suffer if more women don't have the chance to succeed in the workplace. Unfortunately, many women are finding it increasingly difficult to do just that.

One such woman is Vanessa, a single mother of a teenage son. Until recently, she held an administrative position that allowed her to earn enough to get by and support her son. Her son experienced serious behavioral and mental health problems at school, however, and Vanessa found herself frequently missing work to tend to problems at school. Eventually, her absences led to her dismissal from employment.

Vanessa's story is not an uncommon one. While the details are different for everyone, millions of women face similar struggles supporting their families, both financially and holistically.

Despite the modest economic recovery, women have regained only 25.8 percent of the jobs they lost during the recession, while men have regained 42 percent of their jobs lost. And women who are working are likely to earn less than their male counterparts. Full-time working women are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to full-time working men, and the median yearly pay for women in the United States is $10,784 less than it is for men. In addition, a 2011 White House report shows female-led families have the lowest earnings among all family types.

Dour stuff, I know. But here's some good news: Vanessa's story has a happy ending. She took part in an innovative pilot program at Goodwill called Beyond Jobs, which not only helps put women back to work, but takes a holistic approach to job training, placement and family financial support services to ensure that each of these women succeeds in the long run. Each woman in the Beyond Jobs program receives a complete career assessment, including job training, placement services and additional support to help them achieve economic security and advance in their careers. Even after participants are placed in jobs, they receive support to retain them, to further their education, and to advance in careers within their chosen industries. It's not just about job placement, but about helping women maintain employment and advance so that they can support their families.

In Vanessa's case, she embarked on a thorough and diligent job search, taking advantage of a range of supports, including transportation assistance for interviews, cover letter writing, mock interviews and help purchasing cell phone minutes so she could be reached by potential employers. Taking a whole-family approach, Goodwill matched Vanessa's son with a mentor who helped the bright but defiant youth gain confidence through a service learning project. While her son still experienced some behavioral problems at school, they both had the support of the Goodwill team. She became confident she could get a new job -- and keep it. In February, Vanessa landed a job she loves at a nonprofit managed care organization, earning more than $15 an hour. Her son graduated from high school, held a summer job, and is now working with his mentor to register for community college courses.

There is no reason why the story of all working women in America shouldn't have such a happy ending.

On that note, through a $7.7 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, the Beyond Jobs program is expanding, allowing Goodwill to reach many more women across the country. The program will now focus not just on single mothers, but on all women who are unemployed or underemployed.

At Goodwill, we believe that every individual should have the opportunity to create economic sustainability through the power of education and employment. The hard-working women in our lives are most deserving of this opportunity.

For more information about Beyond Jobs, visit