In its first official report in almost 50 years, the Arkansas Women’s Commission made a number of recommendations regarding the economic status of women in the state’s workforce on Wednesday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the report’s release in a news conference at the Arkansas State Capitol, noting the passage of time since the last commission and praising the commission’s work.
The report focused largely on women’s labor force participation and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the family and caregiving.
“Nearly 50 years have passed since our state had a women’s commission, and since that time, our workforce and economic diversity has evolved tremendously,” Hutchinson said. “As we look towards the future of Arkansas, I’m proud of the great work the commission has done to assist in eliminating the barriers that limit the economic success of women and creating a more equitable labor force for all Arkansans.”
The commission’s partners in the statewide research initiative included the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA), which provided organizational and financial support; Arkansas State University, providing data and research support; and the University of Arkansas Fulbright College, which sponsored online phone survey efforts in addition to providing analytical support.
At a luncheon in Little Rock, the Arkansas Women’s Commission also announced that four of the report’s eight recommendations have received financial and developmental support.
“This is a momentous day for women in Arkansas as we celebrate the release of the Arkansas Women’s Commission report,” said commission chair Alison Williams. “We are thankful for all the support we’ve received from partners across the state who have gone above and beyond to help ensure economic success for women.”
Based upon the commission's recommendation to increase mentorship for women in the workforce, Hutchinson committed $200,000 from his discretionary rainy day fund to the expansion of the Women's Business Leadership Center at Arkansas State University.
Additionally, Walmart granted $25,000 to the WFA to help fund outreach and stakeholder engagement in 2023, which the organization will use to raise awareness about the commission’s recommendations and build partnerships to bolster the economic development of women in the workforce.
“As the state’s leading foundation focused solely on improving the economic mobility and security of women and girls in Arkansas, the WFA was proud to support the governor on this important initiative to invest in women’s economic growth,” said Anna Beth Gorman, CEO of the WFA. “We hope that legislators, employers and organizations across the state can use these findings to help open doors for more women to successfully enter into the workforce and find success throughout their careers and endeavors.”
The four recommendations, based on the report’s key findings, that have received initial funding are:
- Meaningfully engage the business community to address child care challenges: Excel by 8, a nonprofit organization supporting youth and families, received funding to hire a campaign director to work with statewide chambers of commerce and business leaders to identify and address the child care needs impacting their employees.
- Increase access to women’s and mental health resources, especially in rural communities: Working with the Arkansas Legislature, Hutchinson created new programs such as Life360 HOMEs, a suite of programs designed to support new and expecting mothers while addressing complex challenges facing many of Arkansas’s most vulnerable residents.
- Increase mentorship for women, especially single mothers, underrepresented students and entrepreneurs: Hutchinson committed $200,000 to support Arkansas State University’s expansion of its Women’s Business Leadership Center through the creation of Delta Women’s Leadership Academy (DWLA). The DWLA will mentor female college students who are determined to become entrepreneurs, business owners and the next generation of successful female leaders across a range of industries and occupations.
- Increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents: Arkansas’s Single Parent Scholarship Fund will increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents by working with the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Services.