Lead(h)er — a Quad Cities mentoring and empowerment group for professional women — had its first “Huddle” event in person since February 2020 on Tuesday, March 29, at the St. Ambrose Professional Development Center in Davenport.

Huddles are usually held quarterly, for local women to network and talk about important career topics. On Tuesday, they had 52 in attendance, and discussions centered on pay equity for women.

Over 50 women met Tuesday night, March 29, 2022 for the first in-person Lead(h)er Huddle since February 2020.

After an intro session for everyone, the group broke into smaller talks on implications of pay inequity, how to negotiate anything, loyalty in your career, negotiation communication and visualizing your ideal life/career.

“It’s really important everybody has some sort of tool in their toolbelt, in order to navigate that,” Lead(h)er executive director Megan Brown-Saldana said of the issues. The goal was for women to walk away with things they can apply in their job.

“This is so awesome, to see all of you guys here. It has been a long two years, and I’m so excited,” Melissa Taylor, board president for Lead(h)er, said to the whole group.

Melissa Taylor, board president of Lead(h)er, speaking at the Huddle on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This is really meant to spend some time networking,” she said. “This is a lot of what Lead(h)er does, in addition to the mentor-mentee relationships – the networks that we get to build with each other. The network we get to build in the community makes us that much stronger in the Quad Cities.”

Jazmin Newton, an attorney (owner of Newton Law) and Lead(h)er’s 2021 mentor of the year, told the women:

“When we look at gender disparity and pay gaps, that’s something that should not exist in 2022; that’s the reality.”

Davenport attorney Jazmin Newton speaks to the group at Lead(h)er’s Huddle on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I don’t want you to leave here disappointed,” she said. “I want you to leave this huddle motivated to make a difference. I want you to take the information you learn in the different sessions and then put it to work.”

“We’re not in this by ourselves,” Newton said. “We’re in it together. We’re stronger together and together, we can make a difference.”

Achieving goals from mentorship

Janessa Calderon, executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, became the youngest Latina director of the group at 26 (about 16 months ago), and is a Lead(h)er mentee.

She was able to achieve her leadership goals through mentorship, she told the group. “That’s why organizations like this are so impactful for our community,” Calderon said. “The timing of today’s event couldn’t be better.”

Janessa Calderon is executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (photo by Jonathan Turner).

She noted a new report from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity equity task force.

It showed Latinos and other minorities are over-represented in lower-paying jobs, because of historic discrimination, segregation and policies that banned women and people of color from advancing, Calderon said.

There continue to be discriminatory hiring practices and lack of affordable child care that make it hard for minority women to earn more, she said.

The average Latina makes $4,000 a year less than white women, Calderon said. Latinas make up just 1 percent of all workers in engineering and computing today, she noted.

“It matters because the 2020 Census states that between 2010 and 2020, the Latino population grew by 23 percent,” compared to the total U.S. population that grew just 7 percent over that period, Calderon said. “That number is only going to rise.”

This is why mentorship matters, so women can work to achieve long-term goals, she said. Calderon was the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Equality means that we give everyone the same opportunities, while equity means we raise women up and help them feel empowered in that position, she said.

Calderon speaks to the Huddle group March 29 at the SAU Professional Development Center, Davenport (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Having them hear their voice; maybe that means stopping someone from cutting them off in the middle of a conversation,” Calderon said. “You can make a difference, helping them find their voice at the table when they get there.”

She advised that next time women are volunteering or out in a meeting, they should see how they can help another woman feel empowered.

“A drop of water in the ocean has a ripple effect — what happens if you make it rain?” Calderon concluded.

Newton said she’s been involved with Lead(h)er for several years, and has mentored one woman over four years, who’s now in Colorado preparing for graduate school.

Jazmin Newton earned the 2021 Mentor of the Year award from Lead(h)er.

“Sometimes you just need someone there who tells you that you can do it, that positive reinforcement,” she said.

Value and safe space

The Huddles provide a great value and safe space, to learn different skills and hear from other women, Newton said, noting Tuesday was the first Huddle her firm sponsored. “We have the same concerns,” she said, noting child care issues. “Essentially, they see they’re not alone. This one specifically is so important.”

Latinas typically earn about 54 cents of every $1 that a white male does, Newton said. “With the Huddles, they work on the skills — like how to negotiate your pay, how to apply for the next job and move up in your career.”

It makes a big difference for women to be able to meet in person again, she added.

Lead(h)er did virtual Huddles in the past two years, with no real drop in attendance, Brown-Saldana said. She started as director of the group in January 2020.

Megan Brown-Saldana is executive director of Lead(h)er.

The breakout sessions were geared to instill skills and abilities for women to make changes in their own lives, Brown-Saldana said. “They’re going to learn the long-term impacts of pay equity when it comes to retirement. They’ll walk away today having real-life, applicable knowledge, to make changes in their lives, which has a ripple effect across the community and beyond. One person being empowered to make changes, they empower their best friend and their co-worker and their daughter.”

Being a woman of color complicates how we marginalize people, she said. Being a Latina and first-generation college student, or plus being gay or disabled, add even more obstacles.

Women are also more likely to seek leadership opportunities in unpaid, volunteer roles versus men, Brown-Saldana said.

“We think the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act keeps women from wage discrimination,” she said of the 2009 federal law. “But it doesn’t — it just protects your right to sue over finding that. There’s not really anything that forces closing the wage gap.”

The gender gap in pay has remained stable in the U.S. over the past 15 years or so. In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers.

On Jan. 29, 2009, President Obama signed the first piece of legislation of his Administration: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), which severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination concerning compensation.

Brown-Saldana became executive director of Lead(h)er in January 2020.

Brown-Saldana hopes Lead(h)er can offer insight on mentorship and some sort of wage audit, that allows businesses to explore their hiring practices, promotions, leadership, to actually improve as a whole.

Wage gap worse in QC

In Illinois, the wage gap is 22 cents (of every $1 in salary), for women versus men, but in the QC, it’s 28 cents difference, she said.

“We also see higher rates of poverty for women, across all education levels, than for men,” she said. “That creates a cycle of, women may be educated in higher rates, but they’re working in lower-wage jobs.”

Median yearly earnings for women in the QC region also lag the nation, and the states of Iowa and Illinois. The median income for men is $18,000 a year higher than for women in the QC, Brown-Saldana said.

“Isn’t that sad that, even if you have an associate’s degree, 10 percent of women with associate’s degrees are in poverty,” she said.

The major Lead(h)er fundraiser is a golf outing on May 6 at Palmer Hills Golf Course, Bettendorf. They will have a Huddle after that as well. Lead(h)er plans to sponsor 15 new matches of mentors and mentees, Brown-Saldana said.

The organization has served 900 women over its five years, with all free services, she noted.

Jazmin Newton fires up the women at Lead(h)er’s Huddle on March 29, 2022, the first in-person networking event they’ve had in over two years (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Brown-Saldana credited SAU’s free Lunch & Learn events, for helping Lead(h)er members. “The Lunch & Learns are really an asset to the women here. It’s super important, because there are a lot of leadership opportunities in the community that are expensive, so having free opportunities without a membership requirement are vital so they are ready to invest in their careers.”

“We’re all about accessible education,” said Megan Tarasi, director of the SAU Professional Development Center. Lunch & Learn programs are offered every month. She collaborates often with Lead(h)er.

“Megan does a great job of getting her members as many resources as possible,” Tarasi said. She also is a mentee with Lead(h)er, for the past two and a half years.

Other Lead(h)er stats

  • Women are five times more likely to be promoted if they have a mentor. That means if you have a mentor you are five times more likely to hurdle past the broken rung.
  • 62% of women of color say they believe a lack of mentorship holds them back in their careers.
  • Women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders.
  • Women who work full-time in the QC make 72 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
  • If the 28-cent pay gap that women in the QC experience was placed on a list next to pay gaps in all 50 states and Washington D.C., it would come in 48th, tying with Louisiana and coming ahead of just Utah and Wyoming. Iowa’s gender pay gap is 22 cents.
  • Poverty rates for women in the QC area are higher than men at all education levels. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 17% of people in the Quad Cities live in poverty, compared with a statewide rate of 10%.
  • Median yearly earnings for women in the QC and the surrounding counties of Rock Island, Henry, and Mercer lag the nation and states of Illinois and Iowa.
  • Employees with mentors are 17% more likely to be satisfied in their job.
  • 70% of jobs are acquired through networking.
  • For every 72 women promoted, 100 men are.
  • Women make up 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • Women are half as likely to be promoted as their male counterparts.

To get involved in Lead(h)er, click HERE.