New Report Reveals Barriers to Economic Success for Women in Arkansas

Arkansas Women's Foundation and Governor Asa Hutchinson
By Pamela Acosta

Access to financial, educational, healthcare, and childcare resources are the main barriers women in Arkansas face to achieving economic success and creating a more equitable labor force, according to a recent report by the Arkansas Women’s Commission.

Anna Beth Gorman, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, noted the importance of addressing barriers to women’s economic success in the state, saying, “It’s a concerning factor for women and for the Arkansas economy, women who truly are the influencers of where we’re spending our money, are continuing to fall behind men in our state. And that’s not good for the Arkansas economy.”

The report, which was commissioned by Governor Asa Hutchinson, focused on women’s labor force participation, the impact of COVID-19, and family caregiving, especially access to childcare. 

“A lot of the findings of the report really focused on family caregiving, and specifically child care in our state. Our findings concluded that there’s a lot of issues with childcare, and especially access to childcare, access to affordable childcare and access to quality childcare,” said Maddie Spickard, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. 

Spickard also highlighted the slow progress in closing the pay gap between men and women in the state, noting that the gap only decreased by 0.4% from 2016 to 2020. She also emphasized the barriers to business ownership and entrepreneurship faced by women, particularly women of color, and the importance of increasing representation and leadership of women in all industries.

“Representation and leadership of women, in all industries, especially in business ownership, is huge. It transforms communities, because, as we know, when women gain wealth, they don’t just use it personally, they tend to invest in their children, they tend to invest more in their communities, it really lifts up everyone around them,” said Spickard.

This is the first time in 50 years that the report is shared with the public. The last one was published in 1973.

“This report is very special because a Republican administration commissioned it, it’s their data, it’s on their shoulders to say, to acknowledge, wow, we’re not seeing women in our state improve,” said Gorman. “And so, we have a great opportunity to continue to work on this. The Women’s Foundation has been working on areas of interest from our 2018 report for four years and the Women’s Commission report gives our agency a renewed sense of purpose and direction, going into 2023.” 

Along with the report, the AWC included eight recommendations from the report’s key findings, four of which have already received financial and developmental support. 

These recommendations include engaging the business community to address child care challenges, increasing access to women’s and mental health resources, especially in rural communities, increasing mentorship for women, especially single mothers, underrepresented students, and entrepreneurs, and increasing awareness of programs designed to assist single parents.

The funded recommendations and commitments include:

  • Engage the business community to address child care challenges through the hiring of a campaign director by Excel by 8, a non-profit organization.
  • Increase access to women’s and mental health resources, especially in rural communities, through the creation of new programs like Life360 HOMEs.
  • Increase mentorship for women, especially single mothers, underrepresented students, and entrepreneurs, through the expansion of Arkansas State University’s Women’s Business Leadership Center and the creation of the Delta Women’s Leadership Academy.
  • Increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents through the Single Parent Scholarship Fund and collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Services.

Walmart has also granted $25,000 to the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to fund outreach and stakeholder engagement in 2023, which the organization will use to raise awareness about the recommendations from the Commission and build partnerships to bolster the economic development of women in the workforce.

In addition to working with these different partnerships, for the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary next year, Gormon said they have preliminary plans to do a statewide tour with the Commission report in hand and host regional meetings to talk about the report’s findings, looking for stakeholder groups that can potentially take action on some of these recommendations. 

“We’re really proud that we are committed to seeing women find success in the Arkansas economy and to find pathways to economic mobility. We’re just really proud of that, and we hope that our 25th anniversary tour will be a way for us not to showcase our work, but to really continue to talk about the recommendations in this report,” said Gormon.