Awards recognize employers helping women in workplace

March 14, 2010
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On Wednesday, the Women’s Resource Center will celebrate its 21st annual Huntington Pillar Awards at the Amway Grand Plaza.

The awards recognize employers’ contributions to women in the workplace. This year’s recipients are AngelCare Home Health Care, Grand Valley State University and Varnum law firm.

AngelCare Home Health Care was established in 2000 and has grown to more than 120 employees. What makes it unique is how it has reached out to disadvantaged women.

“With AngelCare, they recognize that many of the women they’re employing as home health aides, this is maybe the first job that they’ve had or the first job they’ve had in a long time,” said Sharon Caldwell-Newton, executive director of Women’s Resource. “They’ve really put together wrap-around services that not only help (the employees) grow in their professional development, but overcome some of the barriers that they may encounter.”

One example of those wrap-around services, Caldwell-Newton noted, is a loan program to help employees pay for car repairs.

Grand Valley State University was awarded for innovative policies and practices that encourage not just women but diversity in general. For instance, it created a new permanent position of vice president of diversity. It also made changes to its tenure policy that hindered women from achieving that status.

“In education, you’re working toward becoming a tenured professor,” said Caldwell-Newton. “If you take time off during that period to care for family … those periods of time off would affect your ability to become tenured. That would have a disproportionate effect over time on the number of women faculty. They created a new policy that basically stops the tenure clock when a faculty member, male or female, needs to take time off for family issues.”

Varnum “has a whole range of cool things that they’re doing for women and for all attorneys and staff,” said Caldwell-Newton.

“What they were recognizing is that you put time and money and resources into recruiting quality and talented employees. If you don’t have the culture to retain those employees, it’s money that the organization loses and it affects their bottom line,” she said. “At Varnum, they saw they were putting a lot of money into recruiting these highly talented women as attorneys and they would lose those women before they became partners, because the women would want to take time off to have families just as they were getting into the meat of their careers.”

Varnum put an “alternative work schedule” in place to help its attorneys achieve a stronger work/life balance, without affecting their ability to move toward becoming a partner.

The Pillar Awards take place from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Amway Grand Plaza’s Ambassador Ballroom. The event is open to the public and tickets are available prior to the event for $50. For more information, visit www.grwrc.org/events or call (616) 458-9933.

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