Here’s the news: Women, as of 2019, account for more than half of the college-educated workforce.
Here’s the old news: Women, regardless of education, still account for less than half of the workforce in general, even though they’ve been graduating from college at a higher rate than men for decades.
Yet barriers, such as child care, have prevented women from taking jobs and taking the lead in the college-educated workforce until now.
The share of college-educated women in the workforce was reported by the Pew Research Center using an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information. The historic passage of women into the majority in this category is important, Pew said, because educational attainment correlates to pay.
And there’s still a lot of ground to make up in terms of pay equity. Incomes for college-education female workers (median $51,600) still lag that of college-educated men (median $74,900,) Pew said.
None of this is lost on Heidi Ganahl, the at-large University of Colorado regent, founder of enormously successful franchise company Camp Bow Wow, and now the founder of the SheFactor, a national effort to help young women find the place that they want in the economy. SheFactor is a trade name used by The Factor Companies PBC.
SheFactor includes a book that Ganahl authored called “SheFactor: Present Power — Future Fierce,” the website theshefactor.com, an app, a blog, a podcast and dozens of workshops around the country that are the inspiration for organizations forming within companies and in multiple cities around the country.
“It came from my oldest daughter, Tori,” Ganahl said in an interview with BizWest about the origins for her idea for the SheFactor. Tori was attending the University of Oregon. “She came back for spring break, and she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. And she was a senior,” Ganahl said.
“I was being asked to write a book about Camp Bow Wow,” she said about an organization that now has nearly 200 doggy daycare locations across the country. “I wanted to write a letter to my 20-year-old self. I ended up with the book, with an app, a blog, a podcast and now have locations around the country” that are continuing to develop the concept.
Tori came on board in late 2019 and is heading up business development for the company.
Amazon, where the book is available along with local bookstore locations, describes the book like this:
“Society tells us, if you follow the plan, you can have everything: a terrific job, a great family, a perfect life. Unfortunately, too many women feel trapped and unfulfilled when they find out too late that the ‘plan’ is just an unattainable ideal. You need to discover who you are and what you really want while you’re still young, without chasing some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all, impossible dream.”
The SheFactor is being rolled out in three areas — companies, cities and colleges.
In cities, the emphasis of SheFactor squads or chapters is on networking, having fun, building on professional relationships. Within companies, the emphasis is on climbing the ladder of success to meaningful, challenging positions of responsibility. And within colleges, a rollout that will be happening next, the emphasis will be on recruiting and finding the right place to live and work.
Company squads are usually created with the blessing of executives, who recognize that their long-term success depends upon having a reliable, satisfied workforce. She said that on average, American workers stay with a company for 4.6 years. With young people, not just women, it’s 18 months because of a lack of connection and sense of community. SheFactor squads can help improve retention, she said.
City squads were launched in Denver in September, Washington, D.C., in October, then Chicago, then New York. “We’re rolling out one per month,” she said.
SheFactor promotes directly to organizations and also sponsors “pop-up squads,” which are half-day events meant to get about 100 women signed up for a squad.
Ganahl’s book has nine themes, and programming for squad events taps into those themes. “This month, it’s [the theme] fuel,” she said. That could include discussions about food or about intellectual stimulation.
The inspiration for the themes came from young staff members at Camp Bow Wow, who shared their concerns and thoughts about how to address them.
The SheFactor app includes assessment tools “that are more fun and feminine.”
“The app spits out a She Factor that helps in accomplishing a professional goal,” she said.
Within squads, members are encouraged to form “Seal Team 6 — six people who you really trust; an inner circle.”
Ganahl, who is CEO of SheFactor, said the organization just launched in May 2019. She expects to operate it directly for a couple of years to assure it remains on track with her vision, but then likely spin it off to other top managers to run on a day-to-day basis. At the time of the BizWest interview, she was planning a trip to Washington to train leaders. “We’ve visited 15 different cities since May,” she said about the pace of development.
Ganahl knows there’s a lot of work to be done, citing statistics that show women struggle to reach the C-Suite level of executives — only 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, she said.
Yet companies that “get it” understand that they need to change in order to get and keep qualified workers. Progressive companies are working on pay equity, parental leave benefits, flex time for young workers, she said.
“I just spoke at Liberty Oil’s women’s summit to about 150 women. They’re doing innovative, cool things [to get female workers.] They have a high number of women in the workforce, which is unlike most energy companies,” she said.
“I also just hung out with Julie [Gilbert] at Best Buy. Google her. They did an incredible job with how they built out their workplaces,” she said. Gilbert created the WOLF program, which stands for Women’s Leadership Forum. The program helped to create a more comfortable shopping environment for women as well as helping female employees develop leadership skills for use at work or in their private lives.
Gilbert’s “Wolf Packs” taught business skills to women and as a result decreased turnover among women, thereby reducing the amount spent on recruiting, according to published accounts of what she had done.
“At the end of the day, you have to partner with leadership on this issue,” Ganahl said. “Companies with women in top leadership have a 35 percent better return for their shareholders,” she said.
Ganahl said a lot has changed in how the workplace treats women and how women leaders consider their roles. At one time, it was thought that a successful female leader should “behave like a man.” Now, women are encouraged to use their own approaches.
For young women to advance, Ganahl advised that they surround themselves with good people who can help them see their blind spots, to learn to advocate for themselves and to improve relationship and networking skills.
“If there’s one lesson for young women, it’s to develop a sense of self confidence. A good portion of women aren’t as confident as they could be. There are a lot of opportunities these days to figure that out. Determine what personality you have. Surround yourself with great people. Learn to get your footing and confidence. Be clear about where you want to go and ask for help when needed,” she said.
“When I was growing Camp Bow Wow, it didn’t occur to me that I was different because I was a woman. But looking back, I can see gaps and why we have to push forward [as women,]” she said. “It doesn’t have to be women versus men; that’s destructive. We have to work together.”