New Study Shows Few Women in Omaha Leadership Roles


June 6th, 2016

Michelle Zych is the executive director of The Women's Fund of Omaha. (Photo courtesy of Jen Pavkov, OWF)

Michelle Zych is the executive director of The Women’s Fund of Omaha. (Photo courtesy of Jen Pavkov, OWF)

A new study shows Omaha lagging behind other cities when it comes to the number of women in leadership roles.

Michelle Zych is the executive director of The Women’s Fund of Omaha. Zych said the group’s mission has been the same since its founding in 1990.

“We identity issues, we fund solutions, and we lead change to improve the lives of woman and girls,” Zych said.

The Women’s Fund released its first Women in Leadership report in 1996. The second was released in 2006 and the 2016 Women in Leadership report was released last June 2.

“We found out we have some work to do,” Zych said. “We’ve made some strides the last 20 years, but we definitely, if Omaha wants to stay competitive and attract and retain talent across the board, we have some work to do.”

 Zych said her group talked to 80 leaders in the Omaha community, 62 women and 18 men. Most were from the business and non-profit sectors. The rest worked in government, education or healthcare.

Zych said researchers focused on three basic areas: Omaha’s overall leadership landscape, the organizational structures of certain businesses, and an individual level of what some leaders did to “lean in a little bit more” so they could “have a jump on [their] peers.”

 From a community standpoint, Zych said Omaha has an uneven playing field for women of color and LGBTQ women.

For instance, the report found for every dollar a white man makes, a black woman makes 54 cents.

But Zych said unlike 20 years ago, people now openly talk about things like the wage gap. She said those conversations helped state lawmakers push through legislation this year aimed at making pay more gender equitable.

But she said new laws do little to break down some social barriers.

Many of the 80 people surveyed for the Women’s Fund report said Omaha’s philanthropic community—while generous–is made up of a small number of people, mostly males. Also, while more than 65 percent of women in Nebraska work, Zych said women hold only around 5 percent of the boardroom positions in Omaha.

“Omaha is not unique in the fact that relationships matter,” Zych said, “So who you have the ability to build relationships with, whether that be on the golf course or on a social network, whatever that looks like for you and your business or your sector, women tend to not have access to those kinds of power positions.”

Zych says the data also reveals emerging generational differences in the workplace, particularly with millennials. It seems people between the ages of 18-34 put a high-value on their work-life balance.

Zych said businesses would be wise to take an interest in the things most millennials are interested in, like the wage gap, for instance, because millennials now make up the largest sector of the U.S. Labor force.

Zych said, “Based on the leaders in our community and their respective experiences in their respective sectors, we kind of have a road map, some action steps that are pretty easy to take advantage of to make sure you do come out ahead, that you do have a diverse work force that ultimately will make you more money, as an organization will help you make better decisions. Those are things we know from the research. It’s not just the right thing to look at gender equity; it’s also the economical thing to do.”

 Zych said on an individual level, women who want to be leaders need to take an active role in developing strategic relationships, which can mean taking risks and chances in business. She says there’s no substitute for hard work and preparation.

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