IUB Women Rising returns for second year, teaching students about gender pay gap

When Zoe Saunders, an Indiana University Bloomington junior, goes into classrooms to talk about implicit bias, she'll often see students' heads nod. It's a reassuring sign that her peers are engaged and learning -- and so is she.

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IU senior Renee Palmerone speaks to fellow students at the IUB Women Rising booth during the 2019 student involvement fair in Dunn Meadow. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

"Along with educating people on campus, I'm educating myself," she said.

Saunders is a student ambassador for IUB Women Rising, which educates students about the gender income gap.

The program started last year as a grant-funded project within the Career Development Center, and the team includes center staff as well as student ambassadors. The program returned this year with four ambassadors, thanks to funds from the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

"The goal is to have the opportunity for women to understand more deeply the equity gap," said Brandi Smith, a senior assistant director at the center and the IUB Women Rising program lead and grant writer. Smith is one of seven recipients of the Indiana Commission for Women's Torchbearer Award for her work on the program.

IUB Women Rising works to reach students in various ways: partnering with student organizations and Greek life, visiting classrooms and dorm floors, tabling at events and speaking on panels.

The student ambassadors each developed their own TENtalk, modeled off TED Talks, by researching topics such as implicit bias, the motherhood penalty, occupational segregation, intersectionality and economic disparities. The ambassadors started doing their talks in the spring and are already seeing results.

According to data collected by IUB Women Rising, as of the end of the spring 2019 semester, 26 percent of students said they were completely aware of the workforce gender equity gap before hearing a TENtalk. After the talk, that increased to 66 percent of students.

The ambassadors themselves said they're also getting an education -- not only on the topic, but on public speaking and social media marketing to spread the word about the group.

And those are transferable skills that will help them no matter what they do next, Smith said, adding that the student ambassadors come from a variety of majors.

Ambassador Lindsey Batteast, a senior studying law and public policy, said the research she's done about inequities will be helpful as she looks to start her career, but so will the confidence she's gained in public speaking.

Her fellow ambassadors agreed. And they said it seems like more of their peers know about IUB Women Rising now.

"Every time we go into a classroom, it's really different for each one, but overall it's been positive and people are engaged," said Renee Palmerone, a senior studying speech and hearing science.

In addition to the work by student ambassadors, IUB Women Rising also offers the American Association of University Women Start Smart workshop. Facilitated by Career Development Center staff to teach salary negotiation, the workshop includes specific recommendations and talking points.

It's a tough subject, but the workshop provides a space to let go of those anxieties and fears, said Jenn Sims, senior assistant director for communications and media at the career center and a workshop facilitator.

Per post-workshop surveys, participants' confidence in negotiating a salary or benefits increased from 26.3 percent before the workshop to more than 97 percent at some level of confidence.

And it's those results that are encouraging to Smith as the program continues.

"The support and potential are exciting to me," she said. "We want to maintain what we built and have more success."