Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Women  of  Hawaii
Challenges. Changes. Courage.
Day 3: Climbing Part Way

Bennette Evangelista is vice president at Actus Lend Lease. "As you climb up the corporate ladder, there are some sacrifices you have to make," she said. "When I'm given opportunities, I take them."

Entire family
sacrifices for mom’s
devotion to career

Having kids can force women
to find creative ways to balance
the needs of a family and a career

» Risky business pays off for store owner
» Tonight on KITV


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A few minutes shy of midnight, and Bennette Misalucha Evangelista was still at work, putting in extra hours to crank out a report.

She diverted her glance from the computer screen to rest her eyes when she caught a glimpse of her children, 11 and 6 at the time, who had both fallen asleep on the floor without blankets or pillows. "What am I doing?" she thought, scolding herself for not having her children at home in bed.

For a moment she cried. Then, she went back to work.

"As you climb up the corporate ladder, there are some sacrifices you have to make," said Evangelista, now a vice president and regional director of community relations at Actus Lend Lease. "When I'm given opportunities, I take them."

Evangelista says she has made being a full-time executive and full-time mom work with no small amount of creativity. Until they were teenagers, her children attended countless board meetings and after-work gatherings when she could not find child care. Though her youngest is now in high school, Evangelista still has a cache of food in a drawer in her office, just in case one of her kids drops by with an appetite. And her husband, a lawyer with his own long hours to contend with, took over the household's cooking years ago and never once suggested she pass up a promotion.

But other Hawaii women -- countless women -- are staying out or dropping out of top professional positions because they are given an either-or choice (which, for some, is no choice really) between being there for their children's formative years and nurturing their prospects for a promotion.

"If they are having children, there's a huge retribution," said Leslie Wilkins, vice president of the Maui Economic Development Board's Women in Technology project and a former member of the state Commission on the Status of Women. "Have child No. 2 and you'll never recoup."

The trend, which at least one women's professional group has pledged to examine, is one of many issues facing Hawaii's work force -- a place of both immense success and persistent inequities for women, whether well to do, disadvantaged or in between.

Though the state ranks high on several indicators regarding women who work, there are other statistics that distress women's rights advocates.

Women, for example, still make up the overwhelming majority in most low-paying jobs in the islands, according to state statistics. Single mothers are the most at-risk group for poverty in Hawaii and nationally, 2004 U.S. Census Bureau figures show, with some 21,000 -- or 18 percent -- of all single moms in the islands living below the poverty line.

And an Institute for Women's Policy Research report released last year ranked Hawaii 31st in the nation for the percentage of women in poverty, and 45th for the percentage of Asian-American women in "managerial or professional occupations."

Also, though Hawaii tops the nation in how much women make compared with men, according to a 2004 ranking by the women's institute, there is still a significant difference between the genders: Women make 83 cents on a man's dollar, which adds up to about a $6,100 disparity annually.

When compared with only white men employed full time, women in Hawaii make 71 cents on the dollar, ranking 13th in the nation. "I love women in the work force who feel like there's no glass ceiling for them," said Annelle Amaral, president of the Women's Coalition.

"But that is not to say that we don't continue to face challenges."

Along with financial discrepancies, women still face sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Last year, 33 women in the islands filed pregnancy discrimination cases against their employers, alleging they were unfairly fired or reduced in hours.

"Self-sufficiency" -- a woman's ability to be free of government and familial assistance -- also remains a key issue, which new state Commission on the Status of Women Executive Director Sharon Ferguson-Quick has vowed to take up in coming months.

"When you start to take a look at what it takes to live in this community, it's amazing," she said. "It affects women. It ripples through the community."

A 2003 report produced for the commission showed a single mother living in Honolulu with two children -- a preschooler and one in grade school -- would have to earn $19.88 an hour just to (conservatively) cover the costs of housing, child care, food and other living expenses.

Meanwhile, the middle-of-the-road hourly wage for Hawaii's largest private occupation -- sales -- was $10.07 in 2003, according to state statistics.

About 60 percent of the state's nearly 76,000 salespeople are women.

"I sacrifice a lot," said Dannalyn Duseigneur, adding that she and her four children are only making it thanks to the generosity of her parents, grandparents and a good amount of overtime, which has put her in the good graces of her employer.

Dannalyn Duseigneur relaxes with her four children -- Whitney, 19, left; Pohakea, 16; Nohea, 4; and Keanu, 8 -- in the patio area behind their Nanakuli home, which she affectionately calls their "meeting place." That is where the family gathers after school, work and dinner.

In a year she has worked her way up from a $9-an-hour customer service position at Ohana Telcom to managing the company's warehouse at $18 an hour.

But her wages do not go far in taking care of her kids, ages 19, 16, 8 and 4. So her parents help out as much as they can, especially with child care for the younger ones.

And she lives with her grandmother rent-free in Nanakuli, in exchange for taking care of the home's utilities and upkeep. "I do without, but I'm satisfied with going to Wal-Mart," said Duseigneur as she cheered on her 8-year-old at a football game on a recent weekend.

Two years ago, Duseigneur got out of prison after serving four years for embezzlement. On top of her bills, she is paying back the $43,000 she stole while an administrative assistant at another company.

Valli Kalei Kanuha, a professor of social work at the University of Hawaii, says she is most concerned about women like Duseigneur in Hawaii, whose issues tend to get overshadowed by the milestones of women at the top.

"When you look up and see all the women who are the lawyers and the doctors, it kind of looks like women are making it, but it's always the same kind of women," Kanuha said. "The same women who weren't making it before still aren't making it -- poor women, young women with children. The majority of women are still fighting to have equity in their lives."

Consider, additionally, that traditionally male-dominated jobs in Hawaii, such as engineer draft technicians, carpenters, electricians and car mechanics, were paid about $20 an hour, on average, in 2003, according to state statistics. Secretaries, cashiers and clerks -- all jobs that were overwhelmingly held by women -- were paid on average between $10.69 and $15.19.

"The concerns are that society has some entrenched gender differences, and still, the value of what's been traditionally male employment is valued higher," said Wilkins, whose Women in Technology will be taken statewide this year to get teenage girls interested in science and encourage women to pursue engineering or similar careers in college.

Today, there are three laws in Hawaii guaranteeing women pay equity, on top of the federal law promising equal pay for equal work. Lawmakers in the islands looked at the issue most recently last year, when they passed House Bill 1305.

The bill became law in April without the governor's signature, and defines gender-based wage discrimination not only as getting paid less for the same work, but as getting paid less for a similar job which requires the same skills and performance -- a standard that many say would be hard to prove.

"There are still subtle ways that men can get paid more for the same types of jobs," said Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu (Waipahu-Village Park-Waikele), one of the introducers of the bill.

Job choices of the sexes

Women make up 48.3 percent of Hawaii's civilian labor force. Here is the male-female breakdown on selected occupations, surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000:

Male Female
Officials and managers 59.2% 40.8%
Technicians 52.2% 47.8%
Sales associates 40.2% 59.8%
Administrative support 24.2% 75.2%
Craft workers 94.5% 5.5%
Laborers and helpers 83.9% 16.1%
Service workers 48.8% 51.2%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

A FEW NIGHTS after her son graduated from high school, when Evangelista realized he would be going away to college soon, she decided to ask him one of those questions children groan at answering. "Was I here enough?" she queried, with a searching glance. "Should I have been working full time while you were growing up? Should I have given you more attention?"

Christian, her son, thought for a moment. Nearly a year later, his answer still has her marveling at the resilience of youth-dom.

"I knew you were fulfilled in what you were doing," he told her quickly, hoping to change the subject to something less sappy. "And I knew no other life, so I never missed anything."

Evangelista, whose office at Actus Lend Lease has a panoramic view of Honolulu Harbor, says she often felt guilty about staying late at work while her children were growing up, or feeding them fast food because she was not about to cook after a long day.

But her son's reassuring response helped her realize that by moving up the ranks in a corporate world and by working hard, she was able to lead by example and give her children a taste for the work force, with all its frustrations and satisfactions.

"I enjoy my job. I enjoy the challenges of corporate life," said Evangelista, leaning forward in her high-back chair. "Unfortunately, many women choose not to participate. In this respect, it's important for women to reach out to other women."

Earlier this year, the Hawaii Women's Legal Foundation decided to start doing just that. The group wants to stop bright, rising-star female attorneys from quitting their jobs to raise their children or start a family. One solution, the foundation says, is to persuade law firms to institute flexible or part-time schedules so that mothers -- and fathers -- can continue to work while their children are young.

"It's impossible to take care of your family and be the superstar attorney who is working until 9 or 10 at night," said Lane Hornfeck McKay, a member of the group and an attorney with Starn O'Toole Marcus & Fisher. "Something's got to give somewhere."

Wilkins, who is also former president of Maui's Business and Professional Women chapter, says the situation for rising female lawyers is similar for female professors and executives.

Tracking Time
1940 ~ 1950

Key dates in women's empowerment in Hawaii:

» 1943: Ellen S. Kahanu became the state's first policewoman.

» 1947: Rhonda Lewis was appointed the state's first female attorney general. Twelve years later she became the Hawaii Supreme Court's first female associate justice.

» 1949: Kathryn A. Mauer was named Hawaii's first female union organizer (with the Hawaii Government Employees Association).

» 1950: Anna W.K. Chung became the state's first female optometrist.

And for many it comes along with traditional gender biases in a state that, statistics show, has a less than impressive record for the number of women in executive positions.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research 2004 report, "The Status of Women in the States," 29 states had percentages of women in "managerial or professional occupations" that were higher than Hawaii's, which was two percentage points below the national average.

"We still don't have enough women in management," said Amy Agbayani, director of the University of Hawaii's Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity. "They're still typecast in various roles."

Of the state's top 250 companies ranked in Hawaii Business magazine's August edition, only eight are headed by women. Honolulu magazine's 2005 listing of "Best Lawyers in Hawaii" included 157 attorneys, 13 of whom are women. And at the University of Hawaii, only 36 percent of tenure-track positions are held by women, who make up about 45 percent of the institution's managers and executives, according to UH-provided statistics.

Cherylle Morrow, acting executive director of the Hawaii Women's Business Center, said there is good news to be found in small business, where women are increasingly turning to dictate their own hours and be their own boss.

About 46 percent of businesses in Hawaii are wholly or partly owned by women, Center for Women's Business Research statistics show.

Those 41,280 companies generate $7.9 billion in sales and employ nearly 60,000 people. "I think there's no question that women are definitely entrepreneurial," Wilkins said. "Women are opening up their own businesses when they haven't fared well in traditional corporate environments."

But women have a more difficult time accessing startup money, and many have cashed in on their retirements just to open their doors. Also disconcerting is that the state ranked last in the nation for the growth of female-owned businesses between 1997 and 2004, whose numbers actually fell in Hawaii over the period by .6 percent.


Tonight on KITV 4 News at 10 ...

KITV 4 The military is big in Hawaii, and women are well represented here, but that hasn't always been the case when moving up the ranks. Paula Akana talks story with the first female general in the history of the Hawaii Air National Guard. Tonight at 10 on Island Television News.



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