DAVE MOSIER/independent editor
A group of eighth grade Cougar Leaders from Van Wert Middle School were at the YWCA of Van Wert County on Monday to learn about economic advancement as it pertains to women in the workforce.
The eighth-graders, a few boys but mostly girls, were first welcomed by Kelly Houg, the YWCA’s marketing director, who spoke about economic equality for women, noting that Equal Pay Day — the day women make as much as men who do the same jobs did at the end of a year (December 31) — was April 10 of this year, more than three months later.
Equality of pay and being treated the same in the workplace is what economic advancement is all about for women, Houg noted.
The students then had the opportunity to hear from four women who held positions of responsibility, including Libby Gardner, who spent nearly a decade in the military; Van Wert Economic Development Director Stacy Adam, Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Vicki Brunn, and Candy Lammers, who runs her own general contracting company.
Gardner noted that she first became interested in the military after seeing the television program “Making of a Marine”, but chose the United States Army as her military branch of choice.
Noting she was married at the time, Gardner said she talked it over with her then-husband, as well as family members, before making the decision to enlist.
She added that it wasn’t easy at first to get men to treat her as an equal, noting that women had fewer opportunities in the service then than they have now.
“The first thing I discovered when I joined was that there were a lot of men that didn’t want to line up with women,” Gardner noted. “I had to earn their respect, but they didn’t have to earn mine. They thought they already had it.”
She also noted that later on that, when she was single again, some men she dated felt threatened by a woman in the military, that it made them less masculine somehow. Gardner told the students that, when it comes to physical training, women are built differently than men, they are not inferior to men, and can even do some things, like sit-ups, better than men.
Gardner said she appreciated the fact that her community was always behind her while she was in the military.
Adam, who first broke barriers as a branch manager, and later a vice president, for a Fortune 500 company, Chemlawn, before getting into economic development.
“I just went to work and did my job,” she said.
One advantage she had growing up, Adam noted, was a father who was very supportive of what she did.
“My father encouraged me so much that I didn’t think of being a female in a male world,” she told the students.
Adam also said she learned early on a way to earn equal pay to the men who were in similar positions, noting that she would get her boss to agree to give her an incentive bonus for meeting goals she set that were higher than the men were asked to do. She then met the goals.
Adam told the students that, while life isn’t always fair, women today have more control than they think they do.
Brunn said she also had a father who supported and encouraged her.
“More than anyone, my father made me believe that I could do what I wanted to do,” she noted.
Joking that she still didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, Brunn said she did a number of thinks, including operating a stud farm, before deciding to be a teacher. The decision to become an administrator came after she saw changes she would like to make in education.
The VWCS superintendent told the students that it didn’t matter what they wanted to do, but recommended that they have a passion for whatever it is they wanted to do,
“You have to really discover what you’re passionate about,” Brunn said.
She also said that, in education, while there are more women teachers than men, as she climbed the administrative ladder as a principal and then a superintendent, there were fewer and fewer women in those positions.
Brunn also noted that she did get some pushback over the years as she was promoted.
At one school district where she was hired as a principal, one male board member told her she was the first woman principal in the district.
Her answer? “I said it’s about time,” Brunn noted, while telling students they need to follow their dreams in life. “I worked hard to move up the ladder and here I am, a superintendent; I don’t think I ever expected to move up that far.”
Candy Lammers was the last speaker. Lammers, who began as a laborer in the construction business at the suggestion of her husband, later worked as subcontractor, a project manager, and just recently started her own general contracting business, CSL Contracting.
She told the students that they should look for a career, not just a job.
“Make a difference; it’s not easy, it’s hard,” Lammers said, but also noted that it’s rewarding, noting that she was the only woman, along with 110 men, who worked on the Niswonger Performing Arts Center and high school-middle school project at Van Wert.
“Here I was a construction manager on a $54 million school project,” Lammers added. “It was a lot of responsibility.”
Lammers also noted that, when men rejected her as a work partner early in her career, “it puts a little fire under you”.
Houg ended the program by challenging the girls to support and empower each other in the workforce, while also telling the boys they also need to provide support to women in the workplace.