Business leaders say programs are in place to increase employment and management opportunities for women in local workforces.
But census numbers indicate a persistent gap in wages between men and women based on cold data from the year 2016, the latest available.
The average male salary in Terrebonne Parish is listed as $67,454 annually, while the average for women stands at $33,018. That translates to male employees earning 2.04 times the salaries earned by females. The types of jobs held by each set of workers varies, which analysts say could indicate why the disparity is so high. A disproportionate number of women tend to work one or more jobs in service industries, rather than high-paid management positions. This is the case, statistics indicate, even though women have a slight edge over men in graduation rates from local high schools.
In Lafourche — whose figures are joined with those in Assumption Parish — the gap is a little smaller. The average male salary according to the most recent numbers was $62,913 compared to $34,896 for women. That means that in 2016, full-time male employees in Lafourche and Assumption parishes made 1.8 times more than female employees.
Historically male-dominated industries related to the Bayou Region’s oil-and gas services may have another effect.
Hard work is being done — and has been done over a half decade especially — to boost the potentials for women to earn more and to have greater choices. The South Central Industrial Association and the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce are among the organizations that are doing what they can to make a difference.
Although just in her first year as Chamber CEO, Nicol Blanchard said more women are taking a leadership role in such programs.
“We are trying to grow within the region and have been doing it for about five years through the local school systems,” Blanchard said.
A program called “Females Fueling Our Workforce” has featured female executives who visit schools and show girls how they have succeeded in what is acknowledged as a male-dominated world.
“They talk about how they balance life and family and are still successful,” said Blanchard, noting that the program has spread the word to girls in Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, St. Mary and St. John parishes.
One speaker who has received particularly enthusiastic reception is Sharon Hewitt, now a state senator for Louisiana’s 1st Senatorial District, but who has amassed a portfolio of civic and community leadership, in particular as a pioneer in the oil-and-gas industry. She managed major deep-water assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell and ahs been recognized within the industry as an innovative problem-solver.
As a mother, she never flagged from devoting energy to her children, involving herself with the PTA and other organizations.
During the 2016 legislative sessions, Hewitt received national awards for her contributions to business. Although her district covers northshore communities including Covington and Slidell, as well as portions of Orleans and Plaquemines parishes, Hewitt has generously involved herself in programs that are having an effect on girls in the Bayou Region, including Terrebonne, by providing strong example and inspiration.
Other signs of change, Blanchard said, can be seen through what she perceives as an increase in chamber membership among women.
Although hard data is not currently available, Blanchard said she has observed greater numbers of women joining up because of their entrepreneurial businesses.
SCIA’s former president, Jane Arnette, continues to give encouragement to young women seeking careers in local industry.
“Women need to know, it’s okay, you can become an engineer. It’s not a guy thing,” Arnette said. “They need to get away from this, it’s a guy thing. It’s not a guy thing. You can become an engineer. You can become a truck driver, a CDL.”
Blanchard said the program not only raises awareness but also promotes female empowerment for the young girls attending. She said that Females Fueling can have future benefits to companies and women who end up entirely separated from the energy sector.
“It’s about showing these girls women in the energy industry and showing them what’s possible. Even if they don’t work in oil and gas, maybe they’ll think, if they can do that, I can do something else I want to,” Blanchard said.
“They need to get away from this,
it’s a guy thing. It’s not a guy thing. You
can become an engineer. You can
become a truck driver, a CDL.”
– Jane Arnette •
BY JOHN DESANTIS