Finding quality child care key issue facing women in workforce, Arkansas commission finds

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks on Dec. 7, 2022, at the state Capitol during a press conference held to announce the release of the Arkansas Women’s Commission's statewide report analyzing the economic status of women in the workforce. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Finding quality child care underlies many of the challenges facing women in Arkansas' workforce, but businesses, nonprofits and government agencies are working to address the challenges, according to a report released Wednesday by the Arkansas Women’s Commission.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson reestablished the commission in February to examine and provide possible solutions for key issues facing women in the workforce. The state's first women's commission was created by Gov. Orval Faubus in 1964. The current group marks the fourth such commission, with the last significant report produced in 1973.

The main focus areas of the report released Wednesday included women’s labor force participation, the impacts of covid-19 and family care-giving. The report analyzed the economic status of women in the workforce and highlighted eight recommendations.

The recommendations are:

• Meaningfully engage the business community to address child care challenges.

• Increase access to women’s mental health resources, especially in rural communities.

• Increase mentorship for women, especially single mothers, underrepresented students and entrepreneurs.

• Increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents.

• Increase equity in the labor force and entrepreneurship.

• Incentivize Arkansans to enter or remain in the early childhood education profession.

• Increase equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

• Provide technical assistance and capacity building for expanding existing child care businesses.

“Nearly 50 years have passed since our state had a Women’s Commission, and since that time our workforce and economic diversity has evolved tremendously,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “As we look towards the future of Arkansas, I’m proud of the great work the commission has done to assist in eliminating the barriers that limit the economic success of women and creating a more equitable labor force for all Arkansans.”

The Republican governor also announced that he will commit $200,000 from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to support Arkansas State University’s expansion of its Women’s Business Leadership Center through the creation of Delta Women’s Leadership Academy.

Hutchinson said the academy will mentor female students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, business owners and the next generation of successful female leaders.

Walmart also has granted $25,000 to the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to help fund outreach and stakeholder engagement in 2023. The money will be used to raise awareness about the commission's recommendations and build partnerships to bolster the economic development of women in the workforce.