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ID Project Prepares Young Refugee Women For Workforce

Madeline Rose Scott

A Treasure Valley program is helping young women from refugee communities into the workforce, and hopefully to narrow the state's gender pay gap.

The Starling Project from Economic Opportunity by Jannus pairs mentors with college women ages 18 to 25 who arrived in Idaho as refugees.

Rachel Axtman, senior project manager with the group, said one of their most impactful programs is wage-negotiation workshops. She noted salary negotiations are cited as a major reason why the gender wage gap persists.

"When women start to negotiate earlier and negotiate better earlier and they get those higher wages, it impacts them positively for the rest of their career," Axtman explained.

The gender pay gap in Idaho has grown in recent years and is the highest in the nation, with women making 79 cents on average for every dollar men make.

Axtman added the gap is worse for women of color. Latino women make about 55 cents, Indigenous women 60 cents and Black women 65 cents for every dollar men make.

Maryam Naser, former mentee of the project, was born in Iraq and came to the United States from Syria in 2010. She's a student at Boise State University and is going to be the first college graduate in her family.

Naser said her mentor in the Starling Project prepared her for the workforce.

"She helped me a lot with my professional life and my school life," Naser remarked. "She helped me a lot with the resumes, applying for jobs, updating my LinkedIn profile, and such things like that. And she helped me with how to communicate professionally with my professor."

Unfortunately, COVID-19 likely will exacerbate inequities for women. Women have left the workforce in greater numbers than men since the pandemic began.

Axtman reported women who take one year or more off from work have wages that are nearly 40% lower when they return, compared with women who don't.

"Those are going to have impacts for decades, for the rest of women's careers," Axtman warned. "It'll affect household income, it'll affect individual income, and that has ripple effects in those individual households but also in communities that are then going to lack that spending power."