North Carolina women make progress toward parity

By Melissa Atherton

American women have come come a long way in the past 236 years: Deborah Gannett, the first female soldier in the US Army, enlisted in 1782 because she disguised herself as a man.

And in the past three years, North Carolina has risen from the worst third in the nation to the middle third for both women’s employment and earnings, and poverty and opportunity.

“Women in North Carolina have made considerable advances in recent years, but still face inequities that often prevent them from reaching their full potential,” says Machelle Sanders, secretary of the NC Department of Administration.

There is more disheartening news:

Since the 2004 Status of Women report was published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the gender gap in North Carolina has narrowed and a higher percentage of women have bachelor’s degrees, yet a larger share of women live in poverty.

North Carolina was ranked 35th in the nation with a D+ grade in the “Work and Family” category and was ranked 31st in the nation with a C grade in the “Employment and Earnings” categories. At the current rate, women in North Carolina will not receive equal pay until 2060.

While women have surpassed men in education, they are under-represented in high-skilled jobs.

Business Today interviewed four successful women on personal choices, family obligations and how external forces affect their careers: A law firm and retail business owner finds satisfaction in being her own boss; a woman business owner is earning the respect of her customers and peers in a male-dominated business; a corporate executive is helping shape a more progressive workplace; and a nurse (she asked that we change her name) who prioritizes flexibility at work and time with her children over increased salary.

Kary Church Watson, owner of Church Watson Law, Owner of Pete & Pop’s Findery

Davidson resident and attorney Kary Church Watson is an expert on workplace-family tradeoffs.

She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from UNC Chapel Hill, a Master’s Degree in Applied Philosophy from Bowling Green State University and a Juris Doctorate from Wake Forest University. Watson worked at a firm for 11 years after law school, then left to start her own family law practice, Church Watson Law, with offices in Charlotte and Cornelius.

Watson said starting her own firm with her husband, Rush Watson, allowed more flexibility to manage work and their two children. The departure from her former firm was amicable and her former colleagues were supportive.

“I left the practice for multiple reasons, most of which centered around wanting to be my own boss and to control my schedule,” Watson said.

Watson said there was a glass ceiling at the previous firm, where only two partners were women. Over the years, several other women became equity partners, but they had to jump through more hoops than the men. Watson witnessed the law firm growing and taking on more complicated cases that required her to be constantly connected. She knew that if she wanted to become a partner, the unspoken rule mandated working most days.

“No one ever said what the ‘rule’ was, I just knew what was expected if I ever wanted to be a partner,” Watson said.

Watson had her first child in 2004 and took an unpaid maternity leave of three months. She had her second child in 2009. Watson said childcare was very expensive at $1,200 per month. Watson recalled the day she decided to leave the practice:

“The day I actually decided to leave, I realized that I had never been the one to pick my son up from daycare,” Watson said.

But after running her own law firm, Watson wanted a creative outlook. She had always dreamed of owning her own gift shop. Watson made her dream a reality in September 2017 when she opened Pete & Pop’s Findery, a modern-day mercantile featuring local artisans.

Watson said she finds the store hugely rewarding. She maintains a large children’s section at Pete & Pop’s because she loves to see children play with the merchandise.

Watson has advice for women in the legal field and women seeking to start their own business.

“Stick to your vision and do not let anyone patronize you…Find people you trust and ask for help. There are multiple great support systems in our community for women business owners,” Watson said.

Nicole Purser, Owner & President, Purser Central Rewinding Co., Inc.

Nicole Purser owns Purser Central Rewinding Co. in Concord.  Purser’s father, Terry Purser, bought the business in 1981 and she became president in 2009.

Purser is an expert in electric motors, drives, pumps, gearboxes and motor accessories. She manages technicians who rewind and rebuild electro-mechanical equipment. Purser is also a Licensed Public Utility Contractor and Licensed Building Contractor.

Her company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Woman Owned Business and Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB).

Purser began working in the shop with her father when she was 15. She spent three years studying biology and chemistry in college. During this time, she worked in various positions including: Restaurant server, biology lab assistant, invertebrate zoology tutor, and shoe store manager. Ultimately, Purser decided to leave school and return to the electric motor business that she knew so well.

Purser works in a male-dominated profession and she, too, believes there is a glass ceiling.

“Female CEOs and leaders of industries are still a minority,” Purser said.

Early in her career, she had to face earning the respect of her customers and peers. She constantly had to “prove” her knowledge of the industry; she was never easily accepted as the company, which dates back to 1948.

“I overcame customers calling in and wanting to speak to one of my ‘guys,’ thinking I would not be able to help them,” Purser said.

Purser’s life revolves around her business because she is always on call to handle problems. She rarely leaves the shop until 7 p.m., two and a half hours after closing time.

“A benefit of running my company is feeling that I have been part of opening up opportunities for other women and the pride I have in being able to stand toe-to-toe with male counterparts while earning their respect based on my knowledge of our industry,” Purser said.

Unfortunately, Purser said she has not had the opportunity to hire women in non-administrative jobs. Vacancies posted on the internet are always answered by male candidates. Purser said she goes above and beyond to help women achieve their potential.

“The two females I employ are paid higher than scale for my geographic region and their job skills,” Purser said.

Evonne Bennett, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Ingersoll Rand

Evonne Bennett is helping pave the way for women to gain equal status in the corporate workplace. As director of “Global Diversity and Inclusion” for Ingersoll Rand in Davidson, she not only helps create and lead programs to advance women in the workplace, she also demonstrates the benefits she and other women have professionally derived from involvement.

Bennett is a Concord resident and three-time graduate of the University of South Carolina.

She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations, a Juris Doctorate from the School of Law, and a Master’s Degree in Human Resources from the Darla School of Business.

Bennett said Ingersoll Rand, which has its North America headquarters in Davidson, is among global companies competing for a narrow pipeline of talent, while also trying to calibrate the gender balance sheet at all levels of the organization.

“Strong female talent is already here in our organization, so we have constructed programs aimed to accelerate their career progression in our company,” Bennett said. “We also set our sights on women entering the workforce, ensuring our pool of candidates for any position is diverse and represents the population of the available labor force.”

Bennett said Ingersoll Rand recently united with nearly 40 other companies and joined the Paradigm for Parity coalition and pledged to bring gender parity to its corporate leadership structure by 2030.

The program action steps include: minimizing or eliminating unconscious biases in the workplace; significantly increasing the number of women in senior operating roles; basing career progress on business results; and providing sponsors and mentors to potential women leaders.

“Joining Paradigm for Parity was an easy decision for us. The coalition goals are a natural extension of our business strategy and a manifestation of our values. And, like other strategic business goals, we know that our progress will be driven by everyone in the company, not just leaders,” Bennett said.

Bennett said Ingersoll Rand also runs a four-month long Women’s Leadership Program that brings dynamic cohorts of women together to capitalize on their collective professional network, while also gaining executive sponsorship and shared understanding from formal mentoring relationships.

Bennet said: “I know these efforts are working when I look around senior leadership meetings and the faces at the table are women who have successfully elevated their careers at Ingersoll Rand – including peers in my very own Women’s Leadership Program Cohort from 2014.  It gets even better when those same female leaders are helping set action plans for reaching gender parity in our career lifetime.”


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