Pasadena Community Foundation Funds

Women at Work Endowment

Members of the Women at Work Advisory Committee, pictured in 2016.

The Women at Work Endowment is a committee-advised, field of interest endowment at Pasadena Community Foundation. It supports Pasadena-area nonprofit organizations that help women achieve sustainable employment and earn their fullest potential.

Women at Work (WAW) was a Pasadena-based nonprofit for nearly 40 years with a mission “to help clients reach their full employment and earnings potential in a supportive environment.” The organization sunset its operations in 2018, but not before creating an endowment with PCF. This fund ensures continuity for the unique niche WAW served as a nonprofit and is a legacy to the women who founded and participated in the organization. During its tenure with PCF, the Women at Work Endowment has granted nearly $40,000 to organizations like the Flintridge Center, Coffee with a Cause, and Elizabeth House.

In March of 2024, PCF hosted three very special guests at our office: Founder and former executive director Betty Ann Jansson and former board members Marsha Rood and Uma Shrivastava – three women who were instrumental in creating and evolving Women at Work. We share their stories of the organization below.

History of the Organization

Women At Work was founded in 1979 by three visionaries:  Betty Ann Jansson, Marge Leighton, and Barbara Burke. Together the women served as joint executive directors for several years before Jansson became its sole director. She retired from the organization in 2005.

The organization started with a small resource room equipped with job listings and a career planning library; it also hosted seminars, workshops, and networking events. WAW was unique because its employment services were individualized and emphasized building each woman’s self-esteem, self-determination, confidence, and capabilities. Women At Work met women where they were with no necessary pre-qualifications.

An elderly woman smiles broadly while holding a book open for the camera. The book shows a black and white photo that depicts her in an earlier era. There is an inset photo that shows the black and white photo in better detail.
Betty Ann Jansson pictured in March, 2024 at the PCF office. She displays a 2003 book titled “The Power of One,” which includes a chapter about her legacy with Women at Work. Inset photo shows Betty during her tenure with the organization.

The 1970s were a time of great excitement and momentum for women, who at the time only earned $.59 to a man’s dollar. Their employment opportunities typically only existed in teaching, nursing, retail, or secretarial positions. Jansson recounts that “there was a groundswell of women entering the workforce for the first time or reentering after starting a family. Those who had a college degree often majored in liberal arts – an undefined field that made it more difficult to find a job.” WAW met a moment in time with invaluable assistance for these women.

Across the country, organizations centered on women’s work were springing up in response to the unique convergence of economic and social movements involving women. “We were loosely affiliated with two national organizations that helped spur this movement: Wider Opportunities for Women and the Nationally Displaced Homemakers Network,” says Jansson. “National conferences attracted hundreds of small organizations from around the country, all doing similar work to WAW. But these organizations often catered to more educated women. Pasadena was very diverse, and we made sure to work with a cross-section of women, at every level of education and experience.”

A 2012 flyer showcasing some of Women at Work’s programs.

Ahead of its time

By 1983, the demand for the organization’s programs had grown so much that it moved into a large room at the YWCA building near City Hall. Its programming also expanded with help from several strategic partnerships with the Flintridge Foundation, the Pasadena Public Library, and Pasadena City College – organizations that provided certified training sessions in specialized areas.  Certified career counselors were added to staff, and volunteers were instrumental to the mission: They scheduled workshops, provided resume support, fostered networking among clients, and served as liaisons to community and employer partners.

WAW kept pace with changes in the economy and was respected for being ahead of its time and “in the know” about women’s issues. It developed a Corporate Advisory Council to change corporate attitudes about hiring women. It was also an early adopter of computer-based training programs. Jansson remembers that 100 people attended the organization’s first computer workshop; they had only expected one dozen. After an 1983 LA Times story showcased the organization’s work, WAW fielded thousands of phone calls. After that, whenever the newspaper needed information or a quote about the women’s employment sector, WAW got a call. When it came to staffing, WAW prioritized racial and age diversity, while similarly adopting new programs for specific populations of women who faced unique obstacles when entering the job market. Its programs included the Older (Mature) Worker Program, Adult Remediation, Financial Literacy, the Latina Employment Program, and the Clothes Closet, at which women could choose gently used outfits in preparation for interviews or new jobs.

Times Change and the Organization Adapts

While WAW was nimble in evolving its mission to meet changing economic, demographic, and technological environments, time inevitably changed the course of WAW’s work. By the mid-2000s, computer literacy was widespread – people understood how to use the Internet for job searches and other resources. The economy was strong during this era, making it more difficult to make a case to funders to support job search assistance. Then, the 2008-2009 Great Recession dried up WAW’s grant funding – women’s employment was not deemed as high priority as other issues.  Finally, in the 2010s, local community colleges introduced career counseling centers that replicated much of WAW’s programs. It was time to consider a change.

Around the year 2012, WAW was unexpectedly named as a beneficiary of a lawsuit settlement, and the significant sum provided a nest egg for the organization. Board member Uma Shrivastava assessed the options and guided the board to the Pasadena Community Foundation.  “I wanted to work with PCF because it was local. I felt very comfortable with the leadership,” she shared. Marsha Rood agrees, saying “it was more appropriate to keep the funds in Pasadena. With PCF, we could know the grantees. That was very important to us.”

In 2016, the organization’s leadership created the Women at Work Endowment Fund. Two years later, when the organization closed its doors, most organizations around the country with similar missions had closed too.

Today, the Women at Work Endowment, which falls into PCF’s Community and Economic Development area of interest, continues the important mission of WAW. It benefits from PCF’s deep knowledge of the nonprofit landscape and its ability to fund flexibly. The endowment’s Advisory Board selects grantee organizations that help women in challenging circumstances to gain sustainable employment.

Betty Ann Jansson, Marsha Rood, and Uma Shrivastava in March 2024. The three women were instrumental in creating and evolving the Women at Work nonprofit.

The Power of Endowment
Endowments are the cornerstone of PCF’s mission to build hometown legacies. The corpus of each endowed fund is invested with PCF’s portfolio for long-term growth. Each year, the endowments generate the funds that support PCF’s local grantmaking, which enriches the arts community, protects our environment, provides health care and critical social services, and bolsters public education in Pasadena. Endowments are permanent legacies for our community; these funds will continue to grow and provide philanthropic support forever. Learn more about creating an endowment at PCF.

Created April 2016

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