With women working hard to break through the proverbial glass ceiling, will the current economic climate help their efforts?

Mary Murphree, Ph.D., Christine Birnbaum and Rosyln Chernesky, DSW, discuss women and work.
Photo by Gina Vergel

Perhaps, according to experts at a Fordham panel on women in the workplace.

“There might be greater interest in hiring and advancing women,” said Rosyln Chernesky, DSW, a professor at Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service (GSS), “but that’s because the current economic climate has led to toxic workplaces, and women are considered toxic handlers.”

Chernesky was one of three panelists at the Feb. 5 conference on “Women and Work: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?” sponsored by the Institute for Women and Girls at Fordham, the Women’s City Club of New York and the Transition Network. It was held on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.

Since many cutbacks are occurring at the management level, Chernesky said, there is an opportunity to dismantle the traditional hierarchal structure found in the workplace.

“We’re likely to see more collaborative structures in our organizations and those types of structures women tend to do well in,” she said. “Women will be able to show skills, and this will give them opportunities to move around and up.”

Panelist Christine Birnbaum, director of human resources and diversity for the New York Life Insurance Company, said the economic downturn is creating opportunities for women who realize they have to go out there and get them.

“I’m already seeing women step out and start their own businesses or just plain step out and network,” Birnbaum said. “On the other hand, we don’t know what’s going to happen with companies, where anything discretionary is getting cut. Programs that support women and minorities could be at risk.”

Mary Murphree, Ph.D., senior adviser at the Sloan Center on Innovative Training and Workforce Development (ITWD) at Rutgers University, referred to one of the few positives of the most recent federal job report, which tracks the status of employment in the United States.

“Eighty-two percent of layoffs have fallen on the shoulders of men. This is the first time in the history of our country that there are 50 percent women in the workforce,” she said. “We can now say American women are the breadwinners and caregivers—straight out.”

Murphree also discussed several aspects of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

“The good news is that $4 billion is promised for reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, which is where the training dollars in this country go,” Murphree said. “Women’s groups are working hard, and they are going to need our help to be sure that displaced homemakers, re-entry women and transition women can get some of these jobs and some of this training. This could make a big difference.”

The panel was moderated by Ronnie Eldridge, host of CUNY TV’s Eldridge & Co. The mission of the Fordham Institute for Women and Girls is to promote the well-being of women and girls who experience poverty, violence, health problems and workplace discrimination.


Gina Vergel is Senior Director of Communications. She oversees the digital news coverage, public relations, and social media for the university. Before joining Fordham in 2007, Gina worked as a reporter for the Home News Tribune, and The Ridgewood News, where she won Society of Professional Journalist (New Jersey chapter) awards for breaking news and feature writing, respectively. She can be reached at [email protected] or (646) 579-9957.