Ensuring a Brighter Future for Women and Girls
By Beth Pearsall
San Diego, California
A family tradition of education, American steel, and a chance encounter set the stage for AAUW Carlisle (PA) Branch member Ann Pehle’s work for women and girls.
The importance of education was ingrained in Pehle from a young age. Both of her parents had college degrees, as did her maternal grandparents. And when Pehle was 12, her mother went back to school to get a master’s degree in library science.
“My mother earned her master’s and started working outside of the home in the late 60s and early 70s,” says Pehle. “It always seemed normal to me that she would have her own education and career interests and pursue them.”
Pehle fondly remembers Saturday mornings growing up in the Chicago suburbs, when her father would play his album of college fight songs on their stereo as he watched football. “Needless to say, in our house, it wasn’t a matter of if my sisters and I were going to college — it was where,” she laughs.
For Pehle, the “where” would eventually be the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications. Years later, she went on to earn her MBA at Northwestern University.
She followed the path her parents blazed in her education and later her career. “My parents modeled equality and fairness and really gave us a solid foundation,” says Pehle.
They also passed on to her the value of hard work and the importance of forming solid relationships. These concepts were reinforced in Pehle particularly during the two summers she spent working alongside her father at the U.S. Steel South Works plant.
The steel plant was her introduction to big workplace dynamics. “I really got an appreciation for how hard people work and the pride they take in their work,” she says.
She especially enjoyed talking to the workers on the factory floor and learning about the relationship between boss and subordinate. She didn’t know it at the time, but these experiences would shape her future career path.
“There was just something about seeing people at work,” Pehle says. “Later, as I pursued a career in human resources, I always sought out manufacturing-based companies. I just loved the relationships between the people on the floor and those in the offices and enjoyed creating systems that improve work experiences for all.”
Pehle spent more than 30 years in human resources, working for companies like Textron, Shastar, and Pakula & Company. She later created her own career coaching business before fully retiring last year.
Charting the Course Forward
Like much in Pehle’s story, her relationship with AAUW took root back in her childhood home. She remembers her mother being an AAUW member and talking about how she enjoyed going to the meetings and hearing from women who received AAUW fellowships. Pehle later came across various AAUW research reports during her professional career. But it wasn’t until May 2015, when she ran into the president of the Carlisle branch at an event, that she finally decided to act.
A longtime advocate for women’s success in education and the workplace, Pehle admits that AAUW had been on her list of organizations to investigate for years. “Then when I ran into the branch president, I thought, this must be the cosmos telling me that it’s time to finally join AAUW,” she says. “I haven’t looked back since.”
Pehle is a member of the Carlisle branch and currently serves as its public policy chair and webmaster. She also serves as the AAUW of Pennsylvania public policy co-chair.
“I have been involved in other organizations that just don’t have the same level of quality of support as AAUW,” she says. “I quickly became aware of and appreciate the quality and breadth of support the national organization provides, and I continue to be impressed by every single person employed by AAUW. All of the work that goes on at the national level is critical to making it easier for us to do work at the local level on issues that impact women.”
That’s why Pehle was happy to answer the call for the unrestricted giving campaign that is wrapping up this fall. Charting the Course emphasizes giving that isn’t constrained only to one program, because flexibility is crucial to deftly addressing the evolving barriers that women and girls face. “When the plea came to give to the Charting the Course campaign, I said, OK, this is what we need to do,” Pehle says.
Charting the Course is close to reaching a $1 million goal to bolster much-needed support for the programs that members love, including research, salary negotiation, science and math training, getting out the vote, and so much more. “What we need is money to keep the organization running, to keep the breadth and quality of that critical support going, and to ensure our programs and advocacy work continue,” says Pehle.
Because all of that is what sets AAUW apart.
Working for Women
Pehle’s latest passion is spreading AAUW’s two salary negotiation programs in Pennsylvania. AAUW Work Smart is for working women, while AAUW Start Smart is geared toward college students.
“I know from my years as a career coach that declaring what makes you unique and being able to express that to an employer during a job interview is not easy,” she says. “Add on top of that salary negotiations, and it becomes incredibly difficult for most women. We have a hard time advocating on our own behalf.”
The workshops’ lessons in knowing your objective worth and navigating the double standards women often face at work are lessons women need. No one knows that more than a human resources professional. “There is this voice in the back of your mind, always wondering,”Pehle says. “It’s always part of the calculus: If I say this or approach it this way, what are they going to think? How is this going to be perceived? As women, we get so good at that conversation that it unfortunately becomes normal. We spend an incredible amount of energy trying to figure out how to do things the ‘right way.'”
Pehle is working with her branch to bring the salary negotiation workshops to Carlisle to help women learn how to stop that inner conversation and advocate for their worth. The board has approved a pilot of the two programs; the next step is to take the proposal to their membership.
Pehle is excited and hopeful—about the workshops and about what is yet to come.
“It frustrates me that we are still talking about the same stuff that we were in 1974 when I was on my way to college,” she says. “But I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of an organization that is tirelessly working to improve the conversation for women and girls. And as I continue to build relationships with members and learn about AAUW’s incredible history, I just become more and more proud of the organization.”
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