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One on One with Cindy Estrada, Union Leader

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Cindy Estrada is Vice President of the International Union, United Auto Workers.

Cindy Estrada is Vice President of the International Union, United Auto Workers.

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress.

Cindy Estrada has an impressive record of accomplishments. She is the first Latina elected as Vice President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 2010, a mother of twin boys, and a lifelong activist for workers’ rights. When Estrada speaks, her compassion and toughness are as notable as her accomplishments.

Estrada was inspired to join the labor movement from a young age. Growing up in Detroit, she was familiar with the auto workers in the city as they would come by her father’s bar. She also worked under iconic labor activist, César Chavez, during her early years as an activist organizing for farm workers in California. Following those experiences, she climbed the ladder at the UAW, working to create and implement a number of organizing strategies and becoming a resonating voice for women’s and workers’ rights.

It was in Detroit that Estrada ran her first campaign for auto workers. An auto factory that had been passed down to daughters of the original owner was being poorly managed and workers were facing low wages and unsafe conditions. Estrada acted as their voice and advocate because, as she said, the women already know how the auto plant could be run better. “Somebody told me a long time ago, my job is not to coddle the worker, but to show them how to fight back,” Estrada told me in an interview over the phone.

Maintaining a balance between work and family is very important to Estrada. “One of my [greatest accomplishments] is my kids,” she said. “And to still be able to do the work that I do and […] balance it with family. Every day, to figure out how to balance it.”

When I asked Estrada about obstacles along her career paths, she was quick to clarify that she had encountered “choices, not obstacles” on the way to her leadership role. At the same time, she understands the pressures that women can face when they choose. “Progress, not perfection,” said Estrada. “Really focusing on the things I should say no to because I want to be there for my kids.”

There were instances when Estrada chose time with family over work, including stepping down from a position at the UAW after having twins to spend more time at home. Estrada says there needs to be more acceptance and recognition for women who sometimes choose family over work.

As a union leader and a woman, Estrada is blazing trails. According to a 2007 IWPR report, while women’s membership in unions is increasing, men are much more likely to serve in leadership roles. As a woman advocating for a male-dominated industry, Estrada has at times encountered presumptions that she does not have the expertise, or met with men who only wanted to address the other men in the room. “Fortunately, in our union I work with men that are very progressive,” said Estrada. “And when I feel like something is not right, I can talk to them.”

When it comes to the future of women, Estrada strongly believes that women need to take a seat at the table in order to be heard, echoing similar messages from women leaders like Sheryl Sandberg.  “I think women are taught that we need to do more [in order to] to take that seat at the table. But it is better for our community [for women] to be there. Our communities need the soulfulness, the intelligence, the wisdom of the women at the table.”

The actions of women alone are not all that are required for equality, and Estrada recognizes that movements and policies supporting women are essential to their empowerment. “We need paid family and medical leave,” said Estrada. “That’s why unions are so important. Women belong in the labor movement because it will be critical to their advancement.”

Estrada says mentoring is also one of the keys to opening doors for women, giving them the opportunity to contribute to the conversation and to lead—which is why mentoring is also one of the UAW’s main goals. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the men and women who mentored me.”

You can hear Cindy Estrada speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

Perspectives on Women’s Progress in the Workforce—Voices of Women Leaders

by Caroline Hopper

As I near my college graduation, the prospect of entering the workforce at the tail end of a historic recession is intimidating. While it should no longer be the case, it is even more intimidating to enter the job market as a woman. Despite decades of civil rights laws banning discrimination and countless milestones in the feminist movement, evidence indicates that women like me who are entering the work force, could still face gender discrimination.

Discrimination was the norm for previous generations of working women. I spoke with Susan Scanlan, President of Women’s Research & Education Institute and Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO), about her experience as a young professional. For Scanlan, sexism was obvious from the moment she walked into her first professional interview.

Scanlan was asked in her interview if she was planning to get married soon and, if so, if she was planning on becoming pregnant shortly after. “Among the questions I was asked in my interview: ‘Do you understand that the ladies on our staff must maintain an attractive appearance and may never wear slacks to work?’” said Scanlan. “This was long before sex-segregated Help Wanted ads were outlawed.”

Scanlan accepted the job offer. “I was grateful to earn three-quarters the salary of the entry-level man in the office,” she said. “They had high school degrees; I’d just completed a master’s at Tulane University.”

Scanlan’s first “real” job was on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant to Rep. Charlie Wilson in 1972. But between 1965 and 1971, she worked as a clerk and typist for the U.S. Army during her summers off from college and graduate school (she once typed 100 words a minute with no errors in a competition).

“The professional world for women is infinitely improved from those foolhardy days…they are protected by many laws and civil rights that Second Wave feminists fought and bled to enact,” Scanlan acknowledged.

According to IWPR research, in 1960 the gender wage ratio was 60.7 percent. There were dramatic improvements in the 1980s, but progress in closing the gap has stalled in the last decade. The ratio of female to male annual earnings is now 77 percent—just slightly better than the ratio that Scanlan herself experienced in the 1960s. Going at today’s rate, it will take until 2057  to reach equal pay.

Esmeralda Lyn, Chair of IWPR’s board of directors, recently retired as the C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor of Finance and International Financial Services, and previously served as a finance officer at the United Nations in New York City. Commenting on her decades of professional experience, Lyn said, “There is no exception: finance is still an old boys’ club.”

IWPR research found that the finance industry has one of the largest wage gaps and that women are underrepresented among the highest earners in the banking and finance industry. According to IWPR analysis, in the banking and finance industries only 26 percent of employees with high earnings (at least $100,000 per year) are women.

Despite what Lyn describes as the “egregious gender discrimination [that] happens in the corporate world and in large international organizations,” she believes the situation is slowly improving.

Caroline Hopper is a former intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is a student at The George Washington University. Look for more perspectives on women in the workforce coming this month.


One on One with Professor and Expert on Women in Politics, Dr. Michele L. Swers

Michele Swers

Dr. Michele Swers, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress. 

Michele L. Swers is an Associate Professor of American Government in the Department of Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., focusing on how the gender of elected representatives plays a part in congressional policymaking. Dr. Swers has appeared as an expert in a range of media outlets, including PBS’ “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” CQ Weekly, Politico, CNN, as well as in national and state newspapers.

Dr. Swers is the author of two books on women’s representation in Congress, The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

I always loved history. I read books about the presidents and other great historical figures. My grandmother gave me a book about first ladies and she told me stories about Eleanor Roosevelt. This sparked an interest in learning about the role of women in history and politics. I also found that I enjoyed teaching. Before history tests, I would have friends over at my house and run study sessions. I was a high school social studies teacher before I went back to school for my Ph.D. in political science.

I was in college during the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections, and I was struck by the fact that my political science texts clearly stated that all members of Congress respond to re-election incentives and the nature of their districts. Therefore, the identity of the individual member did not matter, as long as they stayed true to the district. At the same time, EMILY’s List was raising vast sums of money, not to elect all Democrats, but specifically to elect pro-choice Democratic women. Why would a savvy political organization do this if any Democrat would pursue their agenda? I went to graduate school to investigate the question of whether electing women has an impact on policy outcomes.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

I am very fortunate to have a fulfilling career and a loving family. As a professor at Georgetown, I work with very smart and energetic students who are interested in politics and want to make a contribution to society. I am able to do research that I love on the policy impact of electing women to Congress. I have written two books on the subject. My most recent book, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press) was just published this month. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. My job allows me to spend time with them and support their education and growth.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

Academic jobs are difficult to get. To get the best education I could and maximize my marketability, I had to endure several years of a commuter marriage. Once you have a job, the biological clock and the tenure clock are not very compatible so that affected when I decided to have my children. On the whole, I have been very fortunate in my career path. Many women who came before me had to endure significant discrimination and undervaluing of their research and contributions. I benefitted from their sacrifices and have tried to support the women coming up behind me.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Over the past 25 years, opportunities for women in education and the workforce have greatly expanded. The presence of women in the workforce is almost universally accepted and women can compete for top jobs in all fields. However, society has not reconciled the advancement of women into the workforce with the imperative of caring for children.  Fathers are still expected to be breadwinners and the United States does not have a system of paid family leave or universal quality childcare. This lack of attention to issues of work-family balance creates difficulties for single and two parent families at all income levels.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

We need to find ways to support families in their efforts to balance the demands of their jobs and the health and welfare of their families. Creation and expansion of family leave to include paid leave, the development of affordable, quality childcare, and improved regulation of childcare would improve the lives of women and their families. Tax credits and deductions would encourage businesses to offer family-friendly policies such as paid leave, on-site childcare, and telecommuting opportunities.  A workforce that can properly care for their children and be confident about their well-being will be a more productive workforce.

You can hear Dr. Swers speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

Why Feminism Still Fits With Younger Generations of Women

Lily Horton HeadshotRecently younger female role models have been publicly rejecting feminism, but does that reflect the larger reality?

By Lily Horton, IWPR Communications Intern

Women in the workforce, particularly those with children, have been the subjects of a renewed (and rehashed) debate on the definition of feminism and whether women can have it all. Writers Anne Marie Slaughter and Hanna Rosin have famously weighed in. Alongside, young women have also been rehashing the idea of feminism and its significance to them. This particular discussion, possibly more present in the media than in reality, has prominent young women saying they do not define themselves as feminists. The word itself now sometimes simply referred to as the f-word.

But what does feminism really mean to young people, like myself? Are young women actually retreating from the term, or is that a misrepresentation? Publicly rejecting the term feminist has been a visible trend among young celebrities of the millennial generation and beyond, including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The millennial generation may have lost sight of the first and second waves because they have grown up being told and encouraged to claim their space, to be anything they wanted to be. As a student at a liberal arts college in Washington, D.C, I have noticed a surprising number of young people turn their backs on the term feminist. Both men and women alike hesitate to identify as feminists because the term continues to conjure images of radical protests. Thus, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the fluidity, flexibility, and diversity within feminism.

But not all women have disassociated with the continuing movement. In reality, many young women call themselves feminists, according to a November 2012 poll commissioned by Ms. Magazine with the Communications Consortium Media Center and the Feminist Majority Foundation. The poll found 55 percent of women voters and even 30 percent of men voters consider themselves feminists and—among women voters under 30—59 percent consider themselves feminists. But the poll also showed that young women are hesitant to call themselves “strong feminists.” Even after being provided with a dictionary definition of the term, a smaller percentage of 31 percent defined themselves as “strong feminists.”

In my experience, student discussions of gender equality are usually marked by across-the-board consensus that women deserve access to the same opportunities as men. There is not a lack of feminist beliefs or values in the millennial generation, but, as the Ms. Foundation poll showed, young people do not want to be identified as radically “strong feminists.”

Some young women of the millennial generation may think feminism places women against men, instead of working alongside them. In XO Jane, Margaret Cho wrote that characteristics attributed to feminism today are not actually inherent to it; for instance, the idea that women should reject conventional forms of beauty and should embrace ‘puritanical’ attitudes toward sex. Cho, a comedian who is known for blazing trails, emphasized the fact that all feminists differ as women and there is no uniform code that makes a woman a feminist.

In an e-mail interview, author and co-founder of the blog sexyfeminist, Jennifer Armstrong, weighed in, reiterating Cho’s point that feminism takes a variety of forms. The ultimate goal shared by all feminists is “making sure women are treated equally with men,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong thinks women in the millennial generation are skittish of the term because “it is oddly controversial and, alas, is still pilloried as no fun, too demanding, too shrill, and unsexy. This is thanks to impressively relentless negative PR campaigns waged by everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Suzanne Venker.”

In the end, women need feminism. Despite the millennial generation’s distaste for a perceived divisive label that has the potential to alienate their male counterparts, the reality is that the fight for equality is not over. Women continue to suffer political, economic, and social injustices on a basis of gender.

IWPR addresses these injustices by disseminating knowledge and advocating for policy changes. The millennial generation needs to consider policy issues that continue to disproportionately affect women like access to paid sick days and Social Security. Also, young women face a gender wage gap, and a job and training gap when it comes to higher paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These issues currently affect their work lives and economic security, and will affect their future. The work that IWPR does proves that feminism is, in fact, necessary in the 21st century.

For young women and girls today to shy away from feminism is a missed opportunity. As Margaret Cho said, “they will desperately need it out in the world, and to fear what will help you, make you stronger, better, happier makes no sense.”

Lily Horton is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is presently a senior at The George Washington University majoring in International Affairs and minoring in Women’s Studies

New Speakers Announced for IWPR’s 25th Anniversary Celebration!

PrintOn May 22, IWPR will celebrate 25 years of Making Research Count for Women with a half-day symposium followed by a special keynote address by Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and evening reception. IWPR is thrilled to unveil new speakers on the program. The full list includes:

The speakers and panelists wll address emerging issues affecting women and girls around the world, and how we can continue to advance women’s progress as IWPR launches its next 25 years.

To learn more, visit our anniversary page.

States Fight Back Against Pregnancy Discrimination

Lenora M. Lapidus, Director, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and Ariela Migdal, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lenora M. Lapidus, Director, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and Ariela Migdal, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is a guest blog post that was originally published on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website. 

By Lenora M. Lapidus, Director, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and Ariela Migdal, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project

When Peggy Young got pushed out of her job at UPS after she became pregnant, she fought back by bringing a lawsuit against her employer, claiming that UPS discriminated against her by refusing to give her a light duty rotation, even though UPS admitted that it routinely accommodates workers with on-the-job injuries, workers who lose their drivers’ licenses, and workers who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, many employers think it’s okay to treat pregnant workers worse than other employees who need temporary light duty positions or other temporary adjustments, like the ability to sit down or drink more water. And some courts have agreed.

In Ms. Young’s case, in which the ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief, an appeals court held that to require UPS to give pregnant workers the same kinds of accommodations it gives other workers would be to grant special “most favored nation status” to pregnant employees.

Recently, however, a growing number of states has decided that it is fundamentally unfair and unlawful to allow companies to push pregnant women out of the workforce in this way. The majority of American women will be pregnant at some point in their working life, and it makes no sense to allow employers to send pregnant workers packing, when employers can keep pregnant workers on the job using the same policies they already use to keep temporarily injured or disabled workers at work. While the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 precisely to ensure that pregnant women were not subject to unlawful firings and other mistreatment, courts—like the court in Peggy Young’s case—have been allowing employers to treat pregnant workers worse.

States have started to fight back. Recently, the state of Maryland, with the support of Peggy Young, the ACLU of Maryland, and other civil rights groups, passed a law that will close this gap in the law, at least for pregnant workers in Maryland. The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law in May. Now, pregnant women in Maryland will receive the same kinds of accommodations that are currently provided to other employees with temporary physical restrictions.

In New York, the Governor and advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, are trying to pass the New York Women’s Equality Agenda, which will explicitly require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for pregnant workers, just as they already do for many other workers who are temporarily unable to do any aspect of their job. The law would provide more certainty for pregnant workers like Julie Desantis-Mayer, who was forced onto unpaid leave when she requested light duty in her job as a package delivery driver for UPS. We filed a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC on behalf of Ms. Mayer and are currently proceeding before the agency.

A number of states, including Michigan, Connecticut, California, and a handful of others, already have some kind of law requiring parity in accommodations for pregnant workers. Other states are starting to follow suit—this year bills were introduced in Iowa, Illinois, and Maine, as well. These bills should not be necessary. Congress tried to outlaw the widespread practice of pushing pregnant women out of the workplace 35 years ago. But employers—and some courts—have not gotten the message. Women workers in states around the country won’t stop until their right not to be forced off the job when pregnant is secure.

The Real Value of In-Home Care Work in the United States

Care worker with elderly womanBy Caroline Dobuzinskis

Baby Boomers, estimated at nearly 80 million in the United States, began turning 65 in 2011.By 2020, the population of older adults is expected to grow to 55 million from 40.4 million in 2010. As more women enter the labor force and fewer are able to care for older family members, providing in-home care to the growing aging population, as well as the disabled and chronically ill, is becoming more critical to a robust U.S. economy.

A new briefing paper by IWPR, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” outlines these challenges but emphasizes that, despite the growing demand, in-home care work jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

While often working long hours to care for others, many in-home care workers cannot afford to take care of their own needs. According to IWPR’s analysis, the median weekly earnings for all female in-home care workers are $308, compared with $560 for all female workers in the U.S. workforce. In-home care workers are also excluded from coverage by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that helps ensure basic standards of living for U.S. workers by requiring employers to pay minimum wages and provide overtime compensation.

The general lack of value placed on paid care work is due to a number of complex factors. Research suggests that what is seen as traditionally women’s labor, at all skill levels, reaps lower economic rewards. The simple fact that the majority of paid care work is performed by women could contribute to its lower average wages. Care work also blurs the lines between formal and informal labor, which can result in the workers being perceived as part of the family and make it more difficult for them to set boundaries that define the requirements and terms of their jobs.

Many in-home care workers are immigrants who may lack pathways to legal status, leaving them vulnerable to low levels of pay and to abuses from employers. According to IWPR research analysis, 90 percent of home health care aides in the United States are women, 56 percent are women of color, and 28 percent are foreign-born with the vast majority (60 percent) migrating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these immigrant workers are filling an essential labor gap, many remain undocumented and without clear access to citizenship or visa status. Many domestic worker and immigrant groups are waiting to see if Congress will address this issue.

Among the recommendations in IWPR’s report, Increasing Pathways to Legal Status for Immigrant in-Home Care Workers (published February 2013), is an increase in the number and types of immigration visas available to immigrant care workers to help fill the labor shortage in the U.S. industry. The most recent immigration deal being crafted the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators tasked with finding immigration reform solutions, includes an option to provide temporary work visas to undocumented immigrants performing essential, low-skilled labor.

IWPR’s briefing paper, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” proposes several changes that would improve circumstances for all care workers and recipients, as well as the industry as whole, including:

1. Encouraging public dialogue about the growing need for care work and the skills and contributions of those who provide in-home care

2. Improving estimates of the value of unpaid care work and making the public more aware of this work’s critical importance to the nation’s economy.

3. Implementing public policies that affirm the value of care work and those who provide it.

4. Creating more quality in-home care work jobs that will improve the employment prospects of the female workforce, help to reduce inequality, and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Many groups and organizations, such as Caring Across Generations, support improved workers rights for care workers nationwide. New York State passed a law entitling domestic workers to, among other provisions, a minimum wage, pay for overtime hours, one day of rest for every seven days, and at least three paid leave days per year after one year of work for the same employer. Further policies are still needed that affirm the value of care work in order to reduce the inequality in wages for these workers and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

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