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Leaning In, Lifting Up, and Making Success Achievable for All Women

Jennifer Clark headshot 2013

By Jennifer Clark

A little over 25 years ago, Dr. Heidi Hartmann dashed between meetings and a part-time fellowship in a 1969 Buick with a couple of boxes of files dedicated to research on women’s economic security in the back of a rather sizable trunk. This corner of Dr. Hartmann’s Buick can safely be referred to as the first unofficial office of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The meetings she shuffled between were to unearth funding here and there for gender analysis on women’s role in a modern workforce. With a Ph.D. in Economics from Yale, Dr. Hartmann began her research career at National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council studying the underpayment of jobs typically done by women (for example, secretary, teacher, nurse). When she co-founded IWPR with other social scientists, she was driven by an awareness of the persistence of women’s inequality and economic insecurity, an awareness fostered by her upbringing in a single-mother, single-income household.

Still, there was a hesitation to jump into the all-consuming mission of establishing a sustainable research institute; Dr. Hartmann and her partner had three young children and raising a young family without her regular salary would have been difficult. But 25 years later, IWPR is no longer relegated to the back of a 1969 Buick. The think tank, one of the most preeminent on women’s issues, has proper offices in Washington, D.C., and has informed improved policies for women, from the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to countless state and local policies on paid sick days, early childhood education, and access to government services and benefits.

Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal

Dr. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR president and co-founder. Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal

In the context of the conversation of the moment about women in the workforce, most recently re-ignited by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Dr. Hartmann’s decision to launch IWPR could be described as her “lean in” moment. (Read Dr. Hartmann’s full Lean In story on LeanIn.org.) Sandberg aims to encourage more women to “lean in” to their careers, rather than “lean back” when they decide to start a family.

The criticism against Sandberg has piled up quickly, as it tends to with successful women forging their own paths. In a nutshell, the critics say: Sandberg is too privileged—too much of the exception, not enough of the rule. To be sure, a lot of the criticism makes a fair point about who the Lean In movement aims to empower and who it doesn’t. The Lean In debate also seems to hinge on the tension between the structural barriers women face in the workforce—the gender wage gap, for instance—versus the individual, internalized social barriers—such as the confidence to negotiate a raise—that Sandberg aims to address.

IWPR signed on as a Lean In partner because we feel being part of this conversation is important. The history of IWPR, and indeed many women-led institutions, originates at the intersection of a desire for structural change and the realization of personal empowerment. The Lean In philosophy is certainly not a universal antidote for all working women’s lives, and that’s fine. As Jessica Valenti noted in her Washington Post piece about Sandberg and the feminist criticism she has received: “[T]he last thing the feminist movement needs is a leader who universalizes women’s experiences—this has been part of the problem with feminism in the past.” The problem is not that Sandberg is not speaking for a broader range of women; it is that a broader range of women’s voices do not have the same platform to be heard. Rather than dismiss Sandberg’s effort, we could strive to lift up the voices of other women along with Sandberg’s, ensuring that the evolving discussion about women and work is an inclusive one.

_We are leaning in because   _ WhiteIf Sandberg’s book aims to offer practical suggestions for improving the internal circumstances of women’s advancement in the workplace, then IWPR’s archive of over 600 publications aims to offer research-backed policy recommendations for improving the external circumstances of women’s advancement in the workforce. In a Venn diagram of these two approaches, at the center would be the concept of “support.”

One of Sandberg’s most controversial pieces of advice for young women is to seek out a supportive spouse who will accept a fair share of domestic and caregiving responsibilities. But Sandberg’s focus on support within interpersonal and familial relationships and on the personal challenges women struggle with internally, is just one part of the equation. The society-wide support women receive, or could receive, is the rest of the story. IWPR and its partner organizations have done a lot of work to quantify the structural challenges that limit working women, identifying opportunities to update policies for a modern workforce in the following areas:

Paid family leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was a landmark law guaranteeing unpaid leave with job security for workers who needed to care for newborns, newly adopted children, and family members with serious health conditions, or for their own illness. Notably, the law did not guarantee paid family or parental leave. Currently, the United States is one of only a few countries in the world that does not guarantee some form of paid parental leave, joining Swaziland, Liberia, Sierra Leon and Papua New Guinea.

-Gender wage gap. After steadily narrowing for a couple of decades, the gap between women’s and men’s earnings stagnated in the last decade. Last year, it actually widened. As evidence against the rationalization that women choose occupations in which they earn less, men earn more than women in almost every occupation, including 19 of the 20 occupations most commonly held by women.

Access to higher education. The best path to a job that pays a living wage capable of sustaining a family is through postsecondary education. IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative aims to inform institutional leaders and policymakers on the need for student parent supports—better access to affordable child care on campus, for instance—to increase postsecondary participation and graduation rates within the United States. (Even student parents are “leaning in.” Sarah Towne, a former IWPR intern wrote an impassioned story about her experience as a student parent on The Huffington Post. “I don’t plan on letting up on that gas pedal anytime soon,” she said of continuing her education.)

-Women’s political and civic leadership. Building a pipeline of women leaders in a range of settings—elected office, union leadership, and community organizing—is key to ensuring a range of women’s voices influence and inform public discussion and policymaking affecting working women and families.

IWPR will continue—or should we say, lean into—this conversation on May 22 in D.C., when it will celebrate its first quarter century and launch its next 25 years with an afternoon symposium on the current and future status of women in the United States and abroad. The debate surrounding who the Lean In movement aims to speak to, and for, has sparked a parallel conversation about who it leaves out. At least in the context of IWPR’s work, I look forward to the conversation that moves beyond the who and tackles the how: How do we make success achievable for all working women?

Jennifer Clark is the Outreach Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Spotlight: IWPR Chair Esmeralda Lyn

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Dr. Esmeralda Lyn, previously Vice-Chair of IWPR’s board of directors, was recently elected to serve as Chair. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight Lyn’s professional accomplishments, as well as offer a glimpse at Lyn’s busy life outside of work.

Lyn retired this year from Hofstra University as the C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor of Finance and International Financial Services and is now Professor Emerita. Previously, Dr. Lyn served as finance officer at the United Nations in New York City and also has experience at Integrated Resources and Smith Barney Shearson. Her areas of specialization include mergers and acquisitions, international finance, corporate governance, and gender issues in finance. She counts being recognized as a C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor as one of her proudest accomplishments. “It was a recognition of my contribution in the field of finance, both in research and in teaching,” she said.

A colleague at Hofstra University first introduced Lyn to IWPR’s work and she was immediately intrigued. “Being an academic and researcher in finance, I was so impressed with the rigorous scientific research IWPR was doing, especially on the status of women in the states,” said Lyn. “In my mind then, and I still believe it strongly, the most effective way of influencing policymakers and different stakeholders regarding women’s issues is through high quality research.”

Among those closest to her, Lyn is known as a compassionate person who always has many projects on the go—as well as being a culinary expert. “I think family and close friends know me as a person who gets things done, and is a problem-solver,” said Lyn. “I also think they believe that I am a high-energy person because nothing stops me from pursuing a lot of things I enjoy outside work, such as any culinary-related activity, my book club, and more importantly, my volunteer work.”

The new role for Lyn comes as IWPR enters its 25th year.  In keeping with her character, Lyn’s vision for the next quarter-century of IWPR is very ambitious: “I hope that we will be able to solve all gender issues in the next 25 years and that there won’t be any more need for organizations such as IWPR,” she said. “That is of course wishful thinking! My dream is for IWPR to continue making a difference in the lives of women and their families.  I hope that IWPR is the first organization people think about when talking of gender issues and are willing to support it financially and otherwise.”

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

IWPR’s Fellowship Encourages Advancement in Research Careers

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, 2011-2012 Mariam K. Chamberlain

By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

 

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research Mariam K. Chamberlain (MKC) Fellowship in Women and Public Policy is named for a founding member of IWPR and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women. Dr. Chamberlain has fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues.

The MKC Fellowship in Women and Public Policy pays tribute to Dr. Chamberlain’s vision of a world of gender equality in which women reach their highest levels of achievement. Fellows work as research assistants on a variety of IWPR projects and are encouraged to take advantage of wide range of academic, policy,  and networking events in Washington, DC. Currently, IWPR is accepting applications to the fellowship program.

 

This is an introduction to this year’s fellow, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who offers her insight on her experience with IWPR.

Since joining IWPR’s staff in September as the 2011–2012, Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow Rhiana Gunn-Wright has brought great energy to IWPR’s offices. Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a double major in African American studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies.

During her time at Yale, Gunn-Wright embraced women’s issues completely—from the focus of her thesis to her extracurricular volunteer work both on and off campus. Gunn-Wright’s thesis looked at welfare policy and its impact on poor black women by analyzing methods for managing teen pregnancy in the city of New Haven, CT.

Gunn-Wright also served on the board of the on-campus women’s center at Yale for two years, managing staff and resident groups. In this role, she conducted outreach to other groups at her university in order to make the center more inclusive. “When I came in [as board member], the women’s center was almost exclusively upper-class white students so I did outreach to communities of color and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] groups,” said Gunn-Wright. “We also started doing activism around sexuality on campus.”

As part of this activism, Gunn-Wright helped start a pioneering student forum to talk openly about establishing sexual respect on campus and building a healthy sexual culture. These talks involved a diverse range of students, including student faith groups. Some participating groups took the baton by hosting their own talks, and the entire initiative eventually grew into a larger program now called Sex @ Yale.

When Gunn-Wright came across the description of the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellowship with IWPR at her campus, she immediately thought it would be a good fit. One of the aspects that Gunn-Wright enjoys about her fellowship is being able to answer queries and point people to relevant research on women’s issues. She is also appreciative of the opportunity to work on issues that she is most passionate about, particularly education, by assisting with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI).

“I enjoy the work we do on student parents and looking at the intersection between welfare, race, class gender, and education—especially for a population that isn’t usually recognized,” said Gunn-Wright. “It’s nice to build a community especially when people are as invested in it as they are in SPSI. They are invested in seeing student parents do well.”

Gunn-Wright’s biggest tip for incoming fellows?  “Be mindful of remembering that you really are working to better the status of women,” she said.  “It’s easy to get caught up in work tasks, but you are working on a daily basis to make things better, more tolerant, and more loving.”

Applications for the 2012-2013 Fellowships are due by March 1, 2012. For more information on how to apply please visit our website.

 

 

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mallory Mpare is IWPR’s Communications Assistant.

 

IWPR Hosts 22nd Annual Summer Intern Social

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research hosted its 22nd annual summer intern social on Thursday, July 14 at the Stewart Mott House. IWPR summer interns worked together to coordinate all aspects of the successful Midsummer Mixer event, which was attended by over 200 interns from nonprofits, think tanks, and congressional offices around Washington, DC. Members of IWPR staff, including President Dr. Heidi Hartmann, were inspired to mingle with the next generation of researchers, advocates, and policy makers in a casual setting. The Midsummer Mixer was co-sponsored by the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Below is a selection of photos from the event. Check out our full collection of photos here!

Social Security on the Rocks: What’s at Stake for Younger Women

By Jennifer Clark

For many young working women, retirement security rests at the bottom of a lengthy priority list loaded with seemingly more pressing concerns. These include finding a satisfying, well-paying job, negotiating a raise and, for many, juggling family responsibilities with career advancement. Social Security, a government program associated with older Americans, might seem even more abstract to demographic whose retirement years are quite a few decades away. But as a panel of experts explained to an engaged crowd of young professional women recently, women face unique challenges in retirement and, for women of all ages, the future of Social Security is a shared concern.

The panel—hosted by the Women’s Information Network (WIN), a professional network of women in Washington, DC—featured young women experts and advocates who debunked common myths about Social Security and pointed out sobering facts about the program’s critical role in ensuring economic security in retirement. (View IWPR’s Flickr to see photos from the event)

Ensuring Your Retirement Security Starts Now

Lara Hinz of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) started with an overview of the unique challenges women face in retirement. Women live longer, earn less, and have less in savings or pensions. In addition, women are more likely to spend time out of the workforce, work in part-time jobs, and live alone in retirement, all of which increase women’s  risk of poverty in old age. Then Hinz delivered a wake-up call to the room of young working women: even women who live comfortably in their working years may be poor in retirement. Social Security then plays a vital role in retirement security for women. One in four unmarried women in retirement receive all of their income from Social Security benefits and, without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women over the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Social Security is Your Insurance Plan for Retirement

With 90 percent of women making less than $55,000 per year, nonexistent savings is a real risk to retirement security. Social Security, as Kathryn Edwards from the Economic Policy Institute noted, helps mitigate the risks associated with income insecurity in retirement. But what exactly is Social Security? “Saying that Social Security is money older Americans receive from the government is like saying the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world. It’s not wrong, it’s just not the full picture,” explained Edwards, who is writing  a forthcoming EPI textbook for young Americans on Social Security. Social Security is an insurance program, which helps protect workers and their families from the risks—old age, disability, or death—associated with not being able to work.

For young Americans, Social Security is not just money that older Americans receive from the government, Edwards stressed, “this is your insurance that you are already paying into.”

Especially Vital to Women of Color

While women in general face unique challenges in retirement, Youngmin Yi from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research discussed how women of color face challenges that are particularly intense, making Social Security even more important to this demographic. Black women in particular experience higher rates of disability and are more likely than other women to live alone in old age. Seventeen percent of black women between the ages of 65 and 74 are currently living in poverty; without Social Security, 50 percent of black women in this age range would be living in poverty. Latinas also face more pronounced challenges in retirement, as they are more likely to work in low-wage jobs without pensions and are most likely to live longer than other groups of women. Social Security is the most common source of income for older Latinas, further underscoring the critical value of Social Security.

Countering Political Rhetoric with Informed Voters

If Social Security is a vital and efficient, insurance program, then why is it in crisis? Well, it’s not. It’s actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion. Melissa Byrne from the Strengthen Social Security Campaign pointed to current policy proposals that could potentially threaten Social Security’s long-term solvency and to how young women can join the effort to defend the program from future cuts. Far from strengthening Social Security, Byrne noted, efforts at means testing the program—reducing or eliminating benefits for those defined as “affluent”— would undermine Social Security as a universal insurance program, turning the system into a government welfare program. To many people, regardless of political leanings, raising the retirement age seems like a reasonable compromise to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency. However, raising the full retirement age to 69 is a 13 percent benefit cut, a fact which rarely shows up in talking points (except these).

To ensure that these ideas do not become policy, Byrne suggested that young women stay informed, and most importantly, vote.

Resources for Staying Informed

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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