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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.”

Don’t Know Much About Mentoring? Here’s How You Learn More

By Kenneth Quinnell

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO website.

New Union Mentoring Guide Helps Build Future Leaders

January is National Mentoring Month 2013, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Berger-Marks Foundation continue to encourage unions to expand their mentoring efforts and institutionalize mentoring as part of their training efforts. The two organizations produced The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders and are producing a series of workshops to help introduce mentoring concepts and help unions put together mentoring programs.

The first workshop, “Mentoring 101,” is available from the foundation and introduces mentoring, explaining what it is and what it isn’t; what it can do and what it can’t do. It also provides tools to help activists introduce the concept to leadership and to start to put together real-world mentoring programs. “Mentoring 102,” which will be available soon, helps unions put together specific mentoring programs.

President Obama’s proclamation explains the importance of mentoring:

A supportive mentor can mean the difference between struggle and success. As we mark this important occasion, I encourage all Americans to spend time as a mentor and help lift our next generation toward their hopes and dreams.

The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders is available in print or online from the Berger-Marks Foundation. Contact the foundation at bergermarks@gmail.com, for more information about obtaining single or multiple copies.

Encouraging Diversity in Leadership: A New Handbook Describes Promising Practices for Mentoring

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Mentoring is an essential tool for moving organizations forward: young members learn new leadership skills and are given a lay of the land when it comes to their working environment. A new handbook by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), produced with funding and support from the Berger-Marks Foundation, provides valuable tools and information for developing and implementing mentoring programs for union members and staff.

The handbook, The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders, defines and describes various types of mentoring, outlines strategies for addressing potential obstacles or roadblocks in the mentoring process, and includes methods for making mentoring programs sustainable. It also includes worksheets to help mentors and mentees get the most out of their mentoring relationship, and to enable union leaders to identify the strengths of their mentoring programs and possible areas for improvement. The guide can be used to begin a new mentoring program or to shore up one that’s already in place.

Mentoring can especially help women and people of color, who face specific challenges in advancing their careers. These programs can help women build professional networks and make connections—opportunities that are often otherwise not readily available. And mentoring programs can help unions cultivate more diverse leadership. Interviews with respondents who participated in union mentorship programs—as mentors or mentees—shed light on the benefits that mentoring had for these respondents  and others in their unions.

“[As a result of the mentoring,] I ended up being very successful…the program that I was running ended up being held up as a model,” said one former union mentee. “And our international union has really recognized the work that I was doing. And that, I’m sure, would not have happened if I hadn’t gotten the help that I needed to be really successful.”

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

Guest Blog Post: Mentoring Program Inspires Girls to Explore Careers in STEM

Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Inc. of Alameda County®

By Nadine Ann Skinner

In March, IWPR released a report showing that the number of women pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at community colleges was declining, despite growing opportunities for gainful employment in these fields. Encouraging women to pursue STEM careers can start by inspiring girls and young women to explore these fields. Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County® (Girls Inc.) and contributed this guest post on mentoring programs for girls with her organization.

Last week I had the opportunity to take a group of teenage girls to Genentech to meet some of the women who worked there. Walking in, the normally boisterous girls were quiet, subdued by the large campus and the number of mentors waiting to speak with them. As the girls joined activities led by the mentors, I spoke with the two women engineers who had invited us. “Why did you decide to become engineers?” I asked. The two women thought for a moment, and then they both answered that their fathers were engineers and that inspired them to become engineers.

The girls in the program I work for are from Oakland and San Leandro, California. Most of the girls will be the first member of their family to go to college. They live in neighborhoods plagued by violence and attend underperforming schools. Who is there to inspire them to become engineers or scientists?

Even with the great gains women have made in employment women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. In elementary school, girls and boys express similar interests in math and science. But by college, fewer women pursue STEM majors and by college graduation, “men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees.” In STEM graduate programs and careers, women are even more underrepresented.

Underrepresentation in the STEM workforce is a particular challenge for minority ethnic groups. Underrepresented minority groups comprised 28.5 percent of the population in 2006, but only comprised 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations. In addition, minority women only represent 11 percent of women in the entire STEM workforce. Editor’s note: IWPR’s research analysis found that a very small proportion of associate’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to women of color, including African American women (3.3 percent); Hispanic women (2.2 percent); and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women (1.3 percent).

Part of the reason girls are not pursuing STEM careers is the continuing perception that girls and women are not as good at math and science. Mentoring has proven to be an effective tool to encourage girls and young women to succeed in STEM in school by combating the stereotype about girls’ ability to succeed in math and science. Mentoring and exposing girls to role models, women who prove to girls that they can be successful in STEM, can inspire girls to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

At the end of our visit to Genentech, the girls participated in a speed mentoring session, where they had a chance to interview women in a variety of STEM careers. The room was loud, filled with laughter and smiles, as the girls asked the mentors about their careers.

Eventually it was time to leave. As we walked to the van the girls were talking about the women that they met. “I want to be a toxicologist,” said one girl. “I want to be a geneticist,” said another girl. “Do you think that might let me have an internship at Genentech?” asked a third. I smiled, knowing that whatever career these girls ultimately choose, meeting these amazing role models ignited the girls’ interest in STEM careers.

Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County® (Girls Inc.). Girls Inc’s mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. For over 52 years, Girls Inc. has responded to the specific needs of girls in the most underserved communities of San Francisco’s East Bay through a continuum of academic enrichment programs and counseling services in over 48 elementary, middle and high schools in Alameda County and two service centers in Oakland and San Leandro. Programs challenge girls to explore their potential, develop life skills, ensure college and career success, and expand their sense of what is possible. With an innovative educational approach incorporating local needs into research-based curricula, Girls Inc. has established itself as one of the Bay Area’s leading providers of supplemental education, reaching nearly 7,500 girls and their families annually.

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