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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.

New Guide to Illustrate Women’s Needs in the MENA Region

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

A new toolkit by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research  and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), serves as a guide for the creation, dissemination, and promotion of reports on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policy:A Capacity-Building Toolkit for Nongovernmental Organizations lays out a blueprint for using accurate research on the status of women as a means to shape public policy and give women in the MENA region a voice.

The toolkit, Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policies, outlines how to:

1. Create a diverse working advisory committee;
2. Identify relevant data sources and key research indicators;
3. Plan and create a press release strategy;
4. Communicate with aligned or peer organizations to push advocacy forward; and
5. Train women for leadership roles through mentorship and other programs.

A report on the status of women is a powerful tool for informing policy decisions. The reports are useful in indicating where women need to be better served through educational and health care systems, and how they can be better integrated into the labor market. International advocates and NGOs, and other individuals and groups in the private and public sectors, have long argued that women’s empowerment and full participation in the economy can help them, their families, and their communities, and can strengthen the productivity and economy of an entire nation.

In September 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the economic cost of lack of inclusion or restrictions to women’s full participation in the economy: “By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies,” she said in her remarks to the APEC Conference that year. In October of this year, at a meeting titled “Power—Woman as Engine of Growth & Social Inclusion”,  Clinton cited the economic costs of lack of women’s participation or supports for women in the Asia Pacific, Eurozone, and other regions.

As part of a joint project on the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa, in 2010, IWPR and IFES released topic briefs on the status of women in Yemen, Morocco, and Lebanon. Among the findings in Yemen, for example, is that women who work for pay have greater freedom of movement, and have greater financial savings and access to credit. The surveys in Yemen also found that women with higher levels of education tend to have more access to health care resources.

IWPR’s new capacity-building toolkit provides information for non-governmental organizations to organize and use similar research to to support women in leadership roles, and how to design an advocacy campaign and a call-to-action for improved policy to support women.

The toolkit is available online at the IWPR website and IWPR experts are available to comment on its recommendations. 

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

Addressing Policy Gaps for Women and Girls in New Haven: Latest Report in IWPR Series on Status of Women

By Anlan Zhang, Tonia Bui, and Cynthia Hess

Two years ago, a diverse group of women with extensive ties to the New Haven community came together and asked, “What is the status of women and girls in New Haven?” The answer became the impetus for IWPR’s recent report, The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut.

The report, part of IWPR’s series on the status of women, was commissioned by the City of New Haven and produced in collaboration with the Consortium for Women and Girls in New Haven. The Consortium provided ongoing guidance and review from individuals working in diverse fields, including law enforcement, women’s health, education, philanthropy, and employment services.

This latest report in IWPR’s status of women series points to both the remarkable advances women and girls have made in recent years in New Haven and to the work that remains to be done to address the needs of female residents in the city. For example, women in New Haven, as in the nation as a whole, are active in the workforce and have made great strides in closing the education gap with men. But men earn more than women with similar levels of education and more than one quarter of New Haven’s female residents live in poverty.

The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut has four main goals:  to provide information on the status of women and girls in the city, to inform policy and program priorities, to create a platform for advocacy, and to provide baseline information to measure the progress of public policies and program initiatives. The report’s findings and analyses touch on issues such as employment and earnings, economic security, education, health and well-being, political participation, and crime and safety.

Among the report’s key findings is that attending to the disparities between women and girls from different race, ethnic, and socio-economic groups is a key to implementing changes that further women’s and girl’s continued advancement in New Haven. Women and girls from low-income communities in New Haven, who are predominantly black and Hispanic, disproportionately bear the burden of unemployment, poverty, poor health, and crime.

Many of the issues addressed in the report are interconnected, and understanding their combined effects on the lives of women and girls is crucial for creating public policies and developing program initiatives in the City of New Haven. Some of the public policy recommendations mentioned in the report include encouraging employers to be proactive agents in remedying gender wage inequities; supporting women-led, women-initiated businesses and female-specific programs in New Haven; implementing career and education counseling for girls beginning in elementary school; and creating a comprehensive health curriculum in the New Haven School District that addresses physical and mental health, including the prevention of dating violence and the advancement of reproductive health.

The report also shines a spotlight on the critical importance of having well-established local data sets and the means to collect reliable data that can be disaggregated by sex, race, and ethnicity. These resources can help track progress on key indicators for communities such as New Haven.

Co-chairs of the Consortium for Women and Girls, Chisara Asomugha and Carolyn Mazure, describe the report as “an unprecedented effort to paint a clear and compelling picture of New Haven’s women and girls.” A June convening to present the findings brought together more than 500 attendees, including advocates for women and families, demonstrating the enormous interest in this research.

As the United States moves away from the deepest economic downturn in the many decades, policymakers need to understand and take into consideration the unique needs of women and girls. The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut is an invaluable tool for policymakers and advocates striving to improve the New Haven community and one that can serve as a model for other communities nationwide addressing similar policy issues.

IWPR’s Pepsi Experiment: Providing Critical Information to Community Leaders

by Jennifer Clark

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research is venturing into new territory. IWPR has been selected to compete in the Pepsi Refresh Project, a voter-driven contest that could win IWPR $25,000 for raising awareness on the status of women. With previous grants going to projects that build playgrounds in local communities or provide spay/neuter surgeries for pets, it might seem like IWPR’s project to provide reliable information on the state of the union for women is a bit abstract for the contest. But IWPR sees the Pepsi Refresh project as an opportunity to demystify the importance–nay, the necessity–of reliable information on women’s lives, their needs, and how addressing these needs strengthens their families, as well as the communities they hold together.

We can’t do this alone, however, and we hope you’ll join with us to show that research–quality, reliable research–on women is key to understanding how communities can better address their needs.

In a time when politicians seem no longer confined by the votes or views of their constituents, and news outlets no longer seem restricted to reporting just the facts, reliable research on how women are faring is essential to community leaders wishing to strengthen families and the economic security of their communities, without demagoguery clouding the issues.  We intend to alleviate the need for research-backed information in public conversation, overpowering outdated misconceptions with real data.

Since its founding in 1987, IWPR has held to the belief that research and hard numbers can be critical for improving communities in a number of ways. Research that respects women’s realities and identifies ways to address their needs can lead to more effective funding of community initiatives and can open up opportunities to inform and improve the community and government structures that affect women’s lives. Here are a few examples of how research has informed community change over the years:

 - The Status of Girls in Minnesota report–prepared by IWPR and its community partner, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota–was used to support the GirlsBEST program, a grant making initiative that focuses on building economic power of girls.

 - Based on the information in the Status of Women in Wisconsin report, a group of community leaders formed Wisconsin Women = Prosperity, a group that has conducted workshops on best practices for employers, as well as on violence against women and what it means for their well-being.

 - Informed by the Status of Women in Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on the Economic Status of Women developed Women’s Resource Directories for economically disadvantaged counties in the state and established a mentoring program for at-risk teenage girls.

 - In 2005, the Women of Color Alliance in Idaho used the Status of Women in Idaho report in their Latino Leadership Summit workshop on domestic violence and its impact on communities and lack of state funding.

Click to vote for IWPR!

With the Pepsi Refresh Project, IWPR hopes to build on these successes and restore reliable, credible information back into community conversations. We believe this project will kick off the effort to bring critical research, not just vague talking points, to community leaders.  To join us in this mission, you can:

Vote for IWPR at the Pepsi Refresh website. (And don’t forget to “Like” us or Tweet about the project after you vote!)

Join the IWPR Facebook event for the project and invite your friends to join.

Sign up to receive a daily email reminder to vote. We want to make it as convenient to remember to vote as possible and we promise to keep the email short.

Spread the word by forwarding this blog post to your friends.

Contribute to IWPR and help us grow our day-to-day efforts to ensure research-backed information informs public policy.

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

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