Looking Beyond Campus Sexual Assault

The stats are alarming. Nearly 15 percent of American women are victims of rape. And girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than the general population. With these statistics, it is understandable why prevention efforts often focus on college-aged women, especially considering high profile sexual assault cases including the Columbia University student who has garnered national attention for carrying her mattress around campus and the recent spring break gang rape in Panama City, Florida. New resources and efforts have emerged to combat violence on campuses. The White House’s new initiative, “It’s On Us”, seeks to raise awareness and engage the community to take a stand against sexual assault. The recent FY16 budget proposed by the Obama Administration included a $14 million increase in funding for campus violence programs while sexual assault programs as a whole were budgeted at $3 million less than in FY15. These campus prevention and response efforts are clearly necessary and warranted, but it is important that they don’t diminish resources directed toward survivors who do not fall into the population of young women in college.

A recent report from the US Department of Justice, Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013, found that nonstudents were raped at a rate that was 1.2 times higher than students. And there are other differences. Rural nonstudents experience much higher rates of rape than rural students – 2 times higher. And while women aged 18-24 have the highest rates of sexual assault of all age groups, the remaining 62.6% of rape survivors were under 18 or over 25 years of age at the time of their assault.

SA Chart 2013Young women aged 18-24 who are nonstudents will likely have few resources and be less economically secure than their peers in college. Women with a high school diploma earn an average $21,968 a year, which is 72% of the income needed to be economically secure. The physical and psychological care, new safety measures and other resources needed to move forward and recover from violence are often out of reach for those who are economically insecure. Furthermore, those in the workforce with lower incomes – especially women and minorities – also often lack the necessary workplace protections such as sick leave so that they can attend to their safety needs.

Rural survivors also face challenges to safety and economic security due to geographic isolation, absent or deficient resources, and depressed economic opportunity. Not only are rural women more economically insecure than their urban peers, they have less access to critical victim services. While survivors on campus access to basic health services on campus and support services as required by Title IX, in rural parts of the country such services either don’t exist or require survivors to travel significant distances for help. In a survey of rural prosecutors, two-thirds report that there were no rape crisis services in their jurisdictions and that 62.5% lacked trained sexual assault nurse practitioners.

These survivors need adequate resources and supports so they can move forward and recover from violence. While the attention and resources that campus sexual assault is receiving is necessary and welcome, it shouldn’t be at the expense of or overshadow the needs of other survivors. As this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month concludes, we mustn’t forget the other victims of sexual assault.

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Honoring the ADA by Recognizing the Needs of Survivors with Disabilities

With the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entering into its 25th year in 2015, it is important to remember the impact that sexual and domestic violence has on survivors with disabilities. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s fact sheet, women with disabilities have a 40% greater risk of experiencing violence than women without disabilities and approximately 80% of disabled women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Oftentimes women with disabilities are more dependent on their caretakers and family members, increasing their vulnerability and risk of repeat abuse while decreasing their likelihood of reporting. A study by Wendie H. Abramson found that 47% of sexually abused women with disabilities reported assaults on more than ten occasions. While this level of repeated abuse is staggering, it is likely that much more goes unreported as survivors with disabilities face extensive barriers when choosing whether to report and seeking support services.

Survivors with disabilities are commonly hindered by limited resources due to unemployment or underemployment — the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in 2013 was 13.2%— a lack of transportation, a lack of knowledge about available support services, and service facilities that have not been properly trained to help survivors with disabilities. Transportation is often a necessity when it comes to safety and economic security, both in terms of being able to access employment to be independent and to access support from local service locations. Since many perpetrators of abuse against survivors with disabilities are caregivers, a survivor’s access to safe and secure transportation to supportive programs is easily taken away. A lack of knowledge from both survivors and service providers can also lead to a great disparagement in aid. If survivors don’t know that support is available, they cannot utilize it and if service providers are not properly trained in how to help survivors with disabilities, then the support will not be effective. NCADV states that only 35% of shelters surveyed have disability awareness training for their staff and a mere 16% have a dedicated staff person to deliver services to women with disabilities.

Establishing a secure source of income, increasing the amount of service providers that offer transportation assistance and improving education, awareness and training are all to key to providing more survivors with better disabilities support. In an effort to increase the resources that organizations have to help survivors with disabilities, VAWA has established a Training and Services to End Violence Against Women with Disabilities Grant Program that “establishes and strengthens multidisciplinary collaborative relationships and increases organizational capacity to provide accessible, safe, and effective services to individuals with disabilities and Deaf individuals who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.” If want to know more about the ADA or if you’re looking for ways to celebrate the Act in your organization, click here for the ADA Anniversary Toolkit!

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Why Workplace Leave and Flexibility Matter

Working as an advocate for low-income families at Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), I have always been grateful for a good job, a safe home and some stability. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and am thankful every day because I know that in a moment’s notice, this all can change. Economic insecurity is just one emergency away for so many of us. A year ago I faced that emergency.

Pregnant with my first child, I knew my life was in for a big change. My husband and I consciously decided to start a family at a point in our lives when we felt stable and reasonably economically secure. I knew things would be difficult – like most new parents I worried about my ability to balance work with family responsibilities and the cost of raising a child – but I never imagined nor was I prepared for the challenge we faced. While traveling to upstate New York and nearing the end of my fifth month of pregnancy, my water broke. After being admitted into a hospital more than seven hours from home, the doctors were able to stabilize my and my baby’s condition. We suddenly found ourselves facing a life-threatening emergency with no option of returning home for an unknown amount of time.

After being admitted into the hospital, I called my boss to explain the situation. I did this without fear of losing my job. WOW made accommodations so that – per my request – I could work remotely from the hospital and allowed me to maintain a flexible schedule to accommodate the uncertainty of my situation. Fortunately, my husband received the same response from his employer and he was able to stay in Syracuse with us. With my job secure, I still had health insurance to cover the high cost of the specialized care that we would need. Our combined medical bills would total well over a half million dollars, a sum that would have bankrupted us without excellent coverage.

How much did these workplace accommodations and good health benefits mean to the economic security and emotional well being of my family? At 24 weeks gestation our son faced terrible odds – survival rates were between 50% and 70% and he would likely face moderate to severe long-term health problems. Not having to worry about my job or ability to pay the hospital bills reduced my stress, allowing me to remain strong and positive, which certainly prolonged my pregnancy and affected my son’s well being. While most women experiencing their water breaking so early into their pregnancy deliver within 48 hours, we were able to delay labor and buy him precious time. Three weeks after being admitted to the hospital my son, Henry, a tiny 2 pounds 7 ounce fighter, was born 13 weeks prematurely.

Being away from home with no option to be transferred to a local hospital due to the precariousness of Henry’s health, we were faced with many more unexpected expenses, particularly a need for temporary housing. Organizations like the Ronald McDonald House of Central New York, where we lived for three months during my son’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, provided us with housing and food at just a fraction of the cost we would have paid for a hotel room. Furthermore, because of Henry’s low-birth weight he was eligible to receive Social Security Insurance benefits during his hospitalization. While the process of accessing this benefit was incredibly cumbersome and frustrating, this support helped us cover the some of the additional expenses we faced being away from home.

2014 was the most difficult and heart-wrenching year of my life, but I am happy to say despite those many terrifying months and hardships, my son is now a thriving and healthy one-year-old. Unlike many others, our story had a happy ending.

I am sharing my story, not only because I am grateful, but also because this demonstrates why all families need these types of protections and supports when things go wrong. Employer flexibility and the ability to work remotely enabled me and my husband to keep our jobs and benefits with no undue hardship on our workplaces. Having health insurance meant that we were able to afford the care that saved my son’s life. Community services and safety net programs helped to provide support to us in a time of need and reduced the amount of debt we accumulated. All of these elements are critical for family economic security and without them my life might be very different today. I am incredibly fortunate to still have my job, not be crippled with debt, and most importantly that our irrepressible Henry is with us today. I don’t want our experience to be the exception, it should be the rule.

SGB and Henry

 

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Equal Pay and Economic Security

Today is Equal Pay Day. Advocates around the country are raising the voices of women and fighting against the brutal reality that women still earn only 78 cents of every dollar earned by men. This alone sounds atrocious – imagine what that means over a woman’s lifetime and into her retirement!

According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report, Large Gender Pay Gap for Older Workers Threatens Economic Security of Older Women, “in 2009, full-time working women 50 and older earned only three-fourths of what full-time working men the same age earned.”  In addition, WOW’s research shows that 49 percent of retired women ages 65 and older versus 40% of retired men in the same cohort experience economic insecurity. This suggests that the pay gap during working years translates to economic security during retirement. As a mature female worker, it makes me worry about having enough saved for retirement.

The AAUW’s report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, states that white women were paid 78 percent of what white men are paid, African American women were paid 64 percent of what white men were paid and Hispanic and Latina women  were paid 54 percent of what white men.  Earning lower pay throughout one’s career affects not only salary, but your Social Security and retirement income. There is less money to pay for food and other household expenses including education, childcare and retirement savings. As a retiree, your fixed income will be smaller, Social Security will be less and investments fewer and of lower value. Women’s longer life expectancies also result in an increased chance of prematurely depleting all finances, outliving retirement savings and being unable to be economically secure and age with dignity.

Unequal pay during working years affects all women –especially minority women– and their families and can lead to elder economic insecurity during their retirement years. Equal and fair pay eliminates wage disparities and helps reduce poverty rates. Equal Pay + Fair Pay = A Strong Economy.  

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Part of the Solution to End the Wage Gap: Eliminate Occupational Segregation by Gender

I’ll be joining with my colleagues and tradeswomen friends at Chicago Women in Trades later today to meet with the Deputy Secretary of Labor to discuss Equal Pay Day. But please don’t wish me Happy Equal Pay Day! There is nothing to celebrate about the gender wage gap—it continues to be an unfortunate reality of our labor market. Nonetheless, I am grateful for a day that calls awareness to this unconscionable inequity. Moreover, I’m appreciative for the opportunity to urge the Department of Labor to pay more attention and commit resources to one significant way to eliminate the wage gap – by ending occupational segregation by gender. It is a solution/strategy embodied in the stories of the tradeswomen he’ll meet and it’s my own story too – and why it has been my passion and career for over thirty years.
When I made my first steps into the labor market thirty five years ago as an official college dropout, I didn’t have any specific data about the wage gap. However, I did know that it wasn’t going to be easy to support myself in either of the two jobs I had ever done- as a waitress or as a temporary census worker for the government. These traditionally female jobs offer low wages and no employment benefits. And I knew that men’s jobs (when I was growing up we knew there were men’s and women’s jobs because up until 1973 that’s how the help wanted ads were segregated), especially those that were union, might offer more promise for economic independence and security. It was in my search for one of those good union jobs, that I heard about the Chicago Urban League’s program to train women and men of color for jobs in the steel mills. I enrolled and one day the trainer invited me to consider applying to be an elevator constructor. This wasn’t just good fortune shining down on me – no, it was the result of a newly awarded federal contract that required the contractor to take affirmative action to truly open jobs for women and men of color – which then meant actually hiring someone – not just demonstrating good faith efforts to hire.
When that door opened to me (well it didn’t really open, I had to do some kicking – but that’s another story), I was immediately on equal footing – at least in terms of wages, with all my male colleagues. I didn’t know then how much that opportunity and choice could mean over the course of a lifetime. The difference between the wages I might have made if I stayed a waitress, versus the wages I earned as an elevator constructor could top one million dollars. And wage equality is only the first rung of the ladder – it doesn’t take into account the free on-the-job training I received, the health insurance benefits and the pension contributions that nearly doubled the total wage. Not to mention that all of that economic advantage set me up to be able to own my own home, live in the neighborhood of my choosing, help support family members, and build equity and assets that contribute to my economic security.
My experience working in the trades fixing, maintaining and building elevators and escalators, which for the most part I loved, eventually led to the work I do now – advocating and organizing so tradeswomen could get equal treatment beyond just the wages on the job and so more women would find the doors to these careers open to them. I never expected to make a career of this – nor did I think we’d still be fighting for wage equality all these years. The older I get the more ridiculous this seems, especially since the tradeswomen’s movement has been making some pretty good recommendations on how to end occupational segregation. So here is what I’ll be suggesting to the Assistant Secretary so we can speed up this process:
Women’s occupational segregation is built on sex stereotypes, lack of outreach and information, limited pre-vocational skill training, disparate impact of selection criteria, sex discrimination in hiring, and the challenge of being a pioneer in a male-dominated environment. These are pervasive and persistent issues, but they are not without solutions – so let’s tackle these head on by:
• Establishing and enforcing gender equity policy and practice in our job training and career and technical education systems,
• Allocating resources for preparing women and girls to be competitive candidates in jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields,
• Improving and enforcing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policy and goals for federal contractors and for apprenticeship training,
• Offering technical assistance and training to help public institutions and industry partners make culture change to ensure gender equitable, neutral and sensitive training programs and workplaces
• We need public policy that allows all workers to have paid leave time to address family and medical needs
If you are a tradeswomen, ally or advocate, I hope you will join with me in sharing your own story and your ideas for ending occupational segregation by gender and closing the wage gap. I’ll be happy to forward to the Department of Labor and to our industry leaders. And I still hold out hope, that maybe next year I won’t have to write this blog all over again and instead I’ll be able to report on the dynamic changes the Department of Labor is implementing to end occupational segregation. But don’t just stay tuned, stand up, organize and demand women’s wage equality now.

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Promoting Women’s Economic Security: Acknowledging the Effects of Trauma

Since its inception in 1964, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) has helped women create pathways and overcome barriers to economic security through direct services and advocacy driven by research. Our roots are grounded in providing job training and workforce development through a gender lens. While we now primarily use this expertise to provide technical assistance and training to organizations across the country, we still maintain connections with some local service providers here in Washington, DC.

In 2008, we began a partnership with the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), which provides emergency and long-term safe housing, and innovative homelessness prevention services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. WOW provides career and economic counseling to survivors in their programs. While the physical and health impacts of abuse were apparent, the economic impacts of abuse often proved to be more of a barrier to their safety and recovery. Many of the survivors we work with faced a number of economic consequences as a result of their abuser’s actions including:

  • Job loss or lost wages due to interference from the abuser at work or time off to recover from abuse;
  • Unfinished education due to missed classes or a need to relocate;
  • Eviction and damaged tenant history due to law enforcement involvement;
  • Debt from healthcare, relocation costs and replacing damaged property;
  • Damaged credit and identity theft;
  • Loss of personal property; and,
  • Coercion into crime such as dealing drugs, fraud and/or prostitution.

By deliberately destroying survivors’ ability to be economically secure, abusers often eliminate the very resources they need to escape abuse and recover. The survivors we serve are lucky in the sense that they were able to enter a transitional housing program that provides them with safety and stability while working to rebuild their lives. Those who can’t access the limited resources available to survivors are often unable to break free from violence and abuse. But even when survivors do find these programs, the economic impacts of abuse may be so significant that they may never fully recover without the right interventions.

Providing immediate safety is first and foremost. But providing safe housing is not enough. Survivors need health and counseling services to help them cope with trauma. Once physical and mental health needs are addressed, we can then begin the long process of helping survivors recover from the economic impacts of abuse. Only then are survivors ready to develop and implement a plan that will help them become more economically secure and independent in the future. This often requires rebuilding damaged credit, getting training or education so that they have the skill-set needed to obtain good jobs that pay a living wage and offers benefits, accessing income support to provide interim stability and getting restitution to recover financial losses. Temporary and flexible financial support is critically important. Few jobs pay wages that would enable a single worker with children to cover all their monthly expenses, and those that do require years of training or experience. This reality often leaves survivors with few options but to remain in an abusive situation.

The economic consequences of violence and abuse are significant and complex. If we are to effectively promote women’s economic security, we must take into account and address the impacts of violence against women. When one in four women experiences rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, addressing the intersections of violence/abuse with economic security must be a priority for all organizations seeking to eradicate poverty and promote gender equity.

 

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Older Women In the Workforce: Building Pathways to Economic Security

When Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) was conceived of in the 1960s –a period in which women began entering the workforce en masse– its mission was to make the labor market equally accessible to women. Today, those efforts have expanded to include building pathways to economic security for women, their families and seniors.

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the journey of older workers in the labor force across the years and the economic insecurity some face. Many older workers find themselves struggling financially and unprepared for retirement. The long-term unemployed, along with older workers who are recalibrating due to the economic downturn, job loss, children leaving the nest, divorce or other life changing events, often need assistance to return to the workforce or make a career change. Age discrimination and lack of access to retraining are barriers that impact the employability of older workers. Policies that promote the hiring of mature workers and integrate them in training programs (which typically tend to focus on Millennials and Generation Y), would go a long way toward moving this cohort into economic security.

WOW’s research on the needs and incomes of individuals aged 65+ and living independently in the community indicates that 45% of seniors– 40% of men and 49% of women– are economically insecure. Addressing this challenge over the long-term will require higher-paid work and new skills development for low wage workers –especially women. Workforce development assistance programs should aim to improve or augment the skills of older workers so that they will qualify for higher skilled, higher wage jobs. Women in particular would benefit from career counseling, education including vocational-technical programs and STEM initiatives, job training, and internships or apprenticeship programs for middle-skilled and high paying jobs.

Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides (direct-care workers) are among the fastest growing jobs – about 90% of which are filled by women.  In 2010, the average age of a direct-care worker was 42. One study estimates that “by 2018 …one third of personal care aides will be 55 and older, an increase from 22% in 2008.” Unfortunately, a $10.58 median hourly wage for all direct-care workers fails to provide a fair living wage. Therefore, this kind of work–while increasingly important for an aging society–is unlikely to be an answer to older women’s economic insecurity dilemma.

Among barriers to older women’s employment is the notion that older workers cannot contribute to the success of an organization. While discredited, this belief continues to produce age discrimination in the workplace. Yet an older worker is quite capable of adapting and mastering new skills, even those that are technology-related. A prospective employer might hesitate to invest in a 55-year old new hire out of concern that  s/he may not remain an employee for the next 15 – 20 years. However, neither will a younger hire. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, “median employee tenure was generally higher among older than younger ones…A larger portion of older workers than younger workers had 10 years or more of tenure.”

Communities and employers benefit when older workers are encouraged to remain in the workforce for as long as they are able and wish. It makes good business and economic sense to welcome and retain these employees. Middle-aged and older workers offer experience and expertise and they tend to be more professional, mature and loyal.

Although the age at which people qualify for full Social Security retirement benefits varies depending on the year they were born, life expectancy is longer than for previous generations –especially among women– and many will be mentally and physically capable of working through their 70s and sometimes their 80s. Working beyond 65 provides individuals with an opportunity to defer retirement, continue paying payroll taxes, delay accessing retirement funds and continue growing their savings and investments. Gainfully employed older individuals will not only increase their own economic security, but will reduce pressure and dependence on Social Security and other public support systems. Plus, according to the New York Academy of Medicine’s (NYAM) Age Smart Employer Compendium of Strategies and Practices, “longer work lives will generate increased consumer spending, which drives economic growth and new job creation.”

Investments in effective, expanded, multigenerational, and diverse public/private training, internships, apprenticeships, and education programs, along with nondiscriminatory hiring practices and workforce development systems, are crucial in maximizing the performance and productivity of workers of all ages. And a productive workforce is central to being able to compete as a nation in the globalized economy of the 21st century.

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Data is History

If one had the time, she/he could probably tell the history of women since 1980, when President Carter recognized women’s history week, through 35 years of data and research studies. Modern women’s history is in part the history of creating new information to create a wider “circle of concern,” and to soften old, ossified notions of how women are faring, and what women can be.

The past two decades have produced generations of more accurate measures of financial well-being. Demand for metrics is broad-based, coming from advocates, progressive decision makers, and a public increasingly expecting to see numbers driving policy change and demonstrating impact. Both supply and demand of metrics have also increased in response to the advent of social media, which have created an expectation that pithy professional and political information will be regularly dispatched and responded to by political leaders, opinion leaders, advocates, academics and constituents. What used to be true for academics is now true for policy professionals: Publish or perish. This new compulsion is a curse to those who fear obsolescence, and a blessing for those on the lookout for new ways to break through the noise, to overcome “issue fatigue” and old conceptions of poor and poverty.

Over its 50-year history, WOW has sometimes led and sometimes joined the field in equipping those who care about women and families. In 1996, the Self-Sufficiency Standard became one of the first well-being measures developed within the American non-profit sector. WOW subsequently published the Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index)—a  measure of the incomes older adults need to meet their basic needs, protect their health and age in their own homes—and the Basic Economic Security Tables Index (BEST Index), a contemporary investigation of the annual income and savings workers require for economic security across the lifespan. These budget standards ask and answer questions about what basic needs are and how much income modern households need. They can also be used to answer any number of questions so many of us want to answer in helping women, questions about “good jobs,” economic development, gender equity, the cost of abuse, public assistance programs, personal development, etc. Such questions lie at the intersection of so much good work and good data being produced by our sister women’s organizations and researchers across the country. It should also be noted that the Obama Administration’s recent devotion to data and drive to answer such questions is historic (see executive orders, the DOL Women’s Bureau, Middle Class in America).  

Frankly, sometimes women’s history month can seem passé, like on old concept, like more noise. But if we want women and families to continue to occupy a small portion of decision makers’ minds, we need to better arm ourselves with improved understanding of security challenges and facts on the ground, to better reflect the realities of more and more kinds of women, and to connect data to the personal narratives of those who suffer insecurity and petition for policy responses.  

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NJ Elder Index Bill Blazes through State Senate

The New Jersey Senate moved quickly and unanimously today to advance elder economic security. By a vote of 39-0, Senators passed A3504/S2231, as reported out just a week before by the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, following testimony by WOW and its partner, NJ Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

The NJ Assembly had passed the same bill by a near-unanimous vote on November 14th.  From here, it goes to the Governor’s desk for review and the hoped-for signature that would enact it into law.

The legislation requires the Department of Human Services to use and update the NJ Elder Index and related data, within the limits of available funds and resources, as a planning tool to improve the coordination and delivery of public benefits and services to older New Jerseyans. Loretta Weinberg, Senate Majority Leader, became a champion of the legislation early on, and worked across the aisle and across chambers—with  Assemblyman Joseph Lagana and other sponsors in the Assembly—to ensure that her colleagues understood the value and potential impact of using a more accurate measure of seniors’ financial condition and needs.

WOW and NJFA are delighted by the progress of this common sense bill. The use of the NJ Elder Index will contribute concretely to good stewardship of state human service dollars based on a clear picture of elders’ economic needs.

Say Yes to Elder Economic Security!

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Herstory Matters: Break Down the Firewall for Women in IT

The first time history really made sense to me was in the seventh grade, when I first started learning about the struggle for women’s suffrage. I recognized that the story of the fight for the right to vote, and of the women who were leading it was inextricably linked to my life. We didn’t have a women’s history month then, and I didn’t realize how little of it would be part of my formal education. That’s why I still get excited when March rolls around and we get a whole month focused on women’s history- or as I prefer to call it, herstory.

I especially like International Women’s Day (IWD), because it links women across the world in recognition of the interconnectedness of our struggles across cultures, nations, races, and geography. I love knowing that IWD has its roots in the U.S. women’s trade union movement. March 8th was the date of two worker demonstrations, one of garment workers in 1857, and another fifty-one years later in 1908, of women in the needle trades. In each case women workers marched and picketed for better, safer working conditions and equal rights for women. This herstory is important to me because it serves as a reminder of the power of organizing to create social change. We still have a long way to go towards women’s full equality, especially in the workplace, but much of what these women fought for – an eight-hour day, women’s right to vote, and laws prohibiting child labor – are protections we now take for granted, at least in this country.

WOW’s history also is rooted in working women coming together and organizing for change. As we celebrate WOW’s 50th anniversary we have been digging up some of the stories of our founders that describe WOW’s evolution. It was in the seventies that WOW started to analyze the problems of occupational segregation by gender. This was a direct result of finding that traditional women’s jobs such as clerical and nurses’ aides did not offer wages that would lead women to economic security. It didn’t take long for it to be clear that it was in non-marginal jobs, jobs traditionally held by men, that women could find economic security. In addition to better wages, those jobs offered on the job training and future upward mobility. Not only did women embrace these new opportunities wholeheartedly, it signaled a profound shift for WOW, into the policy arena, where we began to fight to expand and enforce equal employment laws and to ensure that public employment and job training programs treated women equitably.

It wasn’t easy back then; there was resistance from employers, male workers, policymakers. WOW found that even the regulations requiring federal contractors to set goals and timetables for women’s inclusion in male-dominated jobs were often unenforced and public job training programs still segregated women into low-wage sectors. WOW crafted sex equity language for the Department of Labor that recognized that training funds could be used to address the needs of special populations, including women. It was known as the “WOW paragraph.”

Forty years later, WOW is still in the forefront of opening up nontraditional jobs to women and continuing to make herstory. While we can definitely point to progress, it is a bit alarming to look back at our history and realize we are still fighting some of the same battles WOW took on in the seventies and eighties. However, history reminds us of the example of our foremothers who fought for over sixty years for women’s suffrage. Although the change seems long in coming, the every little step and each one of our efforts brings us closer to equality. We are taking one of those steps this week as WOW tackles the low representation of women in IT.

Women were only 8.9 percent of hardware computer programmers and only 19 percent of software computer programmers in 2013. Nevertheless, with some reminders from our herstory we learn that these jobs haven’t always been difficult for women to enter. In fact, last year, WOW’s Matt Unrath posted a blog about the computer programmers history forgot – women. His blog, following an NPR report on the same topic, describes the roles of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Jean Jennings Bartik in the expansion of modern computing. We Facebooked, tweeted, and instagrammed the blog and our intern took a Vine of our CEO trying to send a Snap Chat thanking Matt for his post. And we can thank many of the women you can read about here for starting our culture down the path to that sentence even making sense to anyone!

As we enter the second full week of Women’s History Month, WOW is hosting the New Jersey Forum on Women in Information Technology at Essex County College. We’re bringing together experts in community college instruction, representatives from the workforce development system, members of local government, employers and students to address women’s underrepresentation in the IT sector. We won’t be marching and picketing in the streets like our foremothers, but we will be carrying on the struggle of women for good work and full equality in the workplace through education, coalition building and promoting effective strategies for equitable workforce training. Moreover, we will be encouraged by the knowledge of our herstory, that each of these steps matter!

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