WOW works nationally and in its home community of the Washington, DC metropolitan area to build pathways to economic security and equality of opportunity for women, families and elders.
WOW envisions a society where women and men of all ages can participate equally and fully in all aspects of their communities so they are assured economic security throughout their lives.
Our StorySince 1964, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) has promoted empowerment, equity and economic security across the lifespan. WOW started in its home community of Washington, DC and spread throughout the nation helping women learn to earn through financial education and career preparation, technical and non-traditional skill training, and career development. WOW also advances equal education and employment opportunities, freedom from financial abuse and secure retirement through its advocacy, research, training and technical assistance. WOW was founded by activists Mary D. Janney and Jane Fleming to help women enter the workforce. It wasn’t long, however, before they realized the need for a systematic approach to address inequities in the labor market, and began to expand WOW’s assistance. As Jane Fleming noted in reflecting on WOW’s founding:
“When a group of us in Washington, DC first conceived of Wider Opportunities for Women in 1964, we naively thought that all we had to do to open up the labor market to women was encourage part-time, flexible work patterns that would accommodate women’s dual responsibility for job and family. We were largely unaware that the achievement of equal access and opportunity for all women would require a more extensive, more complex effort than we had anticipated.”As a result, access to employment and non-traditional jobs became a cornerstone of WOW’s work. As time went by, WOW’s mission expanded to providing the services and training that would bring women security, and to influencing policy that created social change. During the 1996 debate on welfare reform, WOW’s work took another large evolutionary step. WOW developed the Self-Sufficiency Standard, an innovative measure that defined the amount of earned income families required to meet basic needs without public or private assistance. The Standard suggested how policy makers and program providers might better target their education, job training, workforce development and welfare-to-work resources. The Standard also provided the first substantive alternative to the federal poverty level and provided an alternative accounting of workers’ need for assistance to supplement low wages. WOW has since developed additional, contemporary measurements of need and income adequacy. In 2006, WOW, working with the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston, developed the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), a measure of the income and supports older adults need to meet their basic needs. The Elder Index demonstrated how workers and families need to build sufficient savings and assets during their working years to be independent and secure in retirement. In 2010, WOW created the Basic Economic Security Tables™ Index (BEST). The BEST Index is a contemporary measure of the income and assets workers require for economic security across the lifespan. The BEST addresses the several pieces of the larger basic economic security picture—basic needs, savings and employment-based benefits—critical to the security of workers, families, elders and communities. The natural relationship between the BEST Index and the Elder Index prompted the development of WOW’s Economic Security Database and the Economic Security Institute (ESI). The ESI supports progressive research and advocacy agendas by promoting the discussion, definition, measurement and advocacy of economic security. The Institute’s collection of research and advocacy resources helps advocates, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and others employ an economic security framework in their efforts to help workers, families and elders build better lives.
Today, WOW still trains women and advocates for change as it did decades ago. Though methods have changed, we still fight for families, and will continue to fight until true gender equality and equal opportunity are realities.
WOW co-founders, long-time activists, the late Mary D. Janney, left, and the late Jane Fleming.