Economic Security Summit: The Road Forward

By Kyla Bender-Baird

What a day! We have just come back from breakout group discussions where we all put our heads together to discuss the most pressing research, policy, program, media, and funding priorities for economic security, social supports and safety nets, education and healthcare. Stay tuned--we'll be posting memos from these discussions on the Council's website soon!

In the meantime, we have an all-star panel to help close out the day. The topic? The Road Forward.

  • How have funders' priorities and partnerships (foundations, individuals and government) been shaped by the recent economic crisis?
  • How can we collectively move a policy agenda for greater social investments for women, girls, and families?
  • How can we build coalitions for social change?

Linda Basch, President of the Council, will be moderating this dynamic panel discussion with Sara Gould, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women and a key leader in the contemporary women's movement; Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women's Bureau at the United States Department of Labor; and Kay Klotzburger, founder, president, and executive director of The Silver Century Foundation whose mission is to promote a positive view of aging for everyone.

Linda: Themes of the day:

  • Investing in women is investing in our economy
  • Support, not punishment, as a frame for our public policies
  • Reframe women as resources and sources of strengths
  • Need partnerships—especially with people who are most affected by what is going on
  • Breaking down the silos

We’re fortunate to have representatives of major foundations here in the room with us. I turn to them to hear what they are doing in light of the economic situation.

Michelle from Wal-Mart Foundation: Why Wal-Mart? Create opportunities to help people live better is the mission of the Wal-Mart Foundation. Please approach us for funding. Pillars of funding: education, workplace development, health and wellness, sustainability. In education, we’re particularly focused on high school readiness (ex. Literacy), and youth re-engagement. Wal-Mart Corporation $2 billion commitment to address hunger relief in this country. In workforce development our focus is on dislocated workers, getting them job training and skills to get them back into the workforce. Often times women are the people we’re supporting because they are disproportionately impacted by the issues we’re focused on. We partner with a variety of non-profits such as the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, Girls Inc., United Way, and many more. Please apply for funding; it is competitive—we’re only able to fund 12-15% of proposals that come in. But a lot of work happens in the local communities where we can impact our customers. Remember the diversity of the philanthropic community: we’re not monolithic. There are huge opportunities here for reaching out to corporations—just have to understand the context and how the different companies operate. We want to fund things our customers will understand when we announce them. Needs to be tangible and make immediate change—not planning or research.

Anna Wadia, Ford Foundation: The Ford Foundation has gone through a lot of change in the last few years. From the top down, there’s support for social change work. There are three major program areas: assets and economic opportunity; democracy rights and justice; education, culture and free expression. Assets and economic opportunity include not only job quality issues but also access to work supports, workforce development for immigrant communities, and metropolitan opportunity and regional economic development such as transportation and land use. Within democracy rights and justice there is a woman’s rights program officer. As part of her portfolio, she does have a focus on economic justice for low-income women of color.

Linda: What are each of you focusing on that speaks to the issues that have been raised today? How do we move the agenda forward?

Sara M-D: I’ve been at the Women’s Bureau now for seven months. I look at things in a very holistic approach. I see it has four legs of a chair: Government, researchers, non-profits, business. If you don’t have one of the four at the table, you can fall off the chair. I have two years so I’m looking at this in tunnel vision. I can’t be as impactual as possible without partners and collaborators. In 2008, close to 40 million people, or 13% of the nation’s population, lived at or below the poverty level. Black and Hispanic workers continue to be twice as likely as their white or Asian counterparts to be poor. We are learning forms of communications that we have to use to talk to all of our groups. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible. We’ve done live web streaming (ex. Lilly Ledbetter and Paycheck Fairness; STEM panel with a Hispanic astronaut who was a farm worker kid). We’ve also hosted web chats. We’re trying to use technology to reach people as much as we can. My mission is to empower all working women to achieve economic security. My four priorities: equal pay, workplace flexibility, higher paid jobs for women, homeless women veterans. We will be conducting a research summit to look at the gaps in research with regard to equal pay and what kind of information do we need to determine wage disparities. We’ll be training employers with regards to their obligations and training employees with regards to their rights. We’re kicking off a national dialogue on workplace flexibility next week. Work life balance is essential to a strong, healthy economy for our country. We’ll look at how to do work life balance within small businesses, manufacturing, low-wage sectors, and white collar jobs. We’re looking at all of you as potential partners. We have 1.8 million women veterans currently. We’ve had listening sessions where we talked to homeless women veterans. As a result, we got a $5 million grant to work with homeless women veterans, doing case studies with the women we met in order to put a face to this issue, producing fact sheets, providing trauma-informed care. The power in this room is phenomenal. This is the most diverse women’s group I’ve seen in a very long time.

Linda: It’s really heartening what you’ve had to say, especially have the last 8 years. We did a report in 2004 on all the information on women’s rights that had disappeared from the Women’s Bureau website. But I hope, Sara, that you’ll look to women in this room as collaborators for these convening.

Sara G: The main message I want to put out this afternoon is about power. If we don’t build power to bring about policy changes that we know are necessary, we are NOT going to bring them about. The issues that we’re talking about today are exactly the issues we were talking about when I was in graduate school in the 1970s. In many ways, we feel like we’re moving backwards. We started off the day saying that we have to put forth a vision of what we want to see in the economy. It was not given to us by God—it is people made. We can change the values underneath it. At the Ms. Foundation, we go after a spirit of collaboration that puts race and gender at the center of the economy and that those most impacted by the economy must be part of the solution. We’ve been happy to bring into the room today many of our grantees. We’ve learned the importance of having the voices and stories of those most affected AND how there must be support for these women to come forward (ex. Stipends, speaking training, child care, transportation). There have to be many more conversations with social justice organizations that are coming to this work from a primarily race and/or perspective. Together with the Astraea and Third Wave Foundation, a few years ago, we brought together and drafted the new women’s movement that recognized feminist social justice and social justice feminism. Ms. is funding organizations doing work at the intersections between issues and geographies. We are also funding organizations that are organizing people. This is about building power. By working at the connections, these organizations are building bigger coalitions. An organization in Colorado that Ms. funded was able to defeat three dangerous ballot initiatives –fetal rights, anti-labor, and anti-affirmative action. We need to stop talking about non-traditional occupations and talk about male dominated occupations. We have to assert, very strongly, that we are not making the kind of progressive that we should, that progressive is being turned back.

Kay: I think this has been an awesome conference. The concept of the lifespan, here and there, has come into this conference. That’s what I want to bring up here—the longer lifespan we are all facing now. You’re talking economic security for women over a fairly long lifespan. To race, class, gender, I want to add age. We need to talk about career paths not only for younger women but also for mid-life and aging women. This is a country that is preoccupied with youth. Let us not forget that. Women live longer than men globally, and that makes them especially vulnerable during retirement. Retirement can comprise a third of your life, and you need economic security for that. Women spend their working years earning less money than men. And that means they’re more likely to spend their later years in poverty. A real issue in this country is women aging into poverty. Right now, 60% of women receive benefits as wives or workers. What’s coming down the pipe is that fewer women are marrying and marriages are not lasting as long. Right now, the law will not let you claim spousal benefits unless you were married ten years. Another issue about aging into poverty is medical debt. We need to look at the way women age, which is different than men. Men age and have acute conditions; women age and have chronic conditions. Women also need more special equipment as they age (canes, wheelchairs). Older women outnumber older men and that makes aging a much more female experience in this society. Women will face distinctly different challenges to maintaining their health.

Linda: In closing, I appreciate what you have shared here on the two years we have left to make change, the need to build power, and the importance of bringing aging into the conversation. I feel optimistic. The reflections are different and the diversity in the room is different. We need to build a larger movement by reaching out to corporations and creating cross-sector alliances. And we need to bring men into our movement.

Man from audience: Amen!

Linda: Yes, thank our one man here today. (applause).

It’s been an important day and stay tuned on our websites as we release more information.

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