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A primate researcher, a cybersecurity specialist, the head of a wildlife clinic, and a tech CEO: If you were a fifth-grade girl in Naples, Florida, you could meet these women professionals — as well as 99 other girls who love science and math as much as you do — all in the same day. Super Savvy STEM Girls = Success is this year’s title for the 16th annual conference for girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) hosted by the AAUW Greater Naples Area (FL) Branch on February 9.

daughter STEM conference

Conferences provide a valuable opportunity to spark girls’ interest in STEM. They introduce girls to women role models so that girls can see themselves in careers relevant to their interests. Girls can also try out interactive activities that make STEM fun while giving them the confidence that they can succeed in these fields.

“Our aim is to help each girl feel comfortable and independent in a safe environment and help her reach out to others,” writes conference co-chair Mary Schell. One hundred girls from elementary schools in the Naples area will spend the day in career workshops led by 10 local women professionals. Meanwhile, parents will hear from educators and career experts how to help their daughters prepare for high school, college, and a career.

Not in the Naples area? Not to worry. February and March may be two of the coldest months of the year, but they’re also two of the hottest months for STEM conferences at AAUW branches.

Girls will be having fun with STEM from coast to coast — from Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology in Pennsylvania to Discovery Day for moms and daughters in California — and everywhere in between. Expanding Your Horizons conferences are taking place at AAUW branches and other sites nationwide, including five locations in Texas alone. To find out if there will be an event in your area, get in touch with your local branch and follow AAUW STEM on Facebook for updates.

If you are a member of a local branch, AAUW wants to make it easier for you to get involved in hosting a STEM conference of your own. The new Tech Savvy national program will award grants to 10 branch or state organizations to fund a daylong event for girls and their parents this year. For a preview of what the Tech Savvy program will bring to your area, you can check out the original Tech Savvy in Buffalo, New York, on March 16.

This winter, don’t miss out! Tell a girl you know who has a passion for STEM or take your own daughter to an AAUW conference in your area and help her enter the creative, exciting, and innovative world of STEM.

This post was written by AAUW STEM Program Associate Alexa Silverman.

“Women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots.”

That’s the provocative title and main thrust of a recent Huffington Post piece in which Joan Williams argues that negotiating can leave women “worse off than if they’d kept their mouths shut.” Williams appropriately notes the 2006 Babcock study on the backlash directed at women who negotiate. The study demonstrates that there is sexism in the workplace. But does that surprise us? Does that mean that as women we should just sit back and accept that we have to ensure in every situation that we are “well-liked” rather than ask for what we deserve — to be paid fairly?

Williams questioned how $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops (co-run by AAUW and the WAGE Project and featured in a recent New York Times article) address any backlash that women may face in negotiation. What AAUW and $tart $mart make clear is that responsibility for the wage gap doesn’t lie solely with women as individuals. The workshops do demonstrate some of the key stereotypes that women face in the workplace. And AAUW’s own research on women’s earnings just one year out of college points to the variety of other factors related to the current gap.

I couldn’t agree more with Williams’ ask for a “new system for setting starting salaries.” She suggests that employers provide new hires with information about salary ranges and potential stereotypes about women in the workplace. This idea connects to recent research that shows that women are much more likely to negotiate if the position noted explicitly that the salary was “negotiable.” Plainly put, women seek permission for what men automatically assume they are entitled to.

There are many things we — policymakers, business owners, hiring managers, and individuals — can do to fight the wage gap. But, of all the things we can do, telling women to give in to the realities of sexism and give up negotiating shouldn’t be one of them.

An eighth-grader barrages his babysitter with romantic overtures in person and via text even after she tells him it makes her uncomfortable.

A high school boy follows a classmate’s every move and sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep.

Seven brothers kidnap seven women and bring them to a secluded cabin to live as man and wife.

Image by WikipediaAh, romance. Oh wait — did you think these scenarios sounded more creepy than lovey-dovey? Illegal, even? Crazy, Stupid, Love.; Twilight; and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are all conventional romances. Yet, stripped of the attractive actors and swelling music, these movies reveal some deeply troubling behavior.

Stalking is sometimes taken seriously —  some films show that the law can’t always help and that being stalked is intrusive, terrifying, and likely to escalate to bodily harm. But far more often, this behavior is instead implied to be a normal and even preferred part of courtship. It’s romantic! And it’s shockingly ubiquitous.

Seven_brides_seven_brothersWhether stalking is explicitly mentioned and laughed off like in There’s Something about Mary or more obfuscated in something like Vertigo or Eight Days a Week, the message is clear. If someone is following you across the state and watching your every move (The Graduate) or filming you without your consent (American Beauty), it’s probably just because he loves you. And you’re assumed to reciprocate. Which might be a problem if you’re an adult human who wants some agency in whom you date.

While it’s deeply troubling that this trope makes what is actually a very scary issue for women in real life seem silly and insignificant, the stalking-as-romance theme also supports a larger stereotype about how women and men function in love. This picture of romance values men as the pursuers and women as the pursued. The love-struck hero admires the beautiful woman from afar — it’s a classic example of the voyeurism and passivity that feminist film theory is based on. Implied is that the most desirable relationships are the ones in which a woman is prey and a man is predator.

CrazyStupidLovePosterWhy is this model of love represented over and over? It’s not always the way relationships happen, and it’s not always desirable (and is even more unrealistic for anyone who isn’t hetero). Some real-life women had the audacity to call a guy up and ask for a date. Some leaned in for the first kiss. For others, it was a mutual seduction. Not all women are with their partners because they’ve been worn down. Is there something unromantic about a woman finding someone she wants and going for it?

Obviously, for some couples, the man-pursues-woman model actually happened. But it’s not happenstance that, over and over, so many couples prefer to characterize their relationship this way. And it’s not a coincidence that art imitates this ideal. Sometimes, that means romanticizing situations that should be alarming (and criminal). And other times, it makes those of us who aren’t passive women feel like our relationships don’t live up to the cultural hype. But surely we can start busting these myths about the ways that women and men should behave in love. And, trust us, the results deserve just as much windswept hair and swelling strings.

Although great advances have been made in the last 40 years thanks to Title IX, the fight for women’s equality in athletics is far from over. The High School Athletics Accountability Act (House) and the High School Data Transparency Act (Senate) were reintroduced this week by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to help further gender equality in school athletics. The bills specifically require that high schools report basic data on the numbers of female and male students in their athletic programs and the expenditures made for their sports teams.

See more of our cute, awkward, and awesome photos celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day on our Tumblr

Federal law already requires colleges to report this data, but the same standard is not required of secondary institutions. High schools currently collect this data; it is just not being publicly reported. This lack of transparency undermines the purpose of Title IX; without transparency, there can be no reform. As it stands, girls comprise half of the high school population but receive only 41 percent of all athletic participation opportunities — 1.3 million fewer female than male high school athletes — and sometimes receive inferior coaching, equipment, facilities, and scheduling. Further, offering girls equal opportunities in sports is about achieving more than equality; studies have shown that girls and women who participate in sports are less likely to get pregnant, drop out of school, do drugs, smoke, or develop mental illnesses.

In my own high school, I witnessed and experienced many inequities in our athletic program. Going to a “game” almost always implied a men’s competition, whether it was basketball, soccer, or swimming. Even female student athletes I knew frequently talked about watching men’s games — including attending as a team to root for their male counterparts. However, I don’t think I ever heard any male student athletes talk about returning the support for their female peers, and unsurprisingly when I did attend a women’s basketball game, the bleachers were nearly empty.

Courtney.track.NWGSD2013

See more of our cute, awkward, and awesome photos celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day on our Tumblr.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the High School Athletics Accountability Act or the High School Data Transparency Act would necessarily change the reality: We have a long way to go to achieve equality in the minds of both women and men when it comes to sports. But these proposed laws take a step in the right direction. When the inequities are out in the open we can more readily act to resolve them. And in time, with more opportunities and resources, girls’ sports will come into more prominence, and maybe one day we will see the bleachers populated with male student athletes rooting for their female counterparts.

As we work toward this goal and honor the 27th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, please contact your legislators and ask them to co-sponsor the High School Athletics Accountability Act to help increase transparency and strengthen gender equality in high school athletics.

This blog post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Sarah Lazarus.

Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.

Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.

Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Actress Mira Sorvino, photo by United Nations Photos, Flickr Creative Commons

“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.

Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.

Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.

Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.

“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi.

Image courtesy of Nina GodiwallaThe National Conference for College Women Student Leaders is proud to announce Nina Godiwalla as one of our keynote speakers for the 2013 conference! Nina Godiwalla is a second-generation Indian American and Texan who has definitely left her mark on the business world. She is the best-selling author of Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, an insider’s perspective on working for Fortune 500 company Morgan Stanley. Her book has been described as the Devil Wears Prada of investment banking. Godiwalla is also the CEO and founder of MindWorks, a company that provides leadership and stress management training to corporations and other professional organizations.

What inspires me most about Godiwalla is her ability to realize that the sky’s the limit. In her Persian-Indian community, many of her peers growing up were satisfied by pursuing what made their parents happy. Godiwalla, on the other hand, was driven to follow her own path: She made her way from Houston to New York City to indulge in the fast-paced, challenging, and competitive world of banking.

As an African American woman, I am truly inspired by stories of minority women stepping outside of boundaries and barriers that would stop us and achieving in the way that our passion drives us, not just in the way that will satisfy our parents. Looking at all that Godiwalla has done makes me feel more confident in pursuing my dreams. In addition, coming from a community much like Godiwalla’s, I hope that I can fulfill not only my parents’ dreams but leave someone else inspired the way Godiwalla has done for me.

We look forward to hearing more of Godiwalla’s story at NCCWSL and learning tips that we can all use about leadership and valuing diversity. What would you like to ask her about her leadership story?

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

FMLA-01The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a shining example of what AAUW lobbying efforts can help accomplish. Passed after seven years of hard work by AAUW staff and the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps, the legislation continues to be held up 20 years later as a lobbying success story.

“Often when I am telling folks about Lobby Corps I use FMLA as an example of our tenacity,” said Lobby Corps member Kitty Richardson. “It was definitely a case of here today, here tomorrow. We’re not going away, and we are supporting [the legislation] for the long term.”

The act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993, allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for a new baby or recently adopted child, tend to a seriously ill family member, or overcome their own serious health problems. About 62 percent of workers qualify for FMLA.

AAUW’s work on FMLA began in 1986 with an official endorsement of national family and medical leave legislation. AAUW delegates then adopted family and medical leave as an action priority at our 1987 National Convention. An AAUW brief from April 1998, Family Leave: A Solution to Work and Family Conflicts, told the story of a Delaware woman who lost her job because she needed time off to care for her ill son. The article said, “Women who have no parental leave face especially heavy income losses.”

In 1989, AAUW and other national women’s groups presented President George H.W. Bush and leaders of the 101st Congress with a “women’s agenda” focused on family, workplace, and health issues. The women’s agenda called for a family and medical leave act establishing a national policy of leave to enable working women and men to fulfill their family responsibilities without sacrificing job security.

AAUW Lobby Corps member Marcy Leverenz lobbied for AAUW on FMLA in the late 1980s. She said that when they started they had to make legislators understand the big picture — that people all over the United States needed the ability to take time off for caregiving.

“Through our lobbying efforts, this need became more of an empirical message rather than an anecdotal message,” Leverenz said. “It initially wasn’t looked on as a problem to be solved.”

Also in 1989, AAUW delegates again adopted family and medical leave as an action priority with thousands of AAUW members visiting the offices of nearly every senator and representative that June. And the results proved positive: The Outlook issue published after the lobby day said that the “coalition of national groups working for family leave … credited AAUW with greatly advancing the issue in Congress.”

The issue stayed at the top of AAUW’s policy agenda throughout the early 1990s. A February 1991 briefing said that AAUW “is fully committed to the establishment of a national family policy that helps American families balance work and family responsibilities.” When FMLA finally became law in 1993, Lobby Corps members said they reacted with joy — and relief.

“I really feel like without us out there nagging, it wouldn’t have gotten through,” said Lobby Corps member Nancy MacKenzie.

Part of the reason Lobby Corps had success was because they could provide personal stories to get legislators on board.

“We are effective because we aren’t paid to lobby,” MacKenzie said. “Therefore we only lobby on things that we personally believe in. It’s not a job to us. It’s something we care about.”

Since FMLA passed in 1993, AAUW has worked to expand the legislation to cover more of the nation’s workforce. Although those lobbying efforts have been unsuccessful overall, some Lobby Corps members have had the thrill of seeing their own families benefit from FMLA. “One thing that touched me was that at the time we started lobbying this bill, my son was rather young,” MacKenzie said. “In the meantime, he got married and had children and made use of FMLA when his wife was pregnant. And I thought, you know, I’m one of the ones who got it passed. And I let him know it, too.”

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.