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Taking Steps toward Fair Pay

Obama SOTU 2013AAUW completely agrees with President Obama’s remark last night — equal pay needs to happen now, not later. In 2012, AAUW found that college-educated women already earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college — even when women have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts. It doesn’t have to be this way. In addition to Congress passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year (take action to urge your representative to co-sponsor!), AAUW strongly believes there are concrete actions that the Obama administration can take that would enable women to bring home the pay they have rightfully earned. Here are some of our ideas:

  • Issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation. With federal contractors and subcontractors making up nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce, this order would protect millions of workers seeking equal pay for equal work.
  • Replace the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) current guidelines for investigating wage discrimination. OFCCP ensures that federal contractors and subcontractors (which employ millions of workers) provide equal employment opportunity through affirmative action and nondiscrimination. In January 2011, the OFCCP proposed recalling and replacing the two guidelines that shape how it conducts these investigations. The current guidelines obligate the OFCCP to follow an identical procedure for all compensation discrimination investigations “regardless of the facts of a particular case.” AAUW called on the OFCCP to rescind these antiquated guidelines back in 2011.
  • OFCCP should implement a much-needed compensation database. AAUW has long supported OFCCP conducting a survey of contractor employment data to target enforcement efforts and better understand why women and people of color continue to be paid less relative to their counterparts. OFCCP should ensure that the data collected can be used to conduct in-depth analyses of pay practices in various industries to identify the most problematic fields and provide industrywide guidance where there are systemic problems.
  • Ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to develop regulations directing employers to collect wage data including the race, sex, and national origin of employees. This information is not currently collected, making it difficult for the EEOC to investigate discrimination allegations.
  • Ensure adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of the EEOC, OFCCP, and various civil rights divisions. AAUW is worried that ongoing budget pressures will lead to reduced funding for these agencies, leaving millions of Americans without access to civil rights law enforcement.

The Obama administration has a real opportunity to further equal pay for equal work despite congressional gridlock. These and other administrative actions are available to the administration right now. We know the president is committed to equal pay for women. Let’s not make women wait any longer. Help us spread the word: Share this blog with your friends and participate in AAUW’s tweetstorm from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern today. Tweet #TalkPay and this blog to encourage the administration to take action on equal pay.

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Eleanor-gif_6New Orleans, the host city for our 2013 convention this June, is perhaps most widely known for one thing: Mardi Gras. Some may dismiss tonight’s events in the Big Easy as simply colorful beads, loud music, and revelry lasting into the early morning hours. Those who do are sorely mistaken. Beyond a night of letting loose, Mardi Gras represents a centuries-old festival with rich traditions celebrated the world over.

Mardi Gras has roots as far back as the Roman Empire, when the weeklong festival of Lupercalia in February honored the Roman fertility god Lupercus. Celebrants indulged in rich food, drink, and revelry and hoped for healthy families and a good harvest. It’s believed that early Christians in Rome adopted this celebration in an effort to make converting to their new faith a little easier. Given that the festival fell before the penitent Lenten period, it was reinterpreted as a time to feast before the long fast.

As Christianity spread across Europe and into the New World, so did the festival. Unique celebrations of Mardi Gras are still found today in much of Europe, including some particularly distinctive ones in Germany and Great Britain. In the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world it is celebrated under a different name — Carnival — with the world’s largest annual celebration in Rio de Janeiro.

The French became particularly enamored with the holiday, lending it its popular name: Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday. The first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration was held in a French colony in 1703 in modern-day Mobile, Alabama. The celebration quickly became popular among the rest of the French colonies in North America, including Louisiana.

New Orleans, perhaps more than any other place on earth, adopted Mardi Gras as its own. Here, a rich blend of new and old traditions flourished. Today’s celebrations include the popular colorful parades with elaborate floats, sponsored by an elite group of krewes. Perhaps less well-known are the glamorous masquerade balls with fabulous costumes. For other people, Mardi Gras is a quiet celebration at home, as families gather with friends over a king cake. There are perhaps as many different ways to celebrate Mardi Gras as there are people who celebrate it.

New Orleans doesn’t stop having fun after the beads have been swept away, the ball gowns have all been packed up in storage, or the last slice of cake has been eaten. It’s a year-round attitude that permeates the very soul of the city: Laissez les bons temps rouler, as the locals say. This mix of diverse cultures, rich traditions, and a deep appreciation for life’s beauties is something you really have to see in person to fully appreciate.

Mardi Gras isn’t the only chance to see New Orleans at its best. AAUW will hold a celebration of our own in the Big Easy this June: the 2013 National Convention. In the spirit of tonight’s festivities, we all come from different backgrounds but share a common passion for women’s equity. We look forward to celebrating that passion with you and charting a path forward together. Join us as we gather to honor our accomplishments, reflect on new challenges, and discuss our next steps in the path toward equity for women and girls. While you’re there, reconnect with old friends or make new ones as you soak in the city’s unique zest and joie de vivre. Register for convention today to take advantage of our early-bird rate.

This post was written by AAUW Member Leadership Programs Associate Ryan Burwinkel.

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Last week, the Obama administration proposed new regulations for determining which religiously affiliated employers and nonprofit organizations would have to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Under the adjusted policy, churches and other houses of worship are still exempt from having to provide this coverage, and other religious entities (such as charities or universities) would not have to issue plans that directly provide birth control coverage. Employees at those organizations would instead, as the Washington Post put it, receive a “stand-alone, private insurance policy that would provide contraceptive coverage at no cost.”

This decision protects women’s ability to access contraception without co-pay. AAUW is pleased that the administration resisted efforts to exempt for-profit companies from providing this critical health insurance coverage. The decision will lead to real benefits, including fewer unintended pregnancies and a better quality of life for women. If you’d like to learn more about whether your insurance plan covers these services, a health advocacy group has prepared an easy-to-use tip sheet.

However, we are concerned that another regulation, also announced last week, could limit women’s ability to access this care. The proposal would exempt student health plans self-funded by colleges from benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

This proposal would affect only about 30 institutions — mostly major private and public research universities — that self-fund their student health insurance plans, but this loophole could inspire other schools to begin self-funding their plans to remove contraceptive coverage, which AAUW would strongly oppose. As one consumer group put it, “Without federal protections and only minimal state oversight, self-funded plans are free to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, offer limited coverage with low annual limits on benefits, and commit a number of consumer abuses that the ACA was designed to eliminate.”

Although these are modifications to existing policies, they’ll have a big impact on women across the country. Subscribe to AAUW’s Washington Update to keep up to date on these developments and what they mean for women and girls.

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“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.

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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.

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Obama Inauguration speech 2013We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still. Just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall. Just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.                        

—    President Barack Obama, January 21, 2013

The chills I felt while hearing these words during President Obama’s inaugural address had nothing to do with the Washington, D.C., weather and everything to do with hope and pride in being an American. I went to the Mall with my parents and my 7-year-old daughter, and we waited for hours in the cold to see the president. But it was completely worth it.

It was worth it to hear the president unite the civil rights struggles of the last century into one sweeping idea — that we are fighting for the rights of every person to be treated and valued equally. It was worth it to hear him say that being born a woman or African American or gay makes you no less equal in the eyes of others and no less deserving of the full protection of our laws. It was worth it to hear him say that women should receive equal pay for equal work, something I’ve dedicated my own life to fighting for. It was worth it to hear the word “gay” said aloud for the first time in an inaugural address — a small word but a big step forward. It was worth the cold and the wait and the crowds to hear these words.

I attended the inauguration with my parents, who lived through the Jim Crow era and remember the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and my daughter, who doesn’t remember life before the United States had an African American president. To see the impact of history on my own family — is it any wonder I got the chills?

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AAUW has made tremendous strides for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) since our founding more than 130 years ago. Over the years, we have produced cutting-edge research, convened discussions with key policy makers, and supported leading female thinkers like scientist Marie Curie and astronauts Judith Resnik and Mae Jemison through our fellowships and grants. Now, with a new STEM partnership and expanded programs for girls throughout the country, our work won’t slow down in 2013.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead.

 

Partnership with STEMconnector
AAUW is proud to announce that we have become a nonprofit sponsor of STEMconnector, an organization that works to bring together companies, nonprofit groups, and policy makers focused on building diversity in STEM. On January 30, 2013, AAUW will host a town hall discussion on STEMconnector’s latest research report, which analyzes the STEM job market and aims to help connect students to employers. From AAUW’s own research, we know how crucial it is to encourage more women to consider careers in STEM, and we’re excited to join STEMconnector in this endeavor.

Expanding STEM Programs for Girls

AAUW is pleased to kick off 2013 by expanding Tech Trek and Tech Savvy, two wildly successful programs that started at the branch and state levels, to reach girls nationwide:

Tech Trek
This year, Tech Trek summer camps will go nationwide with the addition of five new sites. Tech Trek has inspired more than 9,000 campers since it was founded in 2008 in California. These camps take 12- and 13-year-old girls on a weeklong “trek” to a local college campus for a chance to explore their potential in science and technology. Girls connect with role models through interactive classes, field trips, and workshops led by women professionals. And the camp draws some outstanding experts: Tech Trek campers have heard from many amazing role models, like the late astronaut Sally Ride and former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz.

The new camps will launch in Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington, including in rural areas where programs like Tech Trek are most needed.

Tech Savvy
AAUW’s Tech Savvy program is a day of hands-on STEM workshops and informational sessions for sixth–ninth grade girls and their parents. The conference spurs excitement about STEM and gives girls the inspiration they need to pursue that interest through high school and college. AAUW will be expanding the highly successful program — which launched in Buffalo, New York, in 2006 — with the support of Tech Savvy founder Tamara Brown, who just last year was recognized by the White House for her efforts to increase the number of women engaged in STEM. AAUW is proud that Praxair Inc.’s sponsorship has made it possible to launch Tech Savvy at 10 pilot sites in the coming year.

In a world where gender bias and stereotypes prevent girls from pursuing STEM, these programs really matter. Tech Trek and Tech Savvy help girls at a critical time in their lives: right before they enter high school and begin to choose their educational paths. And the partnership with STEMconnector strengthens our efforts to make STEM fields more accessible for women in the workplace. 2013 is just the start for AAUW and STEM!

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