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Posts Tagged ‘social change’

Despite the early hour, the keynote speaker on the final morning of two-and-a-half days of intense and fun leadership training at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) did not disappoint. Mayda del Valle, an accomplished slam poet and performer, rocked the stage. And her words took the audience through a range of emotions — from bursts of laughter to moments of silence and reflection.

Over the course of the conference, the college women attendees learned how to find and use their voices, and del Valle was the perfect speaker to demonstrate how important this skill is. After introducing herself and quickly creating a rapport with the audience, she flowed effortlessly into a performance of a poem that she wrote in college. “Voice” stressed the importance of language, highlighted del Valle’s experiences as a bilingual woman, and described how loud her voice had to be in order to be heard. The poem ended with this line: “Your voice, your voice, your voice is life, is needed, and is loud!”

But del Valle also encouraged us to listen. She said that she spent most of her life living in the margins — as a Puerto Rican woman from the South Side of Chicago, she felt unrepresented in the city’s black-and-white politics, and she never felt like she fit in at Williams College when she was a student there. Her life shaped her stories, and she felt privy to a lot of experiences because she was an outsider. Many of the young women in the audience nodded in agreement. She encouraged them to be open to others’ experiences. “You have to be willing to put aside your prejudices, your opinions, and your thoughts and just take a moment to listen to somebody else’s story,” she said. “If you listen and experience someone’s story as though it was your own, I think the world would be a better place.”

The audience appreciated del Valle’s performance because she demonstrated the power that a single woman can have if she isn’t afraid to use her voice. When I spoke to del Valle after her presentation, she told me how much she loves speaking to college women because she feels like she can relate to them. “I like this demographic because they’re really open … and they can take the information that you offer and implement it in their lives,” she said.

The students certainly loved hearing from her! Caroline Switchenko and Lulu Lamb, both rising sophomores at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Connecticut, had nothing but praise for del Valle. “I can honestly say that that was the most amazing performance I’ve seen,” said Switchenko. “She caught my attention because she was so relatable. She was really inspirational.” Lamb added that she was moved because del Valle was so completely herself. “She was honest and strong. She’s paving the way for so many people.” Watching students exiting the auditorium, I could tell that del Valle touched them all.

Del Valle’s ability to tell her story was not only inspirational but also motivational. She makes a living by telling her story, and she encouraged the young women to follow their dreams in the same way. One attendee, who described herself as a poet, asked how she could get others to take her passion seriously. Del Valle encouraged the woman to use her words and her voice and added that writing and performing poetry was a way of giving back to the community. Del Valle urged the student not to do what others want you to do. “You do you, boo,” she said.

At del Valle’s performance, conference-goers learned to use their voices for activism and social change, and they also discovered how to tell their stories as a way to relate to one another. As del Valle told the nearly 600 students, “I like to encourage people to tell their stories because nobody else can do that for you.”

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Meredith Spencer-Blaetz.

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The Simple Truth About the Pay Gap (2012)

Before I started working at AAUW, I never really gave much thought to the gender pay gap. Sure, I knew it existed. I knew the numbers — women make 77 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by men — and I wasn’t pleased about it, but that was about the extent of my concern.

There are a handful of reasons why I wasn’t on the front lines of the fight for fair wages — being a post-grad, for example, made it difficult to conceive of any stable wage, let alone a fair one. But the most notable reason was that I simply didn’t know how the gender pay gap actually worked. I didn’t know how it was calculated, what numbers people used, or where these numbers even came from. Most of all, I didn’t understand exactly how these numbers ended up being different for men and women.

Today, I know and understand all of those components — and then some. And while I have the advantage of working in a research department that is dedicated to this issue, I know that anyone can learn these basics. With our recent publication The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, anyone and everyone can understand how the wage gap works. Updated with the most recent statistics just in time for Equal Pay Day, the brochure is short, accessible, and free of academic jargon or lengthy analyses.

However, understanding a subject like the pay gap is not without its consequences. While I am less ignorant, I am also more frustrated by the research presented in The Simple Truth. I am frustrated that the pay gap increases as men and women get older: Women ages 16–19 who are working full time earn 95 percent of what their male counterparts earn, compared with 76 percent for women 65 and older. I am frustrated by the fact that while the pay gap among all full-time workers is dreary enough, it’s even worse when we focus on minorities. For example, on average Hispanic and Latina women and African American women earn 91 percent of what men in their same racial demographic earn but only 61 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of what white men get paid. I am frustrated that while critics attribute the pay gap to men’s and women’s choices, there remains a 12 percent unexplained difference — after controlling for things like college major, industry, number of children, and other factors — in earnings between male and female college graduates 10 years after college, as shown in AAUW’s research report Behind the Pay Gap.

But anger and frustration aren’t necessarily bad things. When anger is properly harnessed, it becomes fuel for social change. Anger gives us the incentive to get up and actually do something. Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.” With knowledge and truth — and the energy that both incite — we can collectively work together to ensure that all women earn their fair share for a job well done. So take the first step, and share the truth with your friends, your communities, and your politicians by giving them a dose of The Simple Truth. Order copies of the report online for free, and look out for updates on what you can do on Equal Pay Day this year.

This post was written by AAUW Research Intern Julie Smolinski.

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already familiar with the wage gap and with the grassroots efforts that take place across the nation every April to raise awareness about gender discrimination in the workplace. Maybe you’ve even participated in these efforts or in Equal Pay Day events. You probably already know that since the 1963 passing of the Equal Pay Act, the wage gap has closed a mere 20 cents; the year is 2010, and on average women are still earning less than 80 percent of what men earn. You probably weren’t all that surprised when the Paycheck Fairness Act was shot down in November, although you were probably deeply disappointed. We all were.

Last April, I collaborated with student organizations from my university and with local businesses to bring awareness to my community. We held our own Equal Pay Day. Comments on local news sites called our equal pay initiatives “leftist indoctrination” and stated that if my university had not just chosen a female president, students would have never been allowed to hold such an event. When I approached businesses with the opportunity to participate in Equal Pay Day, I was called a socialist and — my personal favorite — a liar.

As my college graduation date quickly approaches, the reality of pay inequality is setting in. The resistance I’ve encountered to something as seemingly simple as equal pay, well, it scares me. We live in a nation that allows for systematic discrimination against women in the workplace (not to mention how much the wage gap affects minorities), and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough.

Despite my pessimism, being part of a national movement seeking the end of pay discrimination gives me hope. Even after being told I’m a liar, that the fight for pay equity is pointless, and that women don’t actually deserve equal pay, I still have hope that someday soon, we won’t have to fight this battle anymore. In 2011, I’ll bring Equal Pay Day to my community again, and I’m determined to make it even bigger, better, and more influential than last year. I’ll continue with these efforts until the wage gap is a thing of the past. Social change is possible and despite setbacks, pay equity is not only a possibility, it’s something Americans will see.

Abby Lemay (right) with other members of the AAUW Student Advisory Council on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in October 2010.

Not convinced? Look at organizations like AAUW. Talk to your local branch and ask what they plan to do in your community for the pursuit of pay equity. And maybe, just maybe, ask how you can get involved.

Simple actions affect the big picture in ways we can hardly begin to imagine. Because of dedicated, passionate individuals, politicians, and organizations, someday future generations will read about the wage gap in their history books as a relic of the past instead of having to face the issue in their everyday lives — the harsh discrimination of being paid less simply because you’re a woman.

This blog post was written by 2010–11 AAUW National Student Advisory Council member Abby Lemay.

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