EITC Funders Network Interview with Lauren Stillwell, Program Officer

This interview with The Women’s Foundation’s Program Officer, Lauren Stillwell, originally appeared on  the EITC Funders Network website.
Tell us about your funding portfolio.  What kinds of efforts are you focusing on right now?
Washington Area Women’s Foundation is focused on increasing the economic security of low-income women and girls. We do this by investing in asset building, workforce development, and early care and education.  To date, we have invested nearly $8 million into these strategies. As a result, we have helped nearly 15,000 women increase their income and assets by more than $49 million through higher wages, decreased debt, tax credits, increased savings, and growing equity related to homeownership.

Recently, we have been encouraging ourselves and our grantees to think innovatively about two-generation approaches to this work. For example, two years ago we launched new investments aimed at supporting girls on a path to long-term economic security. From our research locally and nationally, it was clear that middle school should be the focus – as a critical developmental period, and one that is often under-resourced. We took the opportunity to connect this new work with our historical focus on adult women, and encouraged organizations in the community to serve both middle school girls and their mothers (or other female caregivers) simultaneously. Currently, we have two grantees that are co-designing such a program model that leverages each of their existing strengths – so they are not re-creating the wheel, but designing a new way to work together.

Why does your foundation support EITC-related work?
The EITC has always been a part of our economic security work.  It’s a very persuasive strategy because, in many ways, it’s “low-hanging fruit.”  The EITC is a benefit for which people qualify and we need to support providers to connect with families in the short- and long-term.  Additionally, the EITC is a great example of an activity that bridges workforce development and asset building – and we believe there can be strength in blended approaches.

While there are policy changes that would make the EITC stronger, even in its current iteration, we see a big return on our investment. For example, we support free tax preparation sites in DC.  One of these organizations served over 1,200 women which brought in $2.1 million dollars.  That’s a significant increase in assets for these families!

What kind of EITC-related work does your foundation support?  What are some of the different strategies?
The bulk of our EITC work (supporting free tax prep services) has remained essentially the same since we began supporting it. We continue to look at the extent to which tax time can be an intervention, and how we can build out other logical starting places to engage people around goal setting and asset building.  For example, one of the foundation’s grant investments this year is supporting an asset building grantee to work on-site at an adult basic education grantee – working with adult students and alumni based on their individual goals, as they progress as adult learners, and then pursue post-secondary education or careers. Our grantmaking encourages long-term engagement with families and holistic services.  Over the last few years, the foundation streamlined our grantmaking into one RFP and one evaluation process. As a result, grantees can blend different programmatic strategies and, especially in evaluation, are encouraged to understand the impact on economic security in a variety of ways.

Capturing the impact of our EITC related work is critical. Some of the quantitative measures include the number of people accessing the EITC, the total amount of refunds received, decreased debt, increased savings, tax preparation costs saved, and changes in knowledge related to financial literacy. We have updated these indicators over time, in partnership with a working group of our grantees.

Are there any EITC issues that you’ve been struggling with that you’d be interested to hear your colleagues and/or the field address?
I continue to think about how we can make a stronger case for a focus on asset building.  We have anecdotal information about the effectiveness of blending strategies, but if we want to move programs and policies, we need a better evidence base.  Related to this, I’m curious how other funders in the field have brought together diverse funders to invest in asset building – including those who might not have explicit asset building goals but could, for example,  be interested in bolstering their education or health goals through asset building.

Resource – Issue Brief on Girls’ Economic Security in the Washington Region.

In April 2015, Washington Area Women’s Foundation released our issue brief on the economic security of girls in the Washington region.

Women and girls are powerful social change agents in their families and communities. However, their power and potential can be helped or hindered early in life. Many girls in our region face significant obstacles that not only affect their well-being today, but their educational success, earning potential and economic security in the future. By investing in girls’ lives, we ensure that they grow up and enter adulthood on the best possible footing, empowered to have a positive impact in their communities.

This issue brief highlights key issues and demographic trends in the Washington region, and dives specifically into issues of poverty and opportunity that affect girls’ capacity to attain economic security in adulthood. Our objective is to better understand girls’ experiences and circumstances and to work together with the community to identify strategies that reduce barriers, increase opportunities and increase the number of girls who are able to live economically secure lives both today and for generations to come. Read the entire issue brief, here.Girls Issue Brief Cover

 

Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative

Managed by The Women’s Foundation, the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative (ECEFC) is a collective of foundation and corporate investors dedicated to supporting systemic approaches that increase quality, capacity and access to early care and education in the Washington region. Learn more about the Collaborative.

Resource – Early Care and Education in the Washington Region

Early care and education investments help prepare low-income children ages zero to five for kindergarten, a critical opportunity to increase readiness and close the achievement gap, provide an important work support for low-income working families and support the professional development and advancement of early care and education providers. In this fact sheet, we explore early care and education in our region. Click here to read the full fact sheet.

ECE Fact Sheet Cover

Resource – Gender Wage Gap Fact Sheet

More than ever, families rely on the wages of women. In the Washington region, 72 percent of mothers with young children participate in the workforce, and at the national level, 40 percent  of mothers are either the sole or primary breadwinner for their family. Equal pay would reduce poverty levels among women, and would increase every woman’s ability to provide for herself and her family.

In this fact sheet, we explore the data and key facts you need to know about the gender wage gap in our region.

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The Gender Wage Gap, Unveiled

Nationwide, women make on average only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Women’s lower average earnings are not due to a higher probability of working part-time: only full-time year-round workers are included in these data. The Wage Project estimates that over the course of a lifetime women will earn about a million less as a result of the wage gap.

Some people attribute the differences in earnings to occupational segregation and the career choices women make; for example, putting family before work. However, several studies have been unable to explain the gap, even after controlling for key factors that affect earnings such as occupation, education, and work experience. The unexplained difference can be attributed to discrimination, perceptions about women’s capabilities and the value of women’s work.

Women’s career choices are not the only reason for the disparity in earnings. Women earn less than men in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly held by women – such as elementary and middle school teachers or secretaries and administrative assistants – or whether they work in occupations predominantly held by men such as electricians or general managers. What this means is that even in “women’s fields,” men are outearning women, and it is not the same the other way around.

The gap varies throughout women’s lives, being the largest during childrearing years, and by educational attainment. Women with professional degrees face larger pay gaps than women with lesser levels of education.  The wide gap in earnings also becomes starker when race and ethnic background are taken into account, with women of color being the most affected.

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The earnings gap in the Washington region is 15 percent, which is lower than the nation’s ratio (23 percent) primarily because of higher rates of educational attainment for both genders in the area.  Although women in the Washington area earn on average more than women in the United States overall, pay inequities are persistent features of the regional labor market and vary substantially by geography, except in Prince George’s County where women’s earnings ($51,616) are slightly higher than men’s earnings ($50,568). Among the jurisdictions included in the Washington region, Fairfax County had the largest wage gap (26 percent), where women earned considerably less ($61,470) than men ($83,192).  The second largest wage gap was for Arlington county (20 percent) followed by Montgomery County (18 percent). In addition to Prince George’s County, the city of Alexandria and the District of Columbia had the lowest disparity in earnings with a gap of eight and 10 percent, respectively.

Women’s earnings have become increasingly important for family incomes. Four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is the primary breadwinner for her family. Women’s lower earnings have important implications for all, including increased risk of economic insecurity and poverty for women and their families.

Some strategies to address the persistent disparity in earnings between men and women include expanding literacy education for women and girls to increase knowledge about the impact of career decisions on earnings and retirement security. It is also important to encourage women and girls –and men and boys, too- to openly discuss their earnings and develop skills in pay negotiation, and to actively seek skill-building experiences, training opportunities, feedback and promotions. Employers can also make sure they are giving women the same opportunity as men to advance up the ranks.

New Two-Generation Grant Investments Aim to Break the Cycle of Poverty

In December 2014, The Women’s Foundation announced new grant investments of $630,000 to 20 organizations across the region. In a series of blog posts, we’ve shared more about the strategies behind those investments, including community college innovations we are supporting and early childhood investments to improve quality and access for low-income families in the region. Today, we’ll discuss how we’re taking a two-generation approach to our work, and what that looks like for our Grantee Partners.

The Women’s Foundation’s grant investments are made through Stepping Stones, an initiative designed to increase the economic security of women and girls living under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $39,580 for a family of three). We accomplish this goal by investing in three core issue areas that research has shown to have the greatest influence on the economic security of low-income women and their families: asset building, early care and education and workforce development.

Our most recent grants spread investments across the region—in Washington, DC; Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; the city of Alexandria; and Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia. In total, these investments are projected to reach over 3,500 women and girls, potentially increasing their assets and incomes by $2.9 million over the next year.

Several of these investments take a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Two-generation strategies respond to the needs of children and their parents together, to influence short- and long-term economic security simultaneously. This strategy is a natural extension of Stepping Stones’ track record serving female-headed households, which has had tremendous results to date (increasing the income and assets of women and their families by more than $45 million since 2005). However, we know that in order to truly break the cycle of poverty in the Washington region, we must take a lifespan approach to our work. For us, this work began when we expanded our target population to all women under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and continued last year with the launch of a specific strategy to invest in the long-term economic security of girls. We accomplish this by investing specifically in middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.

Last year, our inaugural investments were planning grants that allowed organizations the dedicated space, time and resources to explore two-generation strategies that could serve middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers. This year, we’re pleased to invest in a partnership between the YWCA of the National Capital Area and College Success Foundation – DC (CSF-DC). Following their planning grants, this year the YWCA and CSF-DC will engage families through a new partnership with Cesar Chavez Public Charter School’s Bruce Prep Campus in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of the District’s Ward 1. The YWCA is one of a few organizations experienced with serving both girls and women, and brings a gender lens to their work. Through this new partnership, the YWCA will primarily provide supports for the adult women in each family, while CSF-DC will draw upon their expertise serving youth beginning in middle school, as evidenced by their flagship Higher Education Readiness Opportunity (HERO) program. This partnership model builds upon each organization’s strengths, and allows each to more holistically serve families. The Women’s Foundation’s 2015 investment supports additional planning and the launch of the program pilot in summer 2015. With additional resources, these partners plan to bring the program to more women and girls in the 2015-2016 school year.

The Women’s Foundation believes there is great potential for the two-generation strategy across our work, beyond our investments in girls. (For example, the two-generation work we’re supporting at Northern Virginia Community College.) We were selected to be part of the Ascend Network at the Aspen Institute, a national network of leaders pioneering two-generation programs and policies. Through this collective work, we aim to build connections between national and local innovation, and spur additional two-generation work building the economic security of women and girls in our region.

Super Bowl XLIX Highlights XL Gap in Men’s and Women’s Sports

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It’s Super Bowl time, which for many means parties and crowding around the TV to watch two of the nation’s top football teams battle it out for the title of Super Bowl XLIX Champion. And at least for our President and CEO Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, it will mean cheering on her precious Patriots. We’ve got some big sports fans at The Women’s Foundation, and we also have many for whom the draw of the big game is the chance to watch the commercials. This year, each of those ad spots will cost companies roughly $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time.

When I heard that number, my jaw dropped. The thought of that much money being spent in 30 seconds sort of makes my heart stop, and it got me thinking about the sheer amount of money that goes into, not just the Super Bowl, but men’s sports in general. For example, every member of the winning Super Bowl team this year will receive a cash bonus of $97,000. Even the members of the losing team receive an additional $49,000 just for playing in the game. That means that the winning team’s players alone get more than $5 million in bonuses.

Want to make that number feel very, very small? The winning team of the Men’s 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil walked away with more than $35 million in prize money. The total prize pool was a record $576 million. The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world, so it is fitting that the prize pool would also be the largest. But what about the prize pool for the upcoming Women’s 2015 Soccer World Cup in Canada? After all, FIFA bills the Women’s World Cup as the largest female sporting event in the world. Answer? $15 million, all in. That’s not what the winning team gets; that is the number that is divided among all the prize-winning teams. On the positive side, that number represents a 50% increase in prize money from four years ago. The winning team walks away with $2 million this year, doubling from the winner’s prize of $1 million at the last Women’s World Cup.

While the prize money gap seems staggering, the more concerning issue with the Women’s World Cup, may be that these world class female athletes will be playing on sub-par surfaces. Even after many athletes filed a lawsuit against FIFA accusing the organizers of discrimination, saying that elite men’s teams would never be forced to play on an artificial surface instead of natural grass, FIFA refused to upgrade the playing surfaces on all but one field. And so, the players in this year’s Women’s World Cup will be playing on artificial turf, a surface that puts players at a higher risk for injury. In an interview with NPR, U.S. Women’s National Team player Heather O’Reilly, said the plan to use fake grass “is a blatant demonstration of FIFA not placing the women side by side with the men. Many men’s players refuse to play on artificial turf, actually, and the thought of it being played in the World Cup is almost laughable.”

WUSA Soccer

It would take about $3 million to upgrade the turf to sod. That is no small number, but when we look at the money being thrown at men’s sports, it really does start to feel very minuscule.

The common refrain is that women’s professional sporting events just don’t bring in the cash the same way that men’s do. And that is true. It is a vicious cycle. The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that in 2009 network affiliates dedicated only 1.6% of airtime to women’s sports, down from 6.3% in 2004. This male-dominated media coverage perpetuates smaller audiences for women’s sports. It takes money to break this vicious cycle and kick-start a virtuous one. If women’s teams had more money to invest in their talent, equipment, facilities and marketing efforts, could we see an increase in the cash earned by these teams?

I think the answer is yes. Men’s Major League Soccer (MLS) actually provides a good example. MLS reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years. But then, Adidas injected $150 million into MLS over 10 years. The league started building soccer-specific stadiums and investing in their talent and equipment. They signed a television deal. The average franchise is now worth $103 million, up more than 175% over the last five years, and the league keeps growing. Compare this to the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), which folded in 2003 after only three years despite a world champion national team and national excitement from the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Their losses were only about $100 million, not even close to the $250 million MLS weathered. Could similar confidence in women’s soccer and subsequent financial investments have saved WUSA like it did for the now profitable MLS? We’ll never know.

However, if we look to tennis, we have a great example of what could be possible if female and male athletes were treated more equitably. In 2007, Wimbledon announced for the first time, it would provide equal prize purses to male and female athletes. All four Grand Slam events now offer equal prize money to the champions. In 2013, the US Open women’s final scored higher TV ratings than the men’s final.

So while we all gather around to watch millions of dollars flood the airwaves and University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday, let’s think about how we can channel just a fraction of that into leveling the playing field for female athletes in the future.

I’m with you! What can I do?

Great question! The Women’s Sports Foundation has some good ways we can all help increase gender equality in sports:

  • Attend women’s sporting events
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against – advocate for her rights.

Year Up Graduation Speech: The Reward of a Thing Well Done

The Foundation’s Grantee Partner Year Up supports young women, ages 18-24, with education and workforce development training, including up to 18 college credits, job skills development and a six-month internship. On January 29, 2015 Year Up will hold its 17th Annual Graduation. Hardworking students who have completed a year of rigorous coursework and internships will celebrate a joyous year of growth and achievement. Marie Sene will be there, not only walking across the stage in triumph, but to deliver the inspiring speech below. Please read Marie’s own words about what the Year Up program, and support from donors like you, has meant in her life:

I am honored to speak on this wonderful occasion surrounded by so much talent and success. I congratulate each of you for the dedication you have shown this year. Our hard work, our grit, our achievements and the sacrifices we have made are being honored here tonight.

We all have our own unique stories and motivations as to what brought us here to Year Up. Some of you may not know, but prior to Year Up (YU) I was undocumented. It was heart breaking for me not to be able to attend college after graduating from high school in 2007. All of my colleagues were finishing college; however, I could not even afford to take a class due to my immigration status.  Once the Dream Act was passed in 2013, I was able to work, but still could not afford college and could not qualify for financial aid. Year Up was that light at the end of a dark tunnel. The program offered me college credits and a stipend while learning a skill that has created a wealth of opportunities for me.

Without a doubt, Year Up has opened many doors for us. They’ve shown me that in life, you have to know what you want and never be afraid to ask for it. Six months ago we were asked to complete a survey to let the internship team know where we wanted to intern. I took a chance and told them that my dream was to work at Google. The Year Up in this region did not have a partnership with Google, but went far and beyond to get that internship. I will forever be grateful to Year Up for what they have done for me. I was the first program student in this region to intern at Google. The pressure was heavy especially from Ty on Year Up’s internship team, who is like “the YU father.” His only four words to me on our way back from our meet and greet from Google were, “Don’t mess it up.”

The whole Google internship was life changing. I must thank my manager Alex; I must say he is the reason I have saved a bit of money. Because of him and the skills I have learned from Google, I can now fix most technical issues. The Marie before Google would tell you: trash it, there is no saving this device—or as he would say, “You can’t win them all.”

Google has given me the best gift in life and that is the gift of education. They have offered to pay for my associate’s degree and offered me a well-paid summer internship until I earn it. Also, I am thankful for the great people I have met through this journey. How many people can say they have met the “father of the Internet”, Vint Cerf? Not too many. His advice for us is not only to use IPv6 (the latest Internet Protocol version), but these words of wisdom: “You cannot plan your life.” He told me, “Never be afraid to take risks, because sometimes we cannot recognize a good opportunity when it presents itself.”

Our year may be up, but our journey is only beginning. Be proud of yourselves because this is only the beginning of your journey. Be proud of yourselves for setting goals and following through; through the tears, through the long nights of staying up to turn homework in and on time. We made it!

Yes, my friends may have all graduated and it may have taken me eight years to get here, but everything has its own time and every dog has his day.

I believe that what should make you the most proud tonight is not the actual honor itself, but what you had to do to get it. As the great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” Any recognition is just the icing on the cake, not to be expected, but definitely to be enjoyed.

Finally, I challenge you not to rest on your achievements, but to continue to strive towards even higher goals.

Let’s continue to uplift and empower each other for infinity!

Marie Sene
2015 Graduate

Note: minor editorial changes were made to the content to present the speech in this format.

Foundation Investments Push Early Learning in the Washington Region Forward

The Women’s Foundation’s recently announced investments of $630,000 in economic security efforts across the region included seven grants (totaling $325,000) for organizations working to increase the quality and capacity of, and access to, early care and education. These grants are made through the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, a collective funding effort led by The Women’s Foundation that brings corporate funders and foundations together to invest in systems-level change in the region’s early care and education. You can learn more about the Collaborative and its partners here.

These investments seek to:

  1. Improve the quality of early care and education for low-income children ages zero to five;
  2. Expand access to affordable early care and education options;
  3. Support professional development for early care and education professionals;
  4. Encourage and strengthen partnerships among stakeholders that support positive changes in the early care and education system.

This year, our early care and education grants continue to support increased advocacy work, an effort that began last year. These investments include Voices for Virginia’s Children, working across Northern Virginia; Prince George’s Child Resource Center, mobilizing in Prince George’s County, Maryland; AppleTree Institute, and a partnership of DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, focused on the District of Columbia.

The partnership between DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute is particularly exciting. Together, they are responding to an identified need within DC’s early childhood community: lack of consistent and complete data that captures the cost of quality programs. They will also examine the impending costs facing providers as they adapt to a changing Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), proposed changes in licensing and regulations, the costs of professional development and increased compensation for teachers and the costs of serving children with developmental delays and/or special health care needs. The findings of the study will form the platform for an advocacy agenda, steeped in research data to help advocates rally around a common agenda.

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The Women’s Foundation is proud to be one of many investing in early care and education (with more investors recently, as evidence by the White House Summit on Early Learning). Research shows that young children (ages 0 to 5) need a strong social, emotional and intellectual foundation to succeed in school. Children who enter kindergarten without this foundation for learning are more likely to face significant academic challenges than peers who come prepared. Quality early care and education can successfully close this “preparation gap,” while facilitating the economic security and long-term financial success of low-income families; supporting parents in the workforce; and preparing future workers to meet the needs of the regional business community and become active, contributing members of society.

We look forward to supporting our Grantee Partners as we push these goals forward in our region!

Here’s a full list of this year’s early care and education grants.

2015 Grant Investments in Early Care and Education

  • AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation
    To support AppleTree Institute’s increased communications and advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, aimed at defining quality early education in terms of child outcomes that result in school readiness.
  •  CentroNia
    To support the CentroNía Institute in piloting and testing the Unpacking CLASS Tool Kit, an instructional guide that helps early childhood teachers and center directors improve teacher-child quality interaction in the classroom.
  • DC Appleseed
    To partner with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to design and produce a study of the District’s child care costs.
  • The Literacy Lab
    To support the Metro DC Reading Corps Pre-K Program, which embeds literacy tutors in DC and Alexandria’s highest-need early childhood classrooms to provide children with daily literacy interventions that prepare them for kindergarten and future educational success.
  • National Black Child Development Institute
    To support the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood DC program, which will invest in the professional development and improved quality of teachers serving children from birth through age five in the District of Columbia.
  • Prince George’s Child Resource Center
    To support Joining Voices, an advocacy project in Prince George’s County that empowers parents and child care providers to articulate the importance of quality child care for family stability, school readiness and economic growth.
  • Voices for Virginia’s Children
    To promote public policies and investments that ensure all children in Northern Virginia, particularly those who are disadvantaged, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.