A Father’s Love & Resilience

My father came to the United States from India in 1961. Like many immigrants of the time, he saw America as the land of opportunity. If he worked hard, he’d make a life for himself.

In India, my father had been a refugee, his family displaced after the partition. He attended primary school in a tent, graduated early from high school, earned a bachelor’s degree, and started to work to help support his parents and younger siblings. He was doing well, but being successful in America was his dream.

So when the opportunity to move to the States arose, he took it. Never mind that no employer would accept his foreign degree. He’d earn a second one. Never mind that he didn’t have a wealthy family to support him. He’d work full time while taking a full course load to pay his own way through school. He went without meals regularly. He couldn’t afford a winter coat. In fact, he only had one suit that he wore daily and washed at night.

Never mind any of that – he was in America. His hard work would be recognized.

My mother was white, born in Connecticut. My parents met in college. Her parents disproved of their relationship. They went so far as to pull her out of school when my mother continued to see my father, a poor foreigner, despite their wishes. Consequently, my parents eloped. Without family support and with some cultural barriers, their marriage was difficult, but they had four daughters before my mother unexpectedly passed away, leaving my father as a single parent.

mithu-and-mary-1966

Mithu and Mary married in 1966

At that time, it was not unheard of for Indian fathers living abroad who found themselves widowers to send their kids to live with family back in India until they found a new wife. That was not an option for my father. He remembered that the India of his childhood was not kind to girls. He recalled the fear of his sisters when they first menstruated because no one had told them it was coming or what it was. They thought they were dying. He recalled how dependent women were on their husbands and that not all husbands were kind. He did not want his daughters to be fearful or dependent.

He kept us in the US and raised us, as best he could, as Americans because American women could be independent and free.

My father taught me many things, whether or not intentionally. But, one of the things he made sure I knew was that hard work and self-reliance led to independence. They led to freedom.

Right now, many women and girls in our country are, whether or not intentionally, taught a counter to that message – that hard work will not be recognized or rewarded, or that women should rely on men to dictate their rights and self-worth.

This Father’s Day, let’s take a moment to thank all of the dads out there who work against that narrative, not just for their daughters, but for all of their kids. Let’s appreciate the fathers who are raising hard working, independent Americans, regardless of their gender. And let’s stand with them against the notion that America is anything other than the land of the free.

A Response to The Washington Post Editorial Board

When The Washington Post Editorial Board recently released its endorsements for the upcoming Fairfax County Board of Supervisors primary election, it was criticized for supporting all male candidates. Reporters from other local news outlets interviewed some of the candidates about the questions they were asked by the Editorial Board, and it was discovered that one of the questions that the Post asked all candidates who are parents was how they will manage the long hours and stress of an elected position.

Here at Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we are all about transparency, but we also know that not all questions are helpful. Here are the top five reasons why asking a parent if having kids will affect their job performance as an elected official is completely inappropriate and totally unnecessary:

Number 5 Elected office is just one of many demanding jobs that parents perform on a daily basis.

Parents are public school teachers, nurses, police officers, members of the armed forces. If we don’t question if a parent of young children can be deployed, we don’t need to question if a parent can handle local elected office.

Number 4 Childcare is a policy issue. Full stop.

While it is difficult to find and afford high-quality childcare in the DC metro region, we should discuss the issues from a policy perspective, not as a requirement an individual needs to have in place before securing political office.

Number 3 – Answers to this question are not helpful to voters.

There is no way that a candidate, in response to this question, is going to say, “Now that you mention it, that is a problem for me. I shouldn’t run after all.” Of course every candidate is going to say that they can handle the job. They wouldn’t have decided to run otherwise. Therefore, this question doesn’t actually provide any useful information to voters or to the interviewer who asked the question.

Number 2 – Asking this question demonstrates a gender bias.

This is not a question that would have been asked if all of the candidates were male. Now, that is an admittedly presumptuous statement, but we all know it’s true. If all of the candidates were men, no one would question that the dads would be able to do the job. We know this because there are a billion books and articles on “how women can have it all” but not one about how men can. It’s just expected that men can be parents and professionals simultaneously, but people still question if women can.

Number 1 – It is wrong to judge parents differently.

There is a federal law against employers asking potential job candidates about a number of personal things, including if they have kids. This is in place because, presumably, as a country we don’t want to discriminate against parents. True, it is not illegal to ask a political candidate about her family, but the same ethical principle should apply. Parents and non-parents should be considered fairly for a position, based on their merits.

Instances like this help make the case for our work at The Women’s Foundation, where we center the voices and experiences of women and open doors to opportunities. As more diverse voices and experiences are included in leadership conversations, we’ll all start to ask smarter and more appropriate questions.

DC Race & Wealth Gap: Implications for Philanthropy

DC is in an economic boom. By most measures, the District is thriving, and with an advancing economy, our policymakers and residents are having economic security conversations in ways that we have not seen before—debating the appropriate implementation of paid family leave and the viability of having a separate tipped minimum wage, for example. However, there is a piece of this conversation that is missing from the dialogue: whether the economic boom that DC is experiencing is only for White residents.

You see, there are at least two stats that suggest that Black residents are not benefiting from DC’s prosperity as much as White residents. First, median household income in DC for White families continues to rise and is currently $134,000. However, Black household income has not changed in the last decade and hovers at $42,000.[1] With the cost of housing, child care, and other expenses in DC being as high as they are, any resident can tell you without looking at any stats, that $42,000 is not enough to raise a family here.

The second data point to consider is DC’s staggering Black-White unemployment rate gap. In fact, DC currently has the widest racial unemployment rate divide in the country, with Black residents eight times more likely to be unemployed than White residents.[2]  We know that this gap is not a regional trend. In fact, while Maryland and Virginia also have Black-White unemployment rate gaps, those rates are far less stark than DC’s statistic.

So, if White residents are prospering, but by and large Black residents are not in the same ways, why is this happening? And more importantly, what is the District going to do to about it? The Women’s Foundation has some thoughts about what philanthropy can do.

Two years ago, The Women’s Foundation adopted a racial equity lens, in addition to our existing gender equity lens. This was crucial to our work to support the economic stability of women and girls in the DC region.  What history and our own experience show is that no matter how many job-training programs you fund, the gap between Black and White employment will sustain unless we are intentional about addressing systemic racism across all issue areas and within our own organizations.

We are not alone in this belief. Over the past few years, local and national foundations have increasingly adopted racial equity and/or racial justice lenses, including our local partners Consumer Health Foundation and The Meyer Foundation. We encourage philanthropy to continue to consider the role that systemic racism plays in our systems, regardless of issue area.  Because the economic security of DC’s Black residents is intrinsically tied to academic achievement gaps, practices of redlining in the housing sector, the racial gaps in maternal mortality rates, and all of the other ways that as a society we either overtly repress or simply overlook racial minorities.

We believe that philanthropy cannot conduct business as usual. We need to take a stand, individually and as a sector. Regardless of our giving areas—whether we invest in education, health, workforce development, or the arts—or the communities we focus on—women and girls, young people, older populations, veterans—we can review our giving and organizational practices to ensure we are actively contributing to the reduction of barriers raised by systemic racism.

As a women’s foundation, for us this means ensuring that our work supporting women and girls in the DC region is intentional about how the needs of and opportunities for women and girls of color are reflected in our research, advocacy, and grantmaking. In recent years, we increased the racial and ethnic diversity of our staff; launched a Young Women’s Initiative to spotlight the voices of young women of color in DC; and worked with the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, housed at The Women’s Foundation, to incorporate a racial equity lens into its grantmaking and to provide racial equity training for its Grantee Partners. This is just the beginning. We continue to work to ensure that our operational practices and programmatic work are community-led and intentionally supportive of women and girls of color.

Other foundations will implement racial equity differently and focus on different populations and issue areas. That excites us. We look forward to collaborating with other philanthropic entities toward a holistic systems change effort that could affect all genders and age groups across all issue areas.

We encourage foundations that are interested in implementing a racial equity lens to reach out to us about our journey or to Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers to inquire about the racial equity work they are doing with their members. Because the first step on this journey is asking questions and starting a conversation.

[1] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, DC’s Growing Prosperity Is Not Reaching Black Residents, Census Data Show. https://www.dcfpi.org/all/dcs-growing-prosperity-is-not-reaching-black-residents-census-data-show/?utm_source=DCFPI+Blog+Subscribers&utm_campaign=b03f319f34-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_71c838dca1-b03f319f34-111156113

[2] WAMU, DC’s Black Unemployment Rate Remains among Highest in the Country. https://wamu.org/story/18/05/18/d-c-s-black-unemployment-rate-remains-among-highest-country/