Message from the President: 2014 Priorities

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we have hit the ground running and are looking forward to an exciting 2014. As we start a brand new year, I want to share a few of my top priorities:

1. Catalyzing Investment:  We will continue to deepen both our impact and reach.  In addition to growing our important Stepping Stones investments supporting low-income women in our region, we are working to catalyze new strategic partnerships in our community that will result in targeted programming and support for middle school girls and their mothers, simultaneously.

2. Developing a Policy Agenda:  In partnership with the California Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, we are undertaking research to identify the key components of both a local and national women’s economic security agenda that women’s foundations can play a role in elevating.

3. Engaging our Stakeholders:  We will continue to find ways to engage you in our work, including providing you with opportunities to lend your voice to our efforts and to deepen your connection with the Foundation and the region.

4. Expanding our Resources: We have seen amazing results from our work but must continue to mobilize our community to build the human, social, political and financial capital needed to create the kind of transformation we all believe needs to happen.

We have an opportunity to build the momentum and national messaging generated by The Shriver Report, which emphasizes why we must make investing in low-income women and girls a priority. You — your presence, voice and support — are critical to our efforts to transform the lives of women and girls, and the Washington region. I hope that you’ll stand with us in 2014.

New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy

I’m excited to announce a new initiative that will expand The Women’s Foundation’s grants and impact in our community. As we move toward taking on a lifespan approach to our work, we are adding funding for programs working with middle school aged girls to our current grantmaking portfolio. We’ve just released our first Request for Proposals (RFP) for this work.

As you’ll see from the RFP, our goal is to fund innovative programs that work with both young women and their mothers or female caregivers, to establish economic security across generations — this is going to be a ground-breaking initiative!

Adolescence is an important time to build foundational skills, encourage positive choices and reinforce girls’ health and well-being. In our region, however, there are numerous barriers to success for adolescent girls:

  • Fifty-one percent of children in the District and 29% of children in Prince George’s County live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • The District’s drop out rate is nearly 40%, and 16% of Prince George’s students do not graduate high school in four years.
  • And DC and Prince George’s County have the highest number of births to teen mothers in the region (11.7% and 9.3%, respectively).

These statistics are also why our work will initially focus on Washington, DC and Prince George’s County — our research has shown that these are the areas of greatest need among women and girls in our region.

We’re using this new strategy as another stepping stone to achieving and maintaining economic security for women throughout their entire lives. We begin accepting proposals immediately, so please share the RFP with your network today. And I’ll be reporting back in the future about the outcomes of our work and the lessons we’re learning.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Miss Utah Equal Pay Flub Should Be a Call to Action

miss_utah_questionLast week, the media was buzzing following Miss Utah’s flubbed response at the Miss USA Pageant to a question about pay inequity and women’s rights. The question from judge NeNe Leakes was: “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does it say about society?” Miss Utah (aka Marissa Powell) for all intents and purposes could not answer the question, and under the pressure of the lights and the cameras, vaguely responded with allusions to increased education and job creation. I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of this issue as there appears to be some level of outrage, at least across the media, to the fact that Marissa botched the answer to this question, and of course the commentary about the relative intelligence of beauty pageant contestants has been part of the ribbing. ( I found this media reaction particularly interesting given the fact that, in general, mainstream media does not seem to be aware of or interested in women’s rights issues and reporting on the continued inequality in this country).

At the end of the day, I think this contestant’s inability to answer the question is less about beauty pageants, and in fact more reflective of the lackluster state of the women’s rights movement, and in particular, the lack of awareness among young women about the issues that women continue to face in this country. For me, this is a call to action – women’s organizations, policymakers, and leaders need to do a better job of educating the public on the need for continued focus on women’s rights and re-galvanize women of all ages to continue to fight for equality. Only then will we have the voice and power to shift policy and institutions that continue to hold women back.

Nicky is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

No Joke: The Impact of the Sequester is Devastating Vulnerable Families

Capitol Bldg by Amanda Walker_CCSeems like the word “sequester” has become part of our everyday vernacular here in the DC metro region, so much so that not a day goes by without it coming up in some context. Yet, since its implementation, it feels like the sense of urgency to resolve the impact of the sequester has dissipated. It’s no longer front page news and has become the source of jokes and derision. There was the non-“snowquester” in March; the sparring about what was really behind the cancellations of all White House tours; and the reports about how Congress quickly passed legislation to resolve the impact of the sequester on air travel – just as their week-long recess was beginning (really???). And all the while, critical social services that are helping to meet the needs of our poorest communities are being cut. Programs like Headstart, nutrition assistance, child-care subsidies, and health screenings for low-income women all faced significant cutbacks but without the same sense of outrage or swift action that some of these less consequential outcomes spurred.

The reality is that the sequester is not a joke, and though the hype has faded and pundits are saying the effects have not been as bad as predicted, for many people the very real implications and impact of these policy decisions are just beginning. For them, this will be devastating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by cuts to programs like those listed above; poor people in this country are once again bearing the brunt of bad policy and are finding that their pathways out of poverty have been blocked.

And the sequester isn’t only affecting people who rely on social services. There are also the large swaths of the federal workforce that have been required to take mandatory furloughs. A chief economist for Moody’s Analytics told The Hill last month that one-third of the federal workforce – nearly one million people – “will be furloughed for an average of 13 days through September.” This can have an enormous impact on any family, and for those at the bottom of the federal pay scale – who are probably already living paycheck to paycheck – it is likely crushing and life-changing. Keep in mind that, in the Washington region, the federal pay scale that determines how much most of the federal civilian workforce is paid starts at just over $22,000.

People I know and people you know and maybe see every day could be among those who will have to go without pay for more than two weeks to ease the financial strain on the federal government. It makes you wonder what the average person is supposed to give up to ease her own financial strain.

Our lawmakers need to start putting the needs of those who are most disadvantaged first instead of last and try to put themselves, even for a moment, in the shoes of those who are most profoundly impacted by the policy decisions they are making (or not making as the case may be) from on high.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Food Stamp Challenge: Definitely NOT Business as Usual

This week, several members of The Women’s Foundation staff are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, an exercise organized by D.C. Hunger Solutions that educates the public and raises awareness of the benefits of food stamps and the challenges recipients face while eating on a very limited budget. The staff will be sharing their experiences on this blog.

As I head into day five of the food stamp challenge, I have quickly come to the conclusion that subsisting on $30 a week for all food and drink has had a big impact on my day-to-day life, and is really not sustainable given my active lifestyle and the need for me to be professionally at my best.

My biggest challenge the first two-and-a-half days was the lack of sufficient caffeine.   My head was pounding, I felt physically ill, and all I wanted to do was sleep (I went to sleep at 9:30pm both of the first two nights).  I felt unfocused and weak (in part due to the low caloric intake) and I had trouble reading.  My family was shocked by my “crabbiness” as they put it, and if that was not enough, I was making mistakes in my work, and even left the roof of my car open all night.  Luckily it did not rain.

By day three, it was clear that I had a mistake in not using some of my $30 to buy strong coffee – and I knew that I was not functioning.  That’s when I caved, and have resumed my morning coffee with breakfast even though it’s not part of the plan.  And I have to say I feel a lot better.

The coffee has not, however, curbed the frequent hunger pangs, and the fact that I feel like I’m thinking about food all the time.  And I felt the change in my diet most acutely when I went to my regular workout at Crossfit on Saturday and could barely make it through the class due to the lightheadedness I was feeling.  No question that the class is tough on a good day, and that I am always tired at the end, but I have never felt weak and light-headed like I did on Saturday.

Other than the coffee, I’m committed to staying on the food-stamps plan for a week.  It’s a struggle to get by on such a small allocation for food and drink, luxuries – like coffee – are hard to justify, and it is hard to be at your best on such a regime, which makes it only harder to imagine overcoming all the other challenges so many of our citizens face.

I feel very fortunate that I have a choice and wish that everyone did.

Nicky is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

The Stress of Shopping for the Food Stamp Challenge

NG ShoppingThis week, several members of The Women’s Foundation staff are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, an exercise organized by D.C. Hunger Solutions that educates the public and raises awareness of the benefits of food stamps and the challenges recipients face while eating on a very limited budget. The staff will be sharing their experiences on this blog.

Yesterday, I took my 12-year-old son with me to my local Safeway to do my shopping for the Food Stamp Challenge.  I had $30 to buy food for an entire week for myself.  Just the process of shopping was highly enlightening and also frustrating.  First thing I realized was how much I take for granted when I am shopping for food in a typical week.  Yes – I always shop from a list, carefully crafted to enable me to prepare meals for my family over the course of the week.  But once the list is made, with only rare exceptions, I don’t really look at the prices of the things I am buying – they are on the list, they are part of the meal plan, so they go in the cart.  That is probably the surest sign of economic security and stability – and the anti-thesis of my shopping experience yesterday.

With only $30, the first thing I realized was I needed to get the maximum amount of food with the money I had.  That meant 1) fewer fresh fruits and vegetables; 2) fewer proteins – I purchased eggs, a five-pack of chicken legs, a can of black beans, a can of garbanzo beans, and peanut butter as my protein quotient; 3) more carbs – bread, pasta, rice; 4) organic was out the window, as were any consideration of sodium, carbs, fat, or nutritional content – it was all about cost.

The second thing I realized was how stressful it was to walk up to the checkout line knowing I had only $30 to spend and no more.  People were lining up behind me, and wondering why I was keeping some items in the cart as I waited to see what the tally would be.  When it came in lower than I expected, I added the items held back.  When all was said and done, I had $2.45 left – there was no way I was leaving that on the table.  So I completed check-out, left the groceries with my son, and went back in to find one or two more items for my $2.45.

The third thing I realized was that I could not afford the luxury of things like chocolate and caffeine.

This is going to be an interesting week.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Why I'm Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

NG ShoppingThis week, several members of The Women’s Foundation staff are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, an exercise organized by D.C. Hunger Solutions that educates the public and raises awareness of the benefits of food stamps and the challenges recipients face while eating on a very limited budget. The staff will be sharing their experiences on this blog.

As I prepare to take part in DC Hunger Solutions’ Food Stamps Challenge, I have some apprehension about what lies ahead.  With $30 to buy all my food and drinks for a week, I know that 1) I need to be really strategic about how I spend that money; 2) I am preparing myself to skip meals and feel hungry; and 3) I only have to do it for a week.  Except for that last one, these are all things that families who rely on food stamps have to deal with – in addition to all the other challenges they face – day in, day out, week after week, month after month.

Why am I doing this?  I have met so many women in our region who are struggling to get by, who rely on public benefits as they work two or sometimes three jobs, commute extraordinary distances, participate in job training programs – all to put a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table.  They are resilient, strong, and 100 percent committed to making a better life for themselveNG Foods and their families.   And yes, food stamps enable them to just about get by, if you can call it that.

And so I thought it was important for me and other leaders in the community to get a glimpse – and believe me I know it’s only a glimpse – into the challenges so many in our region and our country face.  By participating in the Food Stamp Challenge and eating only what I can buy with a food stamp budget for a week, I hope to shine a spotlight on the importance of programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the official name for the food stamp program), while at the same time highlighting how supports like these are not a panacea; in spite of this assistance, the barriers that so many women and families face in our region remain very high and very challenging.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Witness to Olympic History

120810-US_Olympic_women_relayEarlier this month, I had the great privilege and opportunity to attend the London Olympic Games — fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing the Olympics and having the chance to do so in the city in which I grew up.  It was truly the experience of a lifetime, and not just because I’m a lifelong athlete and sports fan. These games were historic in many ways, particularly for women, and it was truly an honor to witness them live. As the festivities in London continue with the start of the Paralympics this week, I wanted to share with you five observations about these games.

5.  I’m proud to say that London carried out its role as host admirably.  Our experience as attendees was stress-free, the transportation system worked perfectly, and the organizers had clearly put a lot of thought into the logistics.

4.  While I admire Britain’s National Health Service, and was a frequent user of those services as an accident-prone child and teenager, I’m not sure they deserved quite so prominent a role in the opening ceremony.  Just saying.

3.  It was interesting to learn how, for so many athletes, both here and abroad, winning an Olympic medal would change their lives forever, and in many cases, help lift them and their families out of poverty.

2.  It was equally interesting to learn about how many athletes in the US live at or below the poverty line. Few make enough money through sports to support themselves, and the US Olympics Committee – a 501(c)(3) – does not raise enough to sponsor every athlete.

1.  In so many ways, this Olympics was about the rise of women in sports, though it was still clear that there is, in some places, a long way to go (one example being the stories about the Japanese and Australian women’s teams travelling coach on the same plane as the men’s teams, who flew business class).  For Team USA, women ruled, winning 59 of the total 104 medals, and 29 of the 46 Gold medals won by the US team.  This was also the first time in history that the US sent more women athletes to the Olympics than men. The successful turnout has been attributed, in part, to Title IX.  An increase in women’s sports at the Olympics also led to every country present having at least one woman on the team for the first time ever.

We do have a way to go to ensure that male and female athletes are on equal footing when it comes to sponsorships and ticket sales. Increasing opportunity, interest and visibility is a wonderful thing – and not just for female athletes. A fundamental shift in sports can lead to more prospects and confidence for women and girls in all areas. Seeing a woman with talent and a dream holding up a gold medal on a podium in London makes so many more things seem possible.

Nicky is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Affordable Care Act a Victory for Economically Vulnerable Women

Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act is a victory for women and particularly significant for economically vulnerable women and their children. In the coming years it will be an important tool in improving their health and economic security.

Under the Affordable Care Act:

  • Women will pay lower health care costs. According to, “before the law, women could be charged more for individual insurance policies simply because of their gender. A 22-year-old woman could be charged 150% the premium that a 22-year-old man paid.”
  • Insurance companies can’t deny coverage to women who have pre-existing conditions like cancer or to women who have been pregnant.
  • Women will have the freedom to choose their primary care provider, OB-GYB or pediatrician in their health plan’s network without a referral.
  • Women will be able to receive preventative care without co-pays. Services like mammograms, new baby care and well-child visits won’t have to be paid out of pocket.
  • Health care plans will include maternity care.
  • Medicaid coverage will be expanded to cover families up to 133 percent of poverty and health insurance subsidies will be provided to help pay premiums and out-of-pocket costs for families with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty.

While health insurance coverage is important for us all, it is especially critical to low-income women and their families. Women with incomes below the poverty line are much less likely to be insured than others and women of color are also at a disadvantage when it comes to coverage. Latinas have the lowest levels of coverage in our region – in Prince George’s County, for example, fewer than seven in ten Latinas have health insurance.

The Supreme Court’s ruling made me so optimistic. Days like this make all of our aspirations seem possible and put us one step closer to our vision: a country where everyone – regardless of their gender, race or income – has access to the resources and opportunities that will enable them to thrive.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Low-Income Women & Their Families Can’t Afford a Gender Wage Gap

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When you look at the budget of a low-income, single woman with children, one of the first things you’ll notice is that pretty much every dollar is reserved for the most basic necessities. In Washington, DC, half of her income might go toward childcare, another third could be reserved for rent, and the rest will barely cover bills, food, transportation and the needs of her children. When women aren’t paid for the full worth of their work, the effect is often felt by children, extended family, and entire communities; and women are receiving the message that their education, training and efforts are worth less. This is especially true for low-income women and their families.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation mobilizes our community to ensure that these economically vulnerable women have the resources they need to thrive. Often, however, their financial resources are severely limited by disparities in pay. Overall, women in the United States earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Here, in the Washington region, men’s annual earnings are 20 percent higher than women’s. African American women earn 45 percent less than white men, while Latinas earn 63 percent less.

Many women are concentrated in jobs that are traditionally female and typically lower-paying. A report from Washington Area Women’s Foundation found that even when women represent the majority of workers in an occupation, they’re still paid less than men. In office and administrative support occupations, for example, women’s median earnings are still nine percent lower than men’s.

Income disparities don’t just affect women during their working years. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner, the average annual income for women 65-years-old and older is $20,593 – nearly $18,000 less than men’s average annual income. Each month, older women take in thousands less in Social Security, pensions, and assets. And in addition to earning less and living longer, an increasing number of older women are caring for grandchildren.  Pew Research Center reports that one child in ten in the United States lives with a grandparent. Among those households, one-in-five has an income below the poverty line.

These are some of the reasons why Washington Area Women’s Foundation focuses its efforts on job opportunities with career pathways and family-sustaining wages, asset building, and access to affordable, high-quality early care and education, so that residents in our community have the best possible start in life.

It’s going to take all of us working together to ensure that barriers to a woman’s success are removed. This Equal Pay Day – April 17 – we encourage employers to commit to providing fair wages to workers; we ask that consumers be conscientious about the types of businesses they’re supporting; and we encourage local and federal governments to enact and enforce legislation that requires fair treatment and compensation for all workers, no matter their gender, ethnicity or economic status.

Closing the gender wage gap is part of ensuring that every woman and girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential and help her family and community thrive.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.