Maryland Makes the Health of Women and Families a Priority

At Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we believe access to quality, affordable health care is essential for women to thrive. Access to contraception is a key component of overall health care. Family planning services, including both privately and publicly funded services, are critical to ensuring women and families have the ability to plan if and when to have children.

Federal Title X funding helps ensure that women are able to access reproductive health care services, regardless of race, income level, gender identity, location, or insurance status.

The Trump-Pence administration recently issued a new rule imposing harmful standards of care on patients by limiting what doctors in Title X clinics can say to their patients about contraception. Open conversations are essential to improving health outcomes. This “gag rule” not only prohibits doctors from giving women full information about their reproductive health care options, but it also redirects  funding from clinics with a range of options available onsite, toward ideologically motivated, single-method providers—or crisis pregnancy centers—thus diminishing access to affordable health care services for millions of women.

The rule will have devastating effects on populations that are already facing significant barriers to accessing health care services. Decades of systemic inequities and racism in the operation of programs and policies have imposed barriers on certain populations— young women, women of color, LGBTQ people, low-income women, and women in rural areas— limiting their access to health care. In our region, many women who rely on Title X funding to access contraception and other essential health care services are women of color who face overlapping barriers to accessing health care, education, and childcare. Without access to Title X funded clinics, they would be unable to afford these health services on their own.

There are several legal challenges to the rule pending, and it will most likely end up before the Supreme Court. Public health organizations and elected officials, including mayors, governors, and state legislators have come out in opposition to the rule and are actively urging the administration to reconsider its position.

In the meantime, Maryland has made the health of women and families a priority by being the first state in the nation to formally opt-out of Title X federal funding.  The state legislature approved preemptive legislation that guarantees funding, at the same level as the prior fiscal year, for all family planning centers in the state if the rule moves forward. With this provision, Maryland is leading the way for the nation to defend the integrity of the Title X program and ensure basic reproductive health provisions for the women who need it most.

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Claudia Williams manages a portfolio of research and evaluation to advance the work of The Women’s Foundation 

Recommendations to Facilitate Accessible & Affordable Mental Health Services for Young Women of Color in the District of Columbia

Centering the voices and lived experiences of young women of color in identifying challenges and solutions to improve their lives is critical to developing effective interventions to bring about change. Last year, as part of the Young Women’s Initiative, The Women’s Foundation facilitated conversations and conducted interviews with young women of color across DC to learn about their assets and potential, and to understand what challenges inhibit their success.

In these conversations, participants acknowledged the need for prioritizing affordable and accessible mental health and counseling services in DC. The urgency of this unmet need came up in nearly every topic The Women’s Foundation explored. Whether discussing bullying at school, the aftermath of violence, or involvement with the juvenile justice and foster care systems, young women of color talked about mental health supports as an option they need to start a healing journey and move forward.

Mental health supports are critical components of navigating trauma, but the lack of economic resources, narrow provider networks, and high out-of-pocket costs, as well as stigma around mental health issues prevent young women of color from seeking help.

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Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that in DC young women of color are not receiving the support they need. A high percent of young women of color attending high school, in particular Latinas, experience mental health disorders that prevent them from doing some of their usual activities. In 2017, one out of every ten Latinas attempted suicide, about a quarter seriously considered attempting suicide, and close to half of all interviewed said they felt sad or hopeless.

During May, organizations across the country are rising awareness about mental health, and advocating for policies that support people with mental illnesses and their families. Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and about 75 percent by age 24. Early interventions for young women of color are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery.

Some recommendations to facilitate accessible and affordable mental health services for young women of color in the District of Columbia include:

For school systems:

  • Expand the number of youth-friendly, gender-responsive, trauma-Informed, culturally and linguistically competent counselors available to young women of color all the way from elementary school to college.

For community and youth-serving organizations:

  • Offer free counseling services for young women of color who cannot afford them.
  • Facilitate nonjudgmental and nondiscriminatory peer support among young women of color.

For funders:

  • Invest in cutting-edge research to better understand the mental health needs of young women of color in DC.

For government:

  • Increase and protect funding to provide mental health support and treatment to youth in foster care and the juvenile justice system.

For legislators and policymakers:

  • Remove barriers to access and participation of mental health services.

 

To read more recommendations and to learn more about ways to support young women of color in DC, click here.

Claudia Williams manages a portfolio of research and evaluation to advance the Foundation’s mission.

The Time is Always Right To Do What’s Right…

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Next week, we will not only celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we will recognize the inaugural National Day of Racial Healing, and bear witness to both a peaceful transition of power with the inauguration of our 45th President and the mobilization of several hundred thousand women and girls for the Women’s March on Washington. And all within the third week of 2017. As I reflect on the historic significance of it all, a quote by Dr. King comes to mind:

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Well, that time is now.

Over the last two months, I have been a part of many private and public conversations with friends, family, and colleagues, and I’ve closely watched the public discourse around how we move forward as a country. The divisiveness we see and feel, the name calling and complete disregard for civilized debate, and the general sense that we are being pitted against one another has left many at a loss for how to move forward. As a leader, I’ve been forced to confront my own uncertainties, fears, and discomfort around the task before me as I continue to fight for women and girls, but it was a simple conversation with my 17 year-old daughter that moved me to action. Last week, she said to me, “Mommy,” (yes, at 17 she will still on occasion call me mommy), “I don’t feel like I have a voice, and I don’t know what to do.” My own daughter, the girl I’ve very consciously raised to be a strong, independent feminist, was at a loss, and her words were a wake-up call for me.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” And so I’m pushing my fears and uncertainties to the side, and I’m diving in with everything I’ve got because I never want to hear those words from any woman or girl ever again.

We have a voice, and we are powerful. It’s how we choose to harness our voice and power in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead that matters. We cannot be overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. There are actions each of us can take in our daily lives to make a difference.

  • Make an effort to understand opinions and beliefs that are different from yours. Read books and articles that explore different opinions and perspectives. Seek out media outlets and journalists that you may not necessarily follow. Have meaningful conversations with the friend, neighbor, or colleague with whom you may disagree.
  • Get involved locally. Feel passionate about an issue in your community? Get involved and learn more. Find the organization leading the charge on the issue and get connected. Attend local government meetings or hearings on the issue you care about. Connect with your local women’s commission. Volunteer.
  • Become politically active at the local level. Regardless of your political affiliation, become informed about races happening in your own backyard. Learn more about the candidates and their positions. Attend events and voice your opinion and concerns. Support the development of the next generation of political leadership. Consider running for office.
  • Use your voice. Speak up when you see a wrong that needs to be righted, whether it’s in your neighborhood, your school or your workplace. Write your local political leaders. Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed.

The New Year brings with it a sense of optimism and the idea that one can wipe the slate clean and start anew, whether that means you resolve to eat better, spend more time taking care of yourself, learn something new, etc. This year, I did not make a New Year’s resolution. Why? Because I am resolved that my resolution is not simply year-long but lifelong. At no time in my short 44 years have I been more resolved and committed to fighting for a fairer and more just and equitable community for women and girls than I am today, and I urge you to do the same. Our women and girls deserve nothing less.

Yes, the time is always right to do what is right.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s 2015 Leadership Luncheon Remarks

On October 15, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2015 Leadership Luncheon.

Good afternoon. Wow – what an amazing crowd! I’m Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to today’s luncheon.

At each of your plates sits a small blue or orange envelope marked Wait to Open. The suspense has been tough, I know! But inside that envelope sits your fate for the next few minutes: either that of a woman thriving, or that of a woman struggling.

So now I’d like you to open your envelopes.

If you have a blue envelope, you are living the life of a woman who is thriving. You likely graduated from high school, college and maybe even grad school. You are employed and earn a comfortable salary. You can afford high-quality child care, a home of your own, and you set aside money each month for savings. If you opened your envelope to learn that you are thriving, I’d like you to stay seated.

If you have an orange envelope, then you are living the life of a woman struggling to get by. It’s likely that you graduated from high school, but college wasn’t an option. You are employed at a local chain restaurant, making $21,000 per year – minimum wage – barely enough to cover your bills, let alone child care for your toddler. Each week, you cobble together coverage through friends, family, and neighbors, wondering if your daughter is learning what she needs to be prepared for kindergarten. Each month, you make tough choices about which bills you will pay – whether it’s your daughter’s asthma medication or the heating bill – because you can’t cover both of them in full.

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If you’ve found yourself with an orange envelope, please stand.

Take note. Look around. 1 of every 4 individuals in this room is now standing.

1 in 4.

These are people you know. They are your neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

The women and men standing are representative of the 476,000 women and girls in this region who are struggling to get by.

But why? It doesn’t have to be this way.

●    What if – right now – we doubled down on our investments to build economic security in this region?

●    What if for every door that felt closed off to a woman, we helped open 2 more doors of opportunity?

●    What if, instead of making assumptions, we took the time to listen – really listen – to what women need,
so we can tailor solutions that will truly help them get ahead?

If we were to do this, then you could all take a seat. And as you take your seat at the table, know that, in doing so, you’re creating new seats at the table. This is what a model community looks like—a place where we all have comfortable seats at the table, and ample opportunities to thrive.

It’s not so far out of reach.

Last year, I stood on this stage and shared my own personal journey. Having come from a place of struggle, I am now thriving. And so this work is very personal for me. My mom and daughters are here with me again today, and although I argued a little bit with my oldest daughter Katia about whether she should really miss a day of school, she said to me, “Mom, I want to see what you do. It’s really important to me.” And there you have it. That’s the difference. Because my trajectory changed, her trajectory has changed, and she sees other possibilities.

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But that’s not the case for far too many women and girls in our community. When mired in the challenges of poverty, especially when it’s the only life you’ve ever know, it’s hard to lift your head up and see a brighter future for yourself and your family.

When we talk about female poverty in our region, 1 in 4, we must explicitly talk about the disproportionate impact this has on women and girls of color.

16 percent of Black women and 14 percent of Latinas live in poverty compared with 6 percent of white women.

And when we look at families led by single women, the disparities for women of color are truly staggering.

What’s happening with women and girls of color in our community is so deeply connected and intertwined with what is happening to men and boys of color. My Brother’s Keeper has ignited an unprecedented investment in boys and young men of color, an investment and conversation that is long overdue. I applaud our trifecta of leadership—the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Chancellor—for these efforts.

I think we can all agree that this isn’t about one gender or another. This isn’t about pitting girls against boys. This is about investing in the future of our community, investing in our children.

What we need now, more than ever is bold action.

So today, I am challenging our community to join The Women’s Foundation and boldly invest a collective $100 million over the next five years in our region’s women and families, many of whom are women of color.

Join The Women’s Foundation in committing to moving the 476,000 women and girls currently facing economic hardship to a place of consistent economic stability. Our region’s families deserve nothing less.

To aid in these efforts, in the coming months we will be unveiling a donor advised fund model that will transform how we collectively invest in this work. Because we can achieve this, and when we do, we will transform our community. We will transform lives.

To better appreciate the life-altering nature of our work, I want you to consider the story of Okema.

Three years ago, Okema stood on this stage and shared her personal journey. In her mid-20s she found herself unemployed, trying to raise her daughter single-handedly. She enrolled SOME’s Center for Employment Training where she graduated and ultimately earned a job working for SOME. Today, 8 years later, Okema is now the Lead Employment Retention Specialist at SOME. That means she is the person responsible for ensuring that recent graduates have the support they need to stay in their jobs for the long-term. And she has the real life experience to share. I recently ran into Okema, and she shared with me that she now wants to become a life coach. Imagine that – talk about paying it forward?

It’s success stories like Okema’s that make this work both critical and rewarding. We can’t be intimidated or daunted by the staggering statistics. We have to focus on what’s possible and the positive signs of progress that we are seeing every day.

Last year, our grantmaking reached nearly 7,000 women, and as a result:

●    Women collectively saved close to a quarter of a million dollars.

●    More than 400 women increased their collective incomes by $1.5 million through new jobs or advancing to higher paying jobs.

These are impressive results, but we know much more needs to be done. Over the next five years, we are committed to increasing our investments in this community from $1 million to $5 million.

But those investments can only be successful if the women they support aren’t hindered by other barriers—like access to child care or transportation.

DC is poised to become one of the most generous places in the country for low-income workers seeking paid family and medical leave. Regardless of where you stand on how we pay for this benefit, there is no ignoring that the time has come to have this important conversation.

This is just one of the many reasons why The Women’s Foundation is also committing to coordinating our work with those community partners and policymakers who are positioned to remove barriers and enact tangible policies that improve the lives of women and girls.

You are each here today because you know one very simple truth: when women are strong, our community is strong. And yet, just a stone’s throw away—whether it’s Langley Park, Bailey’s Crossroads, or Anacostia—there are roughly 30,000 single moms who are struggling to make ends meet, and their children know nothing else but what it feels like to scrape by.

So yes, bold visions are needed, but bold actions are overdue. Today, I’ve laid out for you our commitments, but I want to know what will each of you do to change the uncomfortable reality for so many women and girls?

You are The Women’s Foundation. We are The Women’s Foundation. Together we will invest in our greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, and changemakers.

Together, we can change the FUTURE.

We don’t need to look any further – WE have the power to make this happen.

And NOW is the time.

Thank you.

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

 

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.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s Luncheon Remarks

On October 23, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2014 Leadership Luncheon. Please click here to see a video of her delivering the speech in its entirety.

Here. Now. For Her. – is this year’s luncheon theme.  I hope as you thought about coming today, you also took a moment to reflect on what this means to you.

Why are you here, now—in this moment?  Who is the “her” in your life who has touched you profoundly, or whose life you have touched? 

For me, this theme is deeply personal. You see, in many ways, I am HER.  And I am here today because of my mother, Dianna Lockwood.

My mom grew up poor in a small town in NH, on a working farm, the youngest of three sisters. She never had the opportunity to go to college.  She met my dad while working as a medical transcriptionist at a VA hospital in Vermont.  He was a physician’s assistant.  They created a wonderful life—two kids and a house they built on 10 acres of land.

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And then the summer I was 10, it all changed. I remember the day well – my mom and dad came home in the middle of the day looking very sad and confused.  It was the early 80s, and many of you will remember, a recession was hitting the country.  The small private doctor’s office in our hometown was struggling financially, so they made a business decision – lay off the person who made the most (my dad) and the person who made the least (my mom). That decision changed our lives forever.

Up until that point, my dad was a high-functioning alcoholic. But being laid off crushed him, and he turned to alcohol frequently and worked only sporadically. We repaired our relationship later in my life, and he was an amazing grandfather to my girls before he passed away 5 years ago. But for the rest of my childhood, it was my mom who got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, consistently working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

I knew that my mom was making great sacrifices so that my brother and I would have the opportunities that she did not.  I could see how tired and stressed she was, and I’m certain there were many days when she’d simply had enough. I learned early on that if I wanted something, I needed to work hard to earn it.  I got my first job at 15.  That summer, and every summer for the rest of high school, I too worked two jobs, selling tickets at the local race track by day and waitressing at the local Pizza Hut by night.

I worked not because I wanted extra spending money, but to pay for basic necessities and do what I could to save for college. My mom always regretted not having that opportunity, but was determined that her children would.  It wasn’t easy financially, and I worked full-time pretty much the entire way, but I am proud to say that I am the first person on my mom’s side of the family to not only get a 4-year degree, but also a master’s degree.

Today is a big deal for my mom.  She’s here, with my husband, my daughters, and my brother.  She’s watching her little girl on stage, running a nonprofit in the nation’s capital, remembering some very dark days, and I know she’s thinking, “Damn, it was all worth it.”

Women's Foundation Luncheon 2014

So, I do what I do because of her. I’ve devoted my career to working on behalf of low-income women and their families because I want her to know that the investment she made in me, all of her sacrifices, were not in vain.  And now that I’m a mother, I have a new, more profound understanding of what she did, and I know that as I strive to make a better life for my own daughters, I am paying forward what my mother has given me.

But, my story is just one story.  There are many, many others.  Thousands of women who do all they can to ensure their children and families can step beyond their own experiences and limitations to live their dreams and achieve their potential.  But sometimes having a dream and working hard is not enough. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.

There are more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty across the Washington metropolitan region. Sadly, that statistic hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, particularly in light of the recession and what has now become a slow and prolonged recovery for those most in need. That stat also doesn’t capture the additional 250,000 women and girls who are living just above the poverty line, but certainly aren’t earning enough to make ends meet.

As frustrating as these numbers are, and as impatient as we all are for change, we have to remember that most women in our community didn’t suddenly fall into poverty.  It’s multigenerational.  And just as it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be resolved overnight.

What does it take to move women and girls from a place of economic vulnerability to security?

The answers to that question and the issues our region faces are complex, but now is the time to stand firm in our commitment, craft a bold vision, and re-double our efforts so that future generations of girls can achieve their dreams. That’s why we launched an innovative two-generation initiative to work with middle school aged girls and their female caregivers—whether that’s a mother, grandmother, or another women responsible for guiding and shaping that girl.

You all remember what it was like to be in middle school. It’s a difficult transition under the best of circumstances. As girls develop into young women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security.

Our goals for investing in girls are to support high school completion, develop self-esteem, encourage positive choices, and empower them as social change agents.

Our goals for investing in women are to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits, support increased financial capability, and provide the foundational skills that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

In the past year, we’ve been proud to partner with College Success Foundation, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and YWCA National Capital Area to help forge collaborations and creative thinking on ways to serve both middle school aged girls and their female caregivers with programming that meets their individual needs, while also bringing them together so that they can support one another on this journey. This work will first launch in Ward 7, but our goal is expand our two-generation work across the region, so that the 53,000 girls currently living in poverty can have a brighter future.

The two-generation strategy actually builds and expands upon a decade of investments in our community that have focused on low-income women and women-headed families specifically. Through our grantmaking program, Stepping Stones, we have invested more than $7 million. And that investment has helped over 10,000 women increase their incomes and assets by $45 million through higher wages, decreased debt, and increased savings.

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Yes, these are impactful outcomes, but I believe we need to think bigger.  We are capable of doing more.  How do we move from 10,000 women to 100,000 or 200,000?  My goal is to, one day, stand before you and say we’ve accomplished this.  And I believe we can do it.

The Women’s Foundation has a powerful voice, and we have a responsibility to use that voice and our power as a convener to affect greater change. Yes, our investments in the community are critically important, but so too is our voice and our deep expertise and knowledge.  These are tools we can leverage, and it’s the combination of our investments and our influence that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

But it’s not just about us.  I know that no one organization can single-handedly end poverty.  This will require unprecedented collaboration and partnership among philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits, and individuals. And we need all of you, here in this room, to help spark a movement. We are poised and ready to lead that movement, and I want each of you to join me. Let’s harness our collective strength to, in turn, strengthen others.

This is the time—NOW.

Because what we do in this moment will shape the future of our communities. There are thousands of women and girls who need us now, more than ever.  Each one of them has hopes and dreams, and they deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Stand with us. 

HERE…NOW…FOR HER.

Thank you.

 

A Slice of STEM on 3.14

Pi_pie2There are a few labels I will wear proudly, and “nerd” is one of them.  Tonight I am headed to a local restaurant called Science Club for a Pi Day celebration – an activity that I would say lands pretty high on the list of “10 ways to tell you’re a nerd.” I’m going to this Pi Day celebration to meet up with my fellow high school alumni from the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS) that have found themselves living in the DC region.

TAMS is a residential math and science intensive school that is publicly funded and available to any Texas high school student for their junior and senior years.  The program is housed at the University of North Texas, where students complete college coursework taught by university faculty. I hold this program near and dear to my heart, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of such a great school.

I see programs like TAMS as a fantastic way to encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies. In 2012, women made up just 5.5% of mechanical engineers, 8.8% of electrical engineers, and 13% of civil engineers. The picture is slightly better in chemical engineering and environmental sciences, with women making up 22.3% and 28.9% of those occupations respectively, but still nowhere near equal representation[1]. The need for more women in STEM professions is huge.  Women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.  Programs like TAMS have the opportunity to spark a love for STEM from a young age.

That is not to say that all girls who attend a program like TAMS will choose to pursue engineering or careers as scientists.  I am a good example of such a person who chose a different path, but the experience was still invaluable to me. TAMS allowed me and other young girls like me a safe space to proudly proclaim, “I’m a nerd!” and hear it echoed by our peers. I was able to foster a love for math that has pushed me to teach a weekly math class to adult learners pursuing their GED (at Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner Academy of Hope), and more than anything, it has made me a strong advocate for greater access to STEM programs and jobs for girls and women, something I joyfully get to do in my current role with The Women’s Foundation.

Happy Pi Day to all my fellow nerds out there!


[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, 2012

From Discouraged Math Student to Computer Engineer: One Doll’s Story

Today marks the the 55th anniversary of Barbie’s debut. Like many icons, she may have stirred up some controversy at times, but she has influenced generations, and today we follow her journey “From Discouraged Math Student to Computer Engineer.” This entry from  was cross-posted with permission from AAUW and originally ran on their blog on December 11, 2013.

“Math class is tough,” proclaimed the first talking Barbie in 1992.

As leaders in the area of girls’ education, AAUW members were alarmed at Barbie’s attitude. Then-president Sharon Schuster put it best in her demand for a recall: “We are pleased that Barbie has finally been given a voice. But it is a shame that Mattel didn’t give her a more confident one.”

AAUW’s demand, along with our 1992 report on how schools were shortchanging girls, pushed Mattel to remove the phrase from Barbie’s repertoire.

Since then, it seems that Mattel has come a long way in how it portrays women’s ability in science and math. In 2010, the company announced that Barbie’s 126th career would be in computer engineering. Her transformation into a leader in the still heavily male-dominated fields of computer science and engineering earned her a spot on our 2013 holiday gift guide for girls. (We published the guide, in part, because of evidence that shows how toys can affect children’s career choices.)

Barbie’s new career choice could not have been easy. To become a computer engineer, she had to fight an uphill battle, combating stereotypes about women in math and technology. Researchers have long known about stereotype threat, the fear of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype or of doing something that would confirm that stereotype. This is a very real experience for girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the effects are well documented. When a girl is exposed to a negative stereotype about girls’ general ability in math right before she takes a math test, her performance worsens.

Engineer Barbie

So how did Barbie overcome the stereotype that girls can’t excel in mathematics? Perhaps with a little help from family and mentors: Researchers have found that parents and teachers can shape math attitudes among children. Presumably, Barbie’s mother and women teachers fully conquered their own math anxieties and helped improve Barbie’s confidence.

Or maybe Barbie embraced a growth mindset and believed that her intellectual ability, regardless of any negative stereotypes, could expand with learning. Armed with an appreciation of the plasticity (pun intended!) of the brain, she could move past stereotypes about girls and math.

Barbie may have pursued a STEM career because both engineering and computer science offer relatively high wages, even for those who don’t have graduate training. The mortgage on the dream house alone means that Barbie needs a well-paying career, even if Ken helps out.

Or perhaps Barbie simply enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the field or felt strongly about being able to contribute to society, as so many computer engineers do. Whatever her motives, we are glad to see Barbie join the field of computer engineering.

No Barbie story with a gender lens would be complete without acknowledging that, despite her new tech career, Barbie is far from a perfect model for girls, particularly in terms of body image. Still, we’re glad to see her realize that math’s not so hard after all. We hope more girls follow suit.