Holly Fischer Storms Capitol Hill

This guest blog post was written by Goodwill of Greater Washington, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner. The Foundation invests in Goodwill’s job training and support services programs. On October 23rd, Foundation supporters will have another opportunity to support Goodwill by participating in a clothing drive. Bring business clothes and accessories to the 2013 Leadership Luncheon, and help the women and men who participate in Goodwill’s job training programs.

It seems like everywhere you turn these days you hear words like “furlough” and “sequestration.”  Recent budget cuts have cost many federal employees their livelihoods; and with Goodwill of Greater Washington having nine federal contract sites, it has been an issue of serious concern for us.

This past June, Goodwill of Greater Washington participated in Source America’s “Grassroots Advocacy Day.” This event gives agencies from across the country who employ and support individuals with disabilities the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and advocate to Congress in support of employment for those they serve. This year’s advocacy day focused on attempts to ensure that individuals with disabilities who work in government facilities are not affected by sequestration. Goodwill of Greater Washington was fortunate to be represented by President and CEO Catherine Meloy, Vice President of Contracts Tony Garza, and Holly Fischer who is employed at our U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contract site. Holly is back to her regular work schedule today, but the recent government shutdown makes voices like hers more important than ever.

When Holly first arrived on Capitol Hill she was very nervous because she wasn’t used to public speaking. “In school I always wanted to be the one holding the flag in the assemblies,” she said. “I never wanted to have a speaking part.”

However, Source America provided several classes for the hand-selected group of advocates to help them become more comfortable with public speaking. With that training Holly felt prepared to take on the opportunity before her.

“A job is more than a way to make money; it is a way to a feeling of self-worth,” Holly told a Senator’s aide. “I know what it’s like to have a hard time finding a job and I know what it’s like to be laid off.” Holly continued by emphasizing the work ethic that she learned as a child. “My father taught me how to work hard and I know how to work hard,” she added. “I appreciate the opportunity to work for Goodwill through the Ability One Program.”

Holly hopes to visit Capitol Hill again one day. Those who saw her in action believe she is a powerful and eloquent speaker. But Holly only wants our elected officials to walk away with one message: that she would not be able to find a good job without the help of Goodwill. “It was well worth it,” Holly said with pride. “If it’s advocating for my job, I will advocate to keep my job. And I will advocate for those who are disabled.”

Holly is a woman of bold conviction who is not only willing to stand up for herself but also for those around her who share similar challenges in life.  Goodwill of Greater Washington is proud to have someone like Holly as an ambassador for our cause!

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.

Success Story: National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week

As National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week draws to a close, the work to ensure the success of adult learners in our region continues. The post below, from our Grantee Partner Academy of Hope, reminds us what can be achieved when we all work diligently towards this goal.

Dorothy Reese: If You Believe, You Can Achieve It!

Born in 1938, Dorothy’s childhood was one of abandonment, daydreams and love. Although her mother had dropped out of school, “she had common sense and was smart,” and she encouraged Dorothy to stay in school. But at the age of 15, Dorothy became pregnant and dropped out of school herself.

Then, at 16 Dorothy met Ronald, with whom she has spent the rest of her life, and by 1979 they had nine children.

During the 1980s, Dorothy “always had energy, loved to work, and wanted to get [her] diploma.” But in the face of family health challenges and the death of her 24-year-old son, in 1994 Dorothy went into rehab for alcohol addiction.

Fortunately this led her to “restart” her life. She began a nursing assistant program, worked nights and took classes at Academy of Hope during the day. Though the start was bumpy, she got on track and persevered. She recalls, “I decided I would stay until I got it and that I wasn’t going to drop out.” She later worked days at the YMCA and attended evening classes, and in November 2011, at age 74, Dorothy graduated from Academy of Hope.

About her journey at Academy of Hope, she says smiling, “All the teachers and staff encouraged me – they never forgot me!”

Now, with support from a Small Enterprise Development program called Women Mean Business, Dorothy is starting up her own business making decorative pillows. “God is not done with me. My motto is:  If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

Written by Jan Leno, Academy of Hope volunteer writer.

VIDEO: Families are Transformed When We Stand With Women

We are so excited to announce the release of our new video from Stone Soup Films!  With your help, we are using strategic investments to create economic security for women and girls in the Washington region.

Great change is possible – when we make smart investments in our community.  Please share this inspiring new video with your networks!

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Why can the restaurant industry be so difficult for women? Spoiler alert: Top Chef Masters got it wrong

Top Chef MastersI haven’t really been following this season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, but when I was flipping through the channels this week and saw the DC area’s own Chef Bryan Voltaggio on the show, I decided to tune in. I was intrigued as the latest episode had the season’s remaining contestants paired up and challenged to create complimentary hot and cold dishes with a surprise catch of the day. Shortly into the episode I realized there was only one female contestant – James Beard Award winner Chef Jennifer Jasinski – left in the running and remarked how that’s sadly unsurprising given the male-dominated restaurant industry.

I probably could have left my disappointment there for the evening, if it hadn’t been for a short scene the producers decided to include of the chefs relaxing and enjoying dinner and drinks at a restaurant the night before the challenge. As the chefs chatted, the men remarked to Jennifer that being a chef was a really tough career choice for women because if they stop to have kids they could lose everything they’ve worked for.  Upon hearing that, I stopped. I hoped that the conversation would take a turn, as I really wasn’t looking to get all riled up on a week night, but alas, there it was: a sexist comment in the midst of my supposed-to-be-brainless evening entertainment.

This isn’t the first time Jennifer has been publicly asked the question about her choice not to have children, and she handled it like a pro, talking about how she didn’t want to do anything half-way and wanted to focus fully on her career, and how at the end of the day the staff members in her restaurants were her family.  Now, I don’t know if the conversation continued, if perhaps the male chefs also lamented that their lives were too busy to raise children, and that they, too, made difficult decisions about family and work life balance in the demanding industry, but I do know that if they did, the producers of the show chose not to highlight it on-air. In true pop-culture fashion, Bravo took the road of reinforcing gender stereotypes about the traditional primary caregiver role of women in the household. The producers clearly decided to focus attention on the only female contestant’s decision to not have children, despite the fact that Bryan Voltaggio, for instance, has spoken in interviews in the past about the challenges of being a dad and a chef.

The opening statement by the male chef was true, being a woman in the restaurant industry is tough for a number of reasons, and there are very high barriers to advancement for females in the industry. But insinuating that the path is more difficult for a woman because she would be forced to end her career if she were to have children is downright backwards, as is the decision of the show’s producers to reinforce this archaic idea.

The real reason being a woman in the restaurant industry is hard? Women who work in the industry face systematic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days, and five times more harassment than the general female workforce, according to a report released by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United).  ROC United has also found that women are paid 21.8 percent less than their male counterparts with the same qualifications. The wages are even lower for women of color, who are paid 28.5 percent less than their male counterparts. Nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry – more than five times the rate for the general female workforce, and cases of sexual harassment are often ignored by managers in the industry.

These inequalities exist because the industry perpetuates them. Much like hazing for fraternities, enduring terrible working conditions is seen as a badge of honor in many cases. The latest example of Top Chef Masters continuing to subvert female chefs in the industry and reinforce damaging stereotypes is especially damning. Women are incredibly hard working and capable chefs, line cooks, restaurateurs, waiters, general managers, bartenders and more and should be respected as such.

Oh, and did I mention that the talented Chef Jennifer Jasinski won the seafood challenge that evening? Go get ‘em girl.

Want to continue the discussion of the issues facing women in the restaurant industry? Join us September 24, 2013 for a brown bag discussion with author of Behind the Kitchen Door and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Saru Jayaraman. The event information can be found on our Facebook page, here. Please RSVP to Farrell Barnes at fbarnes@wawf.org.

Marching Great Distances: My Family's Past and Future, and the March on Washington

resized Jess Kim MaiI never forget my dad’s birthday; it’s December 31st, and every New Year’s Eve since I can remember we’ve gathered for dinner to celebrate the past year, the hope of the new year, and the accomplishment of my dad for making it to one year older (or one year younger as my dad likes to pretend).   But there is one New Year’s Eve in particular that has stuck with me all of these years: I was very young and my grandparents were in town to celebrate with us. My grandfather was telling stories of my dad as a youngster, and he began laughing that they used to call my dad “Deduct” since he had been born right before the stroke of midnight, giving my grandparents the child tax deduction for the year, just in the nick of time. He also mentioned that my dad was the last baby born that year in Abilene, Texas, and that he’d received gifts and congratulations from the hospital staff.

I recall my dad looking uncomfortable as this story was being told, and I prodded him about it. He stopped and sheepishly said, “Well I wasn’t exactly the last baby born, but the last baby born was black, so they gave me all the presents.”  He averted eye contact and got up to retrieve another glass of water from the kitchen as someone else changed the subject and the mood returned to jovial celebration.

It was one small instance, many years ago, but it has been lodged in my memory all this time. We never really talked about it again, but it’s been on my mind constantly in the past couple of weeks as we’ve been gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. My dad was six years old when the March on Washington took place, and that small sentence about the night he was born has spoken so much to me about how broken America was in 1963 as Dr. King gave his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As I joined my co-workers, our supporters, friends, and family on the National Mall last Saturday to commemorate that great day 50 years ago, I thought about how things had changed. I’m getting married in two months to a Vietnamese-American man, and I was blessed to be joined by him and his mother on Saturday as we stood side by side to fight for equality. I thought about our future children, and how blessed I am that they won’t face the discrimination present in the hospital the day my dad was born, and how thankful I am that my fiancé and I are not ostracized for our mixed-race relationship. I thought about how beautiful it was to see the tapestry of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations in front of the Lincoln Memorial, joining together to fight for the inalienable rights of us all.

There is still work to be done. There is still reason to march. Yes, injustice still exists, inequality still exists, and true unity has not yet been attained. But today I find myself more thankful than enraged. I am thankful to those that marched before us, because though there is marching still to be done, we really have come a long way.

We March On: Diversity, Unity & the March on Washington

MarchOn Saturday morning, I joined a group of colleagues, our family members and friends to create a Washington Area Women’s Foundation contingent for the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. Despite the early hour (I am not a morning person), I was excited and enthusiastic about being able to participate in such an historic event. As we approached the National Mall, it was clear that the excitement and enthusiasm were shared by the many, many other activists who were also there. And as we convened around the reflecting pool to listen to the speakers lined up for the morning’s rally, and had the chance to look around at those with whom we were sharing space and purpose, I was struck by the diversity that surrounded me. Yet, the audience, issues and messages from the speakers created a bizarre contradiction. On many levels we were marching on this day for many of the same rights and issues that our foreparents marched for 50 years before us – equality, access to jobs, etc. Yet, it was apparent that this was not the same movement as it was then. The increased visibility and vocalization of issues affecting women, LGBTQ, Asian American, and Latina/o communities, etc. was a clear indicator that while we have not come as far as we would like, the past 50 years have been significant in creating the space and voice for people from so many different communities to come together to be recognized and heard.

But despite the camaraderie and energy that was with us all, there were two noticeable voids for me. The first was the absence of the power, passion and clear purpose that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought to the original march with his “I Have A Dream Speech.” I don’t think that in the 50 years since the original march, there has been any speech quite so profound as his, nor any speaker as moving. I own that perhaps it isn’t a fair expectation, because people like Dr. King don’t come along every day. But even to replay that speech and remind us all of that power, passion and purpose, would have elevated the day that much more to me.

The other thing that I struggled with was that even in the diversity of the communities represented on Saturday, I still felt a siloing of communities and identities. I felt we were missing something – that sense of underlying unity. That thing that transcended race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class…that thing that made us all brothers and sisters in a movement for humanity overall. That thing that reminded us that we could not divide the essence of our being into artificial buckets of race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. And that our communities and identities were not distinct and separate, but inextricably linked. I was missing that call to action that said without a collective vision, a collective movement, and a recognition that if any one of us gets left behind, it means all of us fall behind, we would be here 50 years from now fighting many of the same battles. Despite the absence 50 years ago of some of the diverse voices that were present on Saturday, I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to capture that vision for the future that saw us all sitting around a community table with a shared sense of our value for who we were and what we brought. And a recognition that the problems that we are solving require solutions that reflect the intersections of our communities and identities.

I walked away from the march with mixed emotions for the reality of our country today – appreciation, sadness, frustration, drive, disappointment, and hope. What I wish I had gotten from the podium is that feeling that we were here together because, in the words of Dr. King: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” And so, we march on.

“I Still Have a Dream:” 50 Years Later, March on Washington Remains Relevant

MarchonWashingtonAs we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I’ve been re-reading and thinking a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I’m simultaneously in awe of and distressed by the timelessness of the speech. It encompasses feelings and aspirations that far exceed the boundaries of race. But so many of the challenges outlined in the speech are applicable today. I don’t say that to minimize the impact that King or the March on Washington had – but I’m struck by the fact that if you replace the word “Negro” with words like “poor,” or “black,” or “Latino,” or “undocumented” in the text of the speech, it’s still so relevant.

While the words “I have a dream” are the best-known parts of the speech, for me one of the most powerful passages is about America’s obligation to guarantee every citizen life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. King said that the nation had “defaulted on this promissory note” when it came to citizens of color. “We refuse to believe,” he said, “that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

That has never been more true in America’s history than now. When we look at what people are doing in fields like technology, finance and entertainment, the opportunities seem endless. But for far too many people, those great vaults are sealed and secured – those opportunities remain out of reach. The generational cycles of poverty that so many people find themselves in are testament to just how closed our society can be to some people, and so is the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Being mired in poverty is this generation’s chains. Economic security and independence are our freedom. King’s speech reaches back through time to reference the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation – all documents created at turning points in history when people in this country came together to break open chains and embrace freedom. Their efforts propelled this nation forward – we don’t look back on our history and regret becoming an independent nation, or ending slavery or giving everyone the right to vote.

The original 1963 march was officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers of that historic event knew that jobs and freedom go hand in hand, but I think that in the 50 years since, we may have forgotten some of that. Without the right resources, networks and opportunities, people can’t get good jobs. And without good jobs that not only sustain families but provide them with a stability and savings for the future, too many people are missing out on freedom, strength, independence and equality.

That’s why Washington Area Women’s Foundation is participating in the 50th anniversary rally and march on Saturday. As we walk elbow-to-elbow with thousands of other people I will be thinking about King’s speech and his unwavering faith in humanity, belief in the American dream, and confidence that by working together, we can live in a country that lives up to its promise.

I invite you to join us. “We cannot walk alone.” Email mcraven@wawf.org for details.

Why aren’t there more apprenticeships for women?

The following post by Zach McDade was originally posted on Metro Trends, a blog maintained by the Urban Institute, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner. We applaud the Urban Institute for looking at issues through a gender lens and encourage other organizations and researchers to do the same!

Urban Institute Fellow Bob Lerman posted Wednesday about the role of apprenticeships in preparing workers for success, citing evidence that suggests the government should invest much more than it does now in apprenticeship programs.

That post got a lot of attention and generated a lot of good questions. I asked Lerman a few of them as follow-ups. His responses are below.

Your apprenticeship post got a lot of attention. One question suggested that relatively few women have apprenticeships. Is that true? If so, why?

It is true. The main reason is that apprenticeships have been concentrated in male-dominated industries, especially construction and plant-level work in manufacturing. Governments have sponsored initiatives to attract women to these fields with only modest success.

So why do you think apprenticeships haven’t flourished in industries more popular with women?

Because policymakers have failed to make expanding apprenticeship a priority, and creating an apprenticeship program is complicated for most employers.

Which traditionally women-dominated industries might benefit from increased investment?

Health and finance are two major industries in which women make up a high share of employers. Both could benefit from having more well-structured apprenticeships. Child care and elder care could use apprenticeships to raise quality and build inclusive job ladders.

What are some of the benefits women might expect to see?

If apprenticeships became more widespread across industries, women would benefit for the same reasons men benefit—earning while learning, increasing their skills, obtaining a valued occupational credential, and becoming a proud member of a community of practice. Quality apprenticeships can also upgrade the image and quality of women-dominated professions, such as child care, that currently pay low wages and garner little prestige.

What about minority workers? Would they see the same benefits from greater apprenticeship investment?

Black and Hispanic workers make up about 30 percent of apprentices. They likely benefit more than non-Hispanic white workers because they are currently less successful in academic-only settings. Also, because employers hire apprentices on a temporary basis and watch them work and learn in their companies, apprenticeships can reduce discrimination based on group identities.

You seem to see apprenticeships as a missing link in preparing our workers, especially workers without college degrees, for gainful employment. What are the next steps?

The key is to expand significantly the number of apprenticeship slots sponsored by employers. Moving to scale in this sense is difficult but not impossible. It requires three steps that should be taken simultaneously: 1) engaging political leadership at a high level, such as a president or a governor; 2) launching statewide marketing campaigns, including publicity targeted at specific industry sectors; and 3) selling apprenticeship to individual firms (think of it as a retail approach) as well as providing technical assistance to organize and validate programs at the firm level.

Apprentice photo via Shutterstock

New Documentary Takes on Women’s Work & Worth


Twenty Feet from Stardom, the documentary currently playing in DC-area theaters about backup singers, is on its surface a stereotypical Hollywood tale: ingénue steps into the recording studio seeking fame and fortune, but comes up short – in this case, an achingly close 20 feet short.

It is also, of course, about so much more. It’s about the people – overwhelmingly women of color – whose names you don’t know but who are responsible for the best parts of your favorite songs – the voices with whom you have sung along for years. It’s also about the chances artists – and particularly women artists – take when their career trajectories lie in the hands of the Ike Turners and Phil Spectors of the world (even if you haven’t seen the film, you can imagine how that might turn out). Finally, 20 Feet from Stardom is an exploration of the dreams we have for our lives and what happens when they come up short – at least in the eyes of others.

A number of people interviewed for the film, for example, assumed that Lisa Fischer (who has sung backup for the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross and Sting, among others) wants and should have an incredible solo career. At a time when we’re so focused on celebrity, on leaning in and on having it all, this seems to be a logical assumption. But if you ask Lisa, she’d likely say that she already has it all. And she’d probably have some interesting things to say about what “having it all” means. In the film, Lisa makes it clear that she has everything she wants – and when she went for some prize that everyone else thought she should have, she discovered that it made her miserable.

Darlene Love had her a-ha moment decades after singing back-up for artists that included Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Elvis. After a career that was tightly controlled and limited by Phil Spector, Darlene left the industry and took on work cleaning houses for $100 a week. One day, while cleaning someone else’s bathroom, one of her old songs came on the radio and she stopped and asked herself what she was meant to do. Her answer: “God gave me this talent and I intend to use it.” She asked a couple of friends for a loan and returned to music – only this time she had her own strategy and controlled her own image. After taking any gig she could find, she worked her way up to Broadway and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Most of us cannot imagine what it’s like to be a backup singer, but the experiences and emotions portrayed in 20 Feet from Stardom are universal. I think that many of us can share the feelings of being unrecognized, of not having enough control, or not living up to expectations – whether they’re our own or others’. And that’s when it’s time to listen to the advice given by Dr. Mable John (a former Raelette who sang backup for Ray Charles): “…we need to know our worth; we need to know, as women, we’re important. I think the breakdown is when a woman doesn’t know what she is and she settles for less.”

It’s a lesson that works just as well off stage as on. The fascinating, devastating stories featured in 20 Feet from Stardom are unique because of their glamorous setting, but the lessons associated with them are not uncommon. The women in the film seemed to be happiest and most satisfied when they had control over their own lives, when they were getting recognition for their accomplishments and when they were fairly compensated. These are, of course, “no duh” statements – a fact that makes it seem even more criminal that they were denied these things to begin with, and a reminder that it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we value ourselves and one another fairly.

Photo from NYTimes.com.