On a beautiful Monday morning, May 19th, 2014, Anne Mosle, Vice President, The Aspen Institute and Executive Director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, welcomed 40 practitioners, researchers ,parents, and public and private sector leaders to the “Women and Working Families: An Ascend at the Aspen Institute Roundtable.”
Walking into the room it was immediately clear that those who had been invited were ready to engage in the roundtable and with each other on opportunities “to leverage the power of women’s voices to ensure a legacy of success passes from one generation to the next,” as Anne Mosle put it. There was an intentional mix of voices at the table, from women’s foundation representatives to policy experts, representing a cross-section of states, cities, rural areas, urban neighborhoods, and families.
In her opening comments, Anne Mosle set the stage by talking about how far we have come at this pivotal 50th year anniversary of the “War on Poverty.” She also underscored the challenges remaining, and what they mean for women in this country. Anne introduced Walter Isaacson, the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, who noted that the most important issue of our time is ensuring that economic opportunity is available to every person in America, a challenge demanding we design a 21st century agenda that works for all women. Leading pollster Celinda Lake continued to set the stage by providing highlights from research her firm had conducted reflecting what the “kitchen table” issues are for women. Celinda’s data reflected that women could decide elections, but were not showing much interest in voting. Women more than men are concerned about economic stability, not economic opportunity, and they feel economic opportunity is something too uncertain in which to have faith. Women want stability, value independence, and remain resilient. Celinda shared a few key opportunities that women believe would advance their mobility:
(1) Equal pay;
(2) Raising the minimum wage; and
(3) Access to quality, affordable child care.
As Celinda shared, these may be “pillars” of an economic agenda for women, but in the broad-scheme of women’s economic empowerment, they are mere “stones.” One of the most important goals of the roundtable was to explore innovations beyond these “stones” to build strong and significant pillars from which all women can rise. As Celinda shared, women believe strongly in personal responsibility, and don’t ever want to be referred to as “poor” regardless of their income levels. This is true for the women we work with and economically depressed rural areas of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Most of them are single heads of household struggling to stay afloat on low wage jobs without work support. Yet they are resilient and determined to increase opportunities for themselves and their children.
A theme threading through the day was the power and potential of two-generation solutions to move women and their families toward economic security. The Aspen Institute Ascend Network was represented by Dr. Charles Carter of Crittenton Women’s Union and Jeanne Jackson of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham (among others), both of whom provided guidance to participants on how to jumpstart a two-generation initiatives that tap the drive of mothers and their families. The Honorable Rosa DeLauro, (D-CT), along with Lee Roper-Batker, President, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, discussed the Women’s Economic Security Act passed by the Minnesota Legislature on Mother’s Day this year. This Act requires businesses seeking contracts from the state of Minnesota to provide an “equal pay certificate,” showing that their female employees are paid the same as male employees for comparable jobs. Circling back to the value of Celinda Lake’s analysis, Representative DeLauro stated that research is critical to building political will for an agenda that promotes women’s economic security. Echoing many in the room, she noted that we need an “acceleration strategy to get further, faster.”
Other key take-a-ways from a storied list of presenters:
· Women’s values are aspirational – not “red” or “blue.”
· Women are pragmatic: progressive on social issues and more conservative on economic issues.
· Women have unbelievable political power – if they use it by voting.
· There are many models that work to move women and their children to economic independence, but we need a comprehensive approach focusing on economies of scale as we reinvent things.
· Research is critical to making an evidenced-based case for women.
· Where there is underinvestment, you can find women of color.
· We need to tap into the women’s power base and accelerate policy levers to move women toward opportunity.