Quick! What’s Happening August 26, Really?

If you said “Women’s Equality Day,” you’d be right.

And if you said it’s the 95th anniversary of the date in 1920 when women’s right to vote officially entered the U.S. Constitution, you’d be spot on.

But the greater significance of this day is not about looking backward at quaint sepia photo of suffragists picketing the White House (though it is notable that the suffragists were the first people ever to picket the White House), but rather looking at the progress we can see today and forward toward the work yet to be done for women to reach full equality and leadership parity.

Continue reading “Quick! What’s Happening August 26, Really?”

Boston Leads the Metropolis Charge to Erase Gender Wage Gap

Boston Women InitiativeEinstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Every year, we hear the same report, that women make 77 cents to men’s dollar. Sometimes 78, but basically, we get the same handwringing commentary and nothing changes. In fact, Catalyst just released its 2013 census reporting that there is still no progress for women as leaders. 

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Boston’s new initiative, designed to do something different to close the wage gap.

According to WNPR’s All Things Considered, “Boston thinks it has a solution. The city is working to be the first in the country to completely erase the gender wage gap. But will it work? That’s our cover story today.”

In April of 2013, Boston Mayor Menino established the Women’s Workforce Council. The council is made up of hard workers across all employment sectors, and their mission is to make Greater Boston the premier place for working women in America by closing the wage gap and removing the visible and invisible barriers to women’s advancement.  Their priority is to come up with new and creative ways of achieving this mission. The NPR story reported on progress to date.

The Women’s Workforce Council has created a compact to which businesses and companies of Boston are asked to pledge to pay their employees equal wages.  It’s a simple enough request.  But since the country seems to be having trouble moving the dial on pay equity, how is it that in Boston the council has already persuaded over 40 businesses to sign their pledge?

Companies that sign the pledge agree to take three concrete steps:

Step 1: Each company is asked to open their books and assess their own wage data.  As Cathy Minehan, Chair of the council, said in her NPR interview, “Sometimes people reject the idea that we have an issue until they actually see their data.”

 
Seattle provides a great example for the importance of this first step.  When Seattle mayor Mike McGinn read the April issued report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, he found that Seattle had the widest gender wage gap out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country. Seeing this information and being able to assess it in front of his own eyes lead him to assemble a task force.  This task force has a four step plan that hopes to launch a Gender Justice Initiative by January 2014. 

 Step 2 of Boston’s plan: Pick three strategies to improve pay equality. The council provides suggestions which include increasing wage transparency, actively recruiting women to executive-level positions, and offering subsidized childcare.

Step 3: Sharing wage data anonymously every two years so the city can measure progress.

Boston Women Initiative2

 The catch, says Minehan, is that none of this is required – it’s all voluntary. Businesses need to find it in their own interest if this initiative is to succeed. So it’s still up to women to advocate for themselves by delivering that message along with the now-ample data to support it.

Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque, New Mexico signed a bill in late November that would give a break to contractors working with the city if they would implement equal pay regulations.  A task force headed by women’s rights advocate Martha Burke is currently working to establish new guidelines for combating the wage gap within the city.  While this bill only helps to effect firms bidding with the city in the public sector, the hope is that it will encourage employers in the private sector to pay equal wages as well.

By the end of the year, the Women’s Workforce Council in Boston expects to have 50 companies on board with their initiative. They have one month left to rack up those last 10 companies, and at the rate they’re running, why shouldn’t they succeed? Seattle will soon have an established initiative to move forward with, and hopefully Albuquerque’s first steps will influence positive next steps.

And hopefully these three cities, fronting active change for women’s rights, can influence cities, states, and the national government to not only support change for women, but positively act on making changes for women.

How Women Lead: Not A Hero, Everyone as Hero

 L-R: Lauren Sandground, Rhoda Hassan, Cheryl Swain meet to plan Take The Lead Challenge Feb. 19 launch
L-R: Lauren Sandground, Rhoda Hassan, Cheryl Swain meet to plan Take The Lead Challenge Feb. 19 launch

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Arizona State University student Lauren Sandground at a meeting to plan the Take The Lead Challenge Launch event (happening February 19 at ASU—check it out here and plan to be there live or by livestream). Lauren, a senior, started an organization named Woman as Hero in 2009 after being surprised to encounter gender biases in her own life even today, when young women are told they can do or be anything.

The mission of Woman as Hero is to advocate, enlighten, and inspire both women and men globally and locally to empower girls and women through education and entrepreneurship. They believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to support women in their times of struggle and to help create an environment of unity, respect and dignity.

The hierarchical mindset of top-down, command-and-control single-person leadership has remained largely unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century when organization structures as we know them today were invented by men for men who had women at home doing the housework and minding the children.

This model places impossible pressures on the man—almost always a man–at the top to be THE hero, have all the answers, and take 100% of the responsibility for decisions made. Focus on a single heroic leader stems from the “power over” model of leadership that is no longer functional in our fast moving, complex, brains-not-brawn driven world today.

Indeed, as Gayle Peterson, an associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program says, “We don’t need a hero, we just need more women at the top.” 

Key words and phrases that resonate from Woman as Hero’s mission are “both women and men” and “everyone’s responsibility.” This is true whether we are talking about changing the gender and diversity ratios in leadership roles or aiming to improve the quality of organizational leadership overall.

Leadership parity is not easily achieved for many reasons—inertia, co-option, and the resistance of those in power to share it being just a few. Less obvious is the struggle within women ourselves to embrace our “power to” be the leaders of our own lives and in our careers. Changing that paradigm must be fostered by collaboration and deliberate intention.

Woman as Hero observes on its website: “Educating women allows them to help themselves, their families and their communities by giving them the tools to become leaders, otherwise known as the ‘girl effect.’ Their well-being is tied to the well-being of the whole society. It just makes sense!”

But education is only as meaningful as the actions it inspires.

Woman as Hero takes action to inspire broad involvement. Through the hosting of dialogues and film screenings, annual summits, fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and community service projects, Woman as Hero educates to improve the status of girls and women all over the world.

As we digest the remains of our Thanksgiving turkey, there is a lot that we can be thankful for; the progress that women have made since the mid-nineteenth century; the men that have partnered with our movement; and those women who have already made it to the Sweet-C positions of companies and businesses.

But let’s not forget how much more we have to achieve; how much more educating and collaborating must be done before we can sit back and relax with our cranberry sauce. I am thankful for young women like Lauren and all of you heroes and very grateful that they are taking the lead for the next wave of women.

Mothers or Others? Why Choose? How Maternity Leave Policy Crushes Women’s Leadership Parity

parental leave policyJamera Lee Massop was an administrative assistant in New York when she became pregnant. She didn’t think being pregnant would or should impact her job.  However, with no reason other than “your contract says we can terminate you at any time for any reason,” Jamera’s company fired her when she was six months pregnant. Jamera felt sure that the company didn’t want the expense of hiring someone to fill in for her when she was on maternity leave. She knew that if she filed a lawsuit against her company she might win, but she felt she could not take the time or money to fight it at this time in her life. After all, she had no job and therefore no steady income. After her baby was born, with nowhere else to go, Jamera entered the New York City shelter system and had to rely on public welfare programs until she could get back on her feet.

Jamera’s story is just one example of how the lack of a viable maternity/parental leave policy harms both individuals and the economy by wasting human capital.

While Jamera was in an entry level position, the reality is that the percentage of women who were terminated shortly before or after their first pregnancy was at 4.7 percent between 2006 and 2008. That means that approximately 158,000 women were let go due to pregnancy during those years. 21.9 percent of these high potential women in leadership positions or on leadership tracks dropped out when they had children because they couldn’t see a way to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers as well as employees, given the dismal state of leave policies in the U.S.

Let’s face it: the structure of most organizations was designed by and for men who had women at home doing the domestic work.

Today women with paying jobs outside of the home make up half the work force. Many companies and organizations have happily welcomed women.  However, our society as a whole has failed to adapt the workplace so that women’s unique needs and those of the changing family structure can be met.

Young children bring a particular dynamic to a family in which two parents work regular jobs.  Children require attention and care, especially in their first few months and years.  If this is a nation that cares about the wellbeing of its next generation, maternity or better yet parental leave policy must be a matter of public concern.

If you think such leave policies are unrealistic, check this out: According to the Paid Parental LeaveInternational Labor Organization (ILO), 169 countries out of the worlds rough 196 guarantee some amount of paid parental leave to employees. For example, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Albania, and Croatia are among the 31 countries whose government run insurance programs provide a year or more of 100% paid, job-guaranteed, maternity or parental leave.

Along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia, the United States is one of the few countries in the world whose government does not mandate any amount of paid maternity leave.

In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees 12 weeks of job-guaranteed unpaid leave only to employees at companies with more than 50 employees became U.S. law.  Some states have passed their own more expansive requirements under the FMLA.  Of course, leave policy can be expanded further within the private sector if the organizations so choose.  But in 2011 only 21% of companies that are members of the Society for Human Resources Management offered family leave above the minimum required federal FMLA leave.

The United States makes much ado of defining itself as a forward thinking nation.  Yet it is absurd the way our public policy and work places treat parents, and by association, their children. If the United States believes in family values and cares about its children, it must change how the work force supports new mothers and fathers too.

Providing job-guaranteed paid leave would be far more cost effective than losing employees that companies have already invested time and training into. Companies need women’s talents, and a company that enables families to take care of their children will find themselves with much more loyal employees.  We need not choose between mothers and others.

Women and men who agree with the value of these policy changes can’t afford to wait until they need parental leave to influence their companies or organizations.  We have the assets to create smarter, healthier policies that will shift the work place to be a more family friendly space for the good of all. We must take the lead, and we can do this together.

You can start by taking a look at the New York City Equal Pay Coalition’s petition to end pregnancy discrimination and secure stronger laws for women’s equality. And then send us your thoughts on other initiatives that you support or think we all should.

A Vision, a Goal, some Mustard: Women’s Leadership @ ASU

Somebody once gave me a greeting card that read, “Just when you think you are done, you are really just beginning.” That is certainly my story with Take The Lead which I co-founded with my wonderful partner-in-good Amy Litzenberger. So when the question came up about how I came to be teaching this online certificate course, “9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career,” I took a little trip down memory lane to recall why I became an advocate for women’s leadership parity and how I learned what makes a successful movement to achieve that–or anything else you want to make happen.

women's leadership: mustard no more

When I was 15, I had my first lesson in the power of working together to make systemic change.

I attended high school in Stamford, a small Texas town with only two places teens could gather for hamburgers and hanging out. One, Son’s City Pig had indoor space where we went to chat and listen to music. The other, the Superdog, had no indoor seating.

The owner of Son’s started charging us two cents extra for those little white paper containers of mustard. We were outraged by this injustice, but it wasn’t till a boy named Ralph challenged us to action that we realized we could do something about it.

“Let’s go over to the Superdog and ask the owner, Mr. Jackson, to build a room where we could hang out. And if he won’t charge us extra for mustard, we’ll take all our business to him.”

About 20 kids piled into three battered cars and drove the two minutes across town. Ralph went to get Mr. Jackson, who looked a tad frightened at first but soon recognized a lucrative proposition.

He built that room, we took our business to him, and he thrived even without the extra mustard revenue.

Injustice rectified.

That process, or some variation on it is the very one that created almost every sustainable social change I know of:

  • A compelling vision with a well-defined goal;
  • A worthy mission bigger than oneself, that rectifies an injustice or creates an innovation that meets people’s real needs;
  • The courage to act upon convictions, to confront issues even if they are uncomfortable, and to assert your worth – even if it’s just a bunch of kids buying burgers;
  • A constituency—people who share your concerns and will mobilize;
  • A plan to achieve the goal and the will to stay with the plan till it’s accomplished.

There was just one thing wrong with the story of the mustard-liberation movement: its leaders were all male. Ralph, the two restaurant owners, even the drivers of the cars. The girls were present in the background. It was, after all, 1957.

Now, women are half the workplace and 57 percent of college graduates; they buy 85 percent of consumer goods and there is ample evidence that companies that have more women in their top leadership ranks earn more money.

Although movement building for systems change helped rework laws and open doors 40 years ago, women have been stalled at under 20 percent of the top positions across all sectors for almost two decades.

ASU is involved with an exciting new movement to ensure more women are able to take their places in the ranks of leadership positions worldwide, recently partnering withTake The Lead, an organization I co-founded, whose mission is to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

One of the first visible manifestations of this partnership is the launch of ASU’s first online women’s leadership certificate course. It starts Oct. 2 and runs for six weeks. It’s asynchronous, so participants can view lectures and participate in conversations at times that fit the busy schedules of working women who are or aspire to be leaders. In the course, we’ll apply those five principles of changemaking, because it’s time for women to have an equal place at life’s table and this is the moment when we can do it.

I’m particularly grateful to ASU President Michael Crow for deeming Take The Lead’s work a university wide initiative and to W. P. Carey School of Business Dean Amy Hillman, who serves on our board. Those interested in women’s leadership issues will also want to mark their calendar for Feb. 19, 2014, and join us at ASU Gammage for the Take The Lead Challenge, a national launch event for our initiative. It will feature speakers such as Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” and a surprise challenge that does not involve mustard.

Want to be part of this exciting vision? Contact me.

This article was originally posted in the ASU Magazine.

Women’s Equality Day and the Civil Rights March

It was all over the news for days. Every pundit, every political talk show, every newspaper march-on-washington-widerunning big retrospective spreads. Op eds galore, and reminiscences of what it was like to march together toward equality.

Today, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, the day that commemorates passage of the 19th amendment to the US constitution, giving women the right to vote after a struggle that lasted over 70 years. A big deal, right?

Right. But that’s not what all the news was about. In fact, though President Obama issued a proclamation and a few columnists like the New York Times’ Gail Collins gave it a nod, hardly anyone is talking about Women’s Equality Day. At least not in consciousness-saturating ways that garner major media’s attention, as Saturday’s March on Washington commemorating the 50th anniversary of a similar Civil Rights march.

Yet the two anniversaries are rooted in common values about equality and justice for all. They share common adversaries and aspirations. Racism and sexism are joined at the head.

And as League of Women Voters president Elisabeth MacNamara’s article in the Huffington Post explains, both movements today share the challenge of maintaining the right to vote, earned with such toil and tears and even bloodshed.

Like many people who participated in the 1960′s Civil Rights Movement, I celebrate how far America has moved toward racial justice in the last 50 ‘years. I am grateful to the Civil Rights movement for calling our nation not just to fulfill its moral promise to African-Americans, but by its example of courage and activism inspiring the second wave women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and so much more.

I remember having an epiphany while volunteering for a multi-racial civil rights organization called the Panel of American Women, that if there were civil rights, then women must have them too. That awareness ignited my passion for women’s equality which has driven my career ever since.

But just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s galvanizing “I Have a Dream” speech thundered, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood,” (emphasis mine) and sisters were not mentioned, women have yet to rise to full equality when it comes to honoring women’s historical accomplishments and current voices.

And just as the commemorative March on Washington was a necessary reminder of how far we have yet to go to reach the full vision of the Civil Rights movement, so Women’s Equality Day is best celebrated by committing ourselves to breaking through the remaining barriers to full leadership parity for women.

Check out Take The Lead‘s two posts on The Movement blog calling attention to the auspicious anniversary.

The first is Susan Weiss Gross’s delightful personal story–the tractor being a perfect metaphor — of how she overcame her internal barriers to equality. The second comes from author and Ms Magazine founding editor Susan Braun Levine. Suzanne will be writing about “Empowerment Entrepreneurs” and how empowering each other is the latest development in women’s equality.

Read, enjoy, and then get to work along with Take The Lead, which I co-founded along Amy Litzenberger early this year,  in our 21st century movement to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their air and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

As the March on Washington twitter hashtag exhorted us to do, “#MarchOn!”

Women’s Campaign Fund Won’t Settle for Less Than Half

Monday night I attended the bipartisan Women’s Campaign Fund’s  annual “Parties of Your Choice“.

Changetheplayers600

As always, they begin with a raucous reception at Christie’s for several hundred guests, after which we all scatter around town for intimate dinners in beautiful homes. At each party, there are several WCF-endorsed candidates or elected officials who tell their tales and make their pitches.

Here are a few photos I took during the evening, which was peppered with chants of “Change the players. Change the game.”

Gala guest Ilene Wells "Wearing the Shirt"
Gala guest Ilene Wells “Wearing the Shirt”

Valeria Arkoosh of PA wants to be the first female MD in Congress
Valeria Arkoosh of PA wants to be the first female MD in Congress

Sam Bennett, President of the Women's Campaign Fund, cheers on the dozens of WCF-endorsed candidates and officeholders
Sam Bennett, President of the Women’s Campaign Fund, cheers on the dozens of WCF-endorsed candidates and officeholders

MSNBC host of The Cycle, Krystal Ball, MC'd
MSNBC host of The Cycle, Krystal Ball, MC’d

Youngest NY State Assemblywoman, Nily Rozic, bucked the Queens political machine and won in a surprise upset
Youngest NY State Assemblywoman, Nily Rozic, bucked the Queens political machine and won in a surprise upset

Clarkstown councilwoman Stephanie Hausner 'liked' this picture of her that I posted on Facebook, even though I misspelled her name
Clarkstown councilwoman Stephanie Hausner ‘liked’ this picture of her that I posted on Facebook, even though I misspelled her name

 

 

 

The Young Politica: Why Be Politically Active After Elections

Now that the election is over, many young voters will likely retire their ‘concerned citizen’ badge until presidential primaries start-up again. Being a politically active young person, however, is more than just voting for a president. There have been dramatic repercussion in the last four years due to youth voter inactivity between presidential elections.

In our own instant gratification generation psyche, many of us thought we had already created change by electing one man into the U.S. presidential seat. When it came to the midterm races in 2010, there was a 60% youth voter decline from 2008.

If more of us would have voted in 2010, perhaps there would have been tremendous changes. Perhaps the youth vote would have decided the election like it did in 2012.

Isn’t the rip-and-tear of the House over the past two years, all the ‘gridlock’, worth taking a stance? Inform yourselves about local candidates and then go vote! Standing in line once every two years is not a bad price to pay if it benefits the entire nation.

It is up to us to keep youth’s interests at the forefront of what policy makers in Washington think of first. How do we do this? There is no easy answer or quick solution. However, consistently electing  officials who understand our struggle is key.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift that will most definitely make the minority voice, the female voice, and the young person’s voice louder than ever (they were the demographics that decided the 2012 election after all); but this shift does not guarantee that this voice will be heard. We must reach gender parity in Washington and we have to continue championing those who play to our interests.

As I have said before, an effort at a grassroots level is also necessary in order to create change. It is difficult to get a meeting in with John Boehner to talk about student loan debt, but it is a bit easier to speak to your local congressman about it, or to start a group that has the same concerns.

In the months I have written this column, I have learned not to take everything at face value. Thorough research on a candidate means doing more than listening to what one news network has to say about them during a broadcast; it means discovering all of the candidate’s positives, negatives, and how they perform in the ‘grey areas’, too. It also means getting past the jargon and excess information, a more difficult task, to grasp how much a candidate’s political stances could affect me and thus, the young, female voter.

Equal representation in politics is a war we need to keep fighting. The young voter cannot sit idly waiting for someone else to make the changes. The young voter must take a stand. And stay actively engaged in the political process until long after we can be called “young.”

Faith-based Support for Abortion Rights

The Gallup poll is showing abortion as the #1 voting issue for women in key swing states, with the economy second. Though the pollster didn’t indicate whether the female registered voters polled were pro or anti choice, it’s clear there is a heightened awareness of the consequences of a Romney/Ryan presidency as well as the crushing (to use one of Romney’s favorite words) assault on women’s rights to reproductive self-determination at the state level.

I’m guessing this spike in prioritizing reproductive issues represents an awakened sleeping giant of pro-choice women who typically put other issues and causes first.

This data is a positive sign, not because the economy isn’t important, but because women, owing to the predominant media narrative marginalizing reproductive rights, health, and justice, have not always understood that the abortion wars have never been about abortion but are the tip of a much larger cultural and political iceberg of self-interested resistance to women’s full equality.

Today I’m pleased to share with you a second post by award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, in which she explores an often overlooked aspect of support for abortion rights: faith-based affirmations that have always existed but rarely been reported.


Documentary Filmmaker Celebrates the Pro-faith/Pro-choice Connection

For 35 years, I’ve been putting a human face on controversial subjects, from contraception for women in the poorest villages of India to the vulnerability of women to infection with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

One of the most controversial subjects is the current challenge to legal abortion in the United States. The Concentric Media team worked with me to put together a Choice at Risk screening tour, based on clips from our PBS trilogy on abortion rights.

We’ve mounted a fact-based challenge to counter the common belief that most religions are basically anti-abortion. While some anti-abortion picketers claim that “God Hates Abortion,” other religious traditions hold pro-choice positions. This tour brings together stories ranging from the back alley days to dangers faced by abortion providers today.

Pivotal interviews include clergy from different faiths who worked together to help women find safe, illegal abortions.

In the words of the founder, Rev. Howard Moody, an American Baptist minister:

We did this at a time in which it is illegal to counsel a woman about abortion. A $1,000 fine and a year in jail! But as religious people, as people who cared about people’s spirits, there was no way that you could do that without caring about their bodies.”

We meet courageous clergy from many faiths:

  • Rabbi Ticktin,arrested by a plainclothes policewoman posing as a pregnant woman;
  • Presbyterian Minister Peg Beissert, the first woman to join the service;
  • United Methodist Pastor Cornish Rogers, who served African American communities in South Central Los Angeles.

Why did they do this? When abortion was illegal, women were dying in the back alleys–especially the poor and the young. As Dr. Huw Anwyl of the United Church of Christ says:

“You don’t see something like this and then say ‘…it doesn’t concern me any more’.”

This tour was launched Sept. 27 by Pennsylvanians for Choice and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The evening was led by  Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, aka “Rev Bev,” a progressive pro-choice minister, an ordained clergy in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), co-founder and co-convener of the PA Clergy for Choice and the Pennsylvania Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice. She advocated for justice in many forms during her twenty-one years as a campus minister at University of Pennsylvania. She wrote a pro-faith/pro-choice liturgy that celebrated the work of the underground Clergy Counseling Service and invited the audience to “honor their courage…. the battles they fought and continue to fight on behalf of the moral good. We honor those who live their religious beliefs by creating justice for women”.

In the responsive readings she noted that we must also honor ourselves, each other and the holy work we do on behalf of women:

“We are the hope when choices must be made, the hope that women’s lives will be saved and that adequate accessible medical services will be available when needed. May we be ever vigilant, and ever faithful to protect all women’s lives ….”

Rev Bev’s open inclusivity connects this tour to my first film Radiance,  about the Light of Spirit in us all and in every faith.

The Unitarian Universalist Association recently re-affirmed the rights of all people and communities to sexual and reproductive autonomy and wholeness. In 1963, they became the first religion to make a public statement in affirmation of a woman’s right to choose contraception and abortion. In 2012, they expanded their advocacy on these issues with the election of reproductive justice as a major commitment, becoming the first religion to affirm reproductive justice (distinct from reproductive ‘choice’).

At the launch event, Rev Bev underscored the importance of taking a stand:

“We vow to reduce the risk for women by standing firm in our support and clear in our resolve that in our State and in our nation all women, regardless of income, status, race, ethnicity or age, will have their reproductive choices for their lives honored, protected, and supported.”

All the media on this tour is available online at www/CHOICEatRISK.org, free to download or embed. To learn more about pro-faith, pro-choice groups, visit The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Religious Institute.

Dorothy Fadiman has been producing award-winning documentary media with an emphasis on human rights and social justice since 1976. Honors include an Oscar nomination and an Emmy. Subjects range widely from threats to fair elections to progressive approaches in education to a woman’s remarkable healing from a spinal cord injury.

She is the author of PRODUCING with PASSION: Making Films that Heal the World. Films related to women’s reproductive rights include:

  • CHOICE: Then and Now: From the Back-Alleys to the Supreme Court & Beyond;
  • WOMAN by WOMAN: New Hope for the Villages of India and
  • FROM RISK to ACTION: Women and HIV/AIDS In Ethiopia.

Grace, Grit, and Paycheck Fairness – When?

The annual hooplah over Equal Pay Day is over. At gatherings around the country last month, politicians and activists alike decried the persistent 20% plus pay gap between men and women. Now what? Back to work with our heads down as usual?

Not if you’re Lilly Ledbetter.

The namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act—the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law while surrounded with the smart political optics of Ledbetter, bipartisan members of Congress, and other women leaders in red power suits—knows this:

  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation requires each woman to be persistently aware of what she’s worth and stand up for herself in the workplace.
  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation is a long haul process that requires changes to laws and policies so the system is fair to all.

The personal and the political are, as usual, intertwined.

Sure, negotiation expert  Victoria Pynchon can coach you on how to negotiate compensation more effectively for yourself. And when I speak and teach about my book No Excuses and its 9 Power Tools, I emphasize #3—use what you’ve got—to help women identify just how much power they have in their own hands, including the power to make changes in their paychecks.

And sure, as the Daily Muse pointed out, it’s good that the U.S. Department of Labor held an Equal Pay App Challenge seeking an app to educate people about the persistent problems of equal—or rather, unequal—pay.

But clearly these individual actions, as important as they are, constitute isolated drops in the deep blue ocean of needed systemic change.

Ledbetter’s new memoir, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, takes the personal and weaves it together with the political as she describes how she became a leader in the fight for equal pay.

The retired Goodyear Tire Company executive reveals how she discovered she’d been paid less systematically for 30 years because of her gender, began advocating for herself with her employer, and then realized she had a larger cause working for equal pay on behalf of all women through the courts and the legislative process.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was needed to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court decision that nullified Ledbetter’s previously successful legal challenge to Goodyear, thus making it harder for women—and all employees—to pursue federal claims of pay discrimination.

Yet as Ledbetter explains in this radio interview with The Women’s Eye, her namesake law simply put women back where they had been before she filed her lawsuit.

“Women are still lagging far behind,” she says. “You should expect and get a good day’s pay for a good day’s work.”

Although the 2007 law restores workers’ ability to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against in pay, it doesn’t solve the underlying difficulty for employees to know whether they’ve been treated unfairly to begin with.

That’s why Ledbetter’s now fighting for the next step—passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has been called the 21st century fix for 20th century laws. According to the American Association of University Women— which has been a leader in equal pay advocacy—the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much needed updated of the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act, is a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education and enforcement efforts…the bill would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

Washington beltway rumor has it that the Senate Democratic majority will bring up Paycheck Fairness in the next week or two, in an effort to solidify their party’s electoral advantage with women while further eroding women voters’ support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Blocked by Republicans in 2010 when it was last considered, the bill has been neither endorsed nor opposed by Romney.

AAUW’s Government Relations Director Lisa Maatz has concerns about that strategy: “It’s always good to see our priority issues in the national spotlight, and there now seems to be a growing call in the Senate to bring up the Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote. It would be useful for voters to know exactly where our lawmakers and candidates stand on this critical issue. But I must also say that I’m not sure it helps our cause if equal pay simply becomes partisan cannon fodder in this year’s elections, with little actual effort made to close the gap.”

I think Ledbetter would agree with me that forcing the issue is a leadership act and might be the only thing that can help the fair pay cause by making voters aware of where the candidates stand so they can vote accordingly.

Whatever happens, women and men who believe in fair pay will need plenty of Lilly Ledbetter’s courage, grace, and grit to prevail.

I’ll be tracking and continuing to write about Paycheck Fairness here, so stay tuned.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.