Q + A, with the American Association of University Women

The American Association of University Woman (AAUW) is an organization we proudly support so we thought it'd be nice to give a more thorough introduction. Many thanks to Kim Churches for taking the time to address each, and everyone, of our questions. With no further adieu... 

Q) Kindly introduce yourself to our readers and share what your role is at the American Association of University Women.
A) My name is Kim Churches and I am the chief executive officer for the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Q) Please share what the AAUW is and touch on the mission.
A) AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. We are the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Since our founding over 135 years ago, AAUW members have taken action on some of the fundamental issues facing women and girls.

Q) Aside from running The Bee & The Fox, I also work as a Registered Nurse. Much of the protocols that we follow in the hospital are derived from evidence based research. If there was one thing I took away from nursing school, it was the value in evidence based research. Can you discuss the role of research within your organization?
A) Research serves as the foundation for AAUW’s proposed solutions, programming and advocacy. At our initial founding, AAUW members actually conducted primary research to disprove a Harvard report that said education damages women’s fertility. It’s that commitment to informed fact that still drives AAUW to this day.

Q) Who conducts the research?
A) AAUW has our own research department who identify research areas of interest to AAUW’s mission and to our goal of advancing equity. One of our premier reports, the Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, utilizes Census data to take a deeper look at the gender and racial pay gap in order to better understand its reach and impact on women of different backgrounds.

Q) How does the research transition into action? 
A) Upon analysis of the data, AAUW’s programming and advocacy is based on facts first – that’s what makes us a trusted source for issues impacting women and girls. By expertly studying and identifying the problems facing women and girls, we can propose and implement comprehensive solutions.

Q) Our nation is arguably more divisive today that it's ever been before. An echo chamber, for those who have not heard of this phrase, is where like-minded individuals find each other and we end up surrounded only by individuals who agree with the same views. The issue being that no outside views are ever presented, prompting the closing of minds in lieu of debates with those who perhaps have a different perspective. I bring this up because some may see your organization as an 'unsubstantiated victim minded feminist organization' simply based on the fact you support women in what is a divisive time. This prompts two questions: how do you reach those who may have preconceived notions of your organization and how do you respond to judgements of this nature?
A) First and foremost, AAUW values our status as a nonpartisan organization that reaches out to both sides of the aisle to work on commonsense solutions to advancing equity. We feel gender equity isn’t and shouldn’t be a partisan issue, it’s really common sense and is tied to American values whether you live in a red, blue or purple part of the country. Access to education and financial security are not strictly women’s issues. Gender inequities impact our families, our society, our workplaces, our lawmaking, and our nation’s economy. Everyone can agree with the need for there to be a level playing field for all and that everyone have equal access to opportunities in education and the workplace.

Q) In 2016, economic data reported women make 79 cents to a male in a similar or same position.  More attention is being given to wage gap, business have seen public backlash and legal ramifications when gender inequality within an organization comes into view.  What steps have proven to be the most effective for individuals to take with an employer when there is a discrepancy in wage/representation/inclusion?
A) Actually women working full time on average typically make 80 cents compared to all men working full time and that gap gets even wider for Black and Native women, Latinas, mothers, and older women. I always say sunshine is the best disinfectant when it comes to highlighting inequities (not just pay inequities) in the workplace and society as a whole. People care about equal pay and companies along with lawmakers should listen to them and take necessary actions.

It is important to note that every person’s experience is different. Different locations, different industries, different workplace policies. That’s why the first thing I tell every employee is to know your rights at work. That means not only knowing your rights under federal laws like the Equal Pay Act and Title VII as well as your state equity laws (you can find an amazing state equal pay law breakdown on AAUW’s website) but also knowing the internal policies at your place of work. You need to know if you can even openly discuss your salary without fear of retaliation. It seems arcane but it is a real issue in certain states and companies (just look at the story of Lily Ledbetter).

I also encourage women to check out AAUW’s Work Smart salary negotiation workshops which teach women valuable skills to expertly negotiate their salary and benefits which can then bleed over to addressing other workplace discrepancies as well. We aim to train 10 million women by 2022 to negotiate their salaries. We are calling on mayors and governors across the country to join us and bring salary negotiation trainings to their communities and we’ll be launching an online tool in Fall 2018 which will be available in English and Spanish so women can have the tools necessary in the fight for gender equity in the workplace.. To date, AAUW’s Work Smart has already partnered with BostonTempeSan FranciscoWashington, D.C., Long Beach, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide workshops in those communities. 

Q) The discussion of women in the workplace often fails to address demands that derail women professionally, ie- child care, perceived bias, lack of continuing education etc- and the potential negative impact, economically and socially. Women who chose to stay home with children face new challenges as they try to return to the workplace. A barrier for women is perception bias- "will she be able to handle children and a career", "this person will need to take too much time off". The same considerations don't apply to men when seeking employment. What statistical changes has the AAWU seen regarding women returning to professional or vocational role outside the home? Maternity leave is so short in America and child care so expensive, plus women feel like there is a penalty for taking time off professionally to have children- do you see companies or more emphasis on laws protecting women's from potential job insecurity and negative impact on their careers?

 A) Women definitely see a penalty when they enter motherhood whereas we see dads get a boost. This is why it is vital that we pass equitable workplace policies including paid parental leave, paid sick days, and child care as well as affordable access to quality health care (and European and Nordic countries are passing these laws with great effect for families and their economies).

We’ve seen more and more companies announcing family friendly policies but more must be done. A woman shouldn’t have to win the boss or geography lottery in order to get equal pay and work life balance. Congress has two good bills that would directly help working families. The FAMILY Act builds on the success of the Family and Medical Leave Act by creating a national paid family and medical leave insurance program. The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn seven paid sick days each year and would grant caregivers time to care for ill family members. No parent should have to choose between their health or that of a loved one and their job.

Q) Reproductive freedom is always highly charged issue- states are shutting women's clinics at alarming rates, lack of access to healthcare due to rising costs, stricter laws regarding individual choice are being passed.  Research has shown it is directly tied to a women's economic security. As the cost of healthcare and childcare increase, it is important women have control over their own reproductive status. Can you talk about the correlation to lack of reproductive choice and the wage gap as it exists for women today?

A) Control over one’s reproductive life is part and parcel to achieving economic autonomy; without reproductive choice, women cannot attain equal pay or opportunity in the workforce.

Lack of access to a full range of reproductive health services is one factor that contributes to the gender pay gap. Research suggests that the widespread availability and use of birth control pills in the 1980s and 1990s was partially responsible for narrowing the pay gap to where it is today.

Women and girls who have access to reproductive health services are in a better position to tackle one element that leads to the gender pay gap. Research indicates that expanding access to reproductive services and information increases the prospect of economic security in adulthood for women. On the other hand, women who are denied abortions are more likely to receive public assistance, more likely to have an income below the federal poverty level, and less likely to be working full time.

Q) The AAUW has provided more than $100 million in fellowships and grants to more than 12,000 women and nonprofit organizations in the United States and around the world. That's incredible. Tell us more. 
A) AAUW is one of the world’s leading supporters of graduate women’s education, having awarded more than $100 million in fellowships, grants, and awards to 12,000 women and projects from more than 140 countries since 1888. We’ve actually provided more than $3.7 million in funding in the 2017-18 academic year alone. Our fellows and grantees have contributed to and continue to impact so much of the world at large. This year we celebrate 100 years of our international fellowships which have been awarded to more than 3,600 women from more than 145 nations. We’re proud to provide the critical resource necessary for them to excel and break barriers in their chosen fields

Q) Ursula Burns, the first black woman to run a Fortune 500 company (Xerox), says, "For women and women of color, if you walk into a STEM environment, you will be the minority in the room. Everyone has their eye on your work. Instead of your differences becoming a burden, it should be an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself.. From that perspective", she says, "difference is generally better". The AAUW has been a constant supporter of getting girls into the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM). Can you discuss how the AAUW facilitates getting girls and women into these high-demand fields.

A) The STEM fields are rapidly becoming the most in-demand and lucrative in the world yet at almost every step of the STEM education path we see women and girls walk away. By middle school many girls are ambivalent toward these fields, and by the end of high school fewer girls than boys plan to pursue STEM studies in college. Women who do graduate with a STEM degree enter a workforce that is historically unfriendly to them. And from there stereotypes, gender bias, and the hostile climate of academic departments and workplaces continue to block women’s participation and advancement.

It’s because of these barriers women face in STEM fields that AAUW devotes a major part of our focus to not only increasing the number of women in underrepresented fields like STEM but also addressing the bias and discrimination they face once in their education and careers. We focus on conducting in depth research in looking at the STEM gender gap while identifying ways to close it. We also call for local and federal action to support women in STEM and for employers to take the extra step toward hiring more women and ensuring an equitable work place for all. We also provide hands on resources that aim to inspire and teach middle school girls in STEM along with supporting graduate women pursuing STEM careers through educational funding.

Q) With the growth of the #metoo movement, have you had an influx of women reaching out for advice, assistance, or education. Can you talk about how you support these women? 

A) The #meToo movement was the continuance of something we’ve seen for all our history and that is the power of women’s voices to create lasting change – rising together. We have seen the importance of women raising their voices on important issues like discrimination in the workplace and in education and now more than ever it is important we listen to them and take necessary actions. AAUW has concentrated on supporting women who utilize the legal system to seek justice and change when it comes to sex discrimination through our Legal Advocacy Fund. We provide vital case support on important cases that can range from unequal pay, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and violations of Title IX. In fact, one of our plaintiffs was just in the news concerning a victory in her quest for equal pay and the use of salary history to justify unequal pay practices. I encourage everyone to learn more about Aileen Rizo’s story and its importance in the fight for fair pay.

The existence of harassment and discrimination in the workplace is about power, who has it and who doesn’t. One thing we’ve gathered from the #MeToo movement is that women still face a vast leadership gap in the workplace. Women are simply absent from positions of leadership in the business, education, and political sectors. AAUW’s own research has looked at the causes of women’s underrepresentation and also provides suggestions of what we can do to change the status quo including ensuring equal pay practices and equitable workplace culture through fair policies as well as passing legislation and regulations that would promote women leaders through pay equity, family support, and salary transparency.

The Me Too movement further stresses the importance of training women to negotiate their salary and benefits which is another reason we are looking to expand the program so more women can reap its benefits. Bias, harassment, and discrimination directly harm women’s financial security. It can lead to career stagnation, barriers to opportunities, or women leaving the career field altogether. At AAUW, we’re not only focused on closing the gender pay gap but the gender leadership gap as well and we’re doing that by listening to, supporting, and empowering women.

Q) Regarding education, the AAWU has long been a supporter of Title IX ( a law which states, in part "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any educational program federally funds). With the rising cost of higher education, many female and minority students will be at an even greater disadvantage due to financial stresses. How should individuals advocate for transparency and equal consideration on campuses?

A) As with the workplace, know your rights on campus under Title IX. Next step is to identify the Title IX coordinator on your campus (you can use our locator tool to find yours). All K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions that receive federal funds must have at least one employee in charge of making sure the school complies with and carriers out their responsibilities under Title IX. These coordinators ensure that all people impacted by sex discrimination in schools (including students, parents, and employees) are aware of their legal rights.

Some of the most egregious Title IX violations occur when either a school fails to have a Title IX coordinator or that person does not fully understand their roles and responsibilities under the law. That’s why AAUW has been carrying out a project where we are delivering vital Title IX resources from the U.S. Department of Education to Title IX coordinators to make sure they know the full scope of their job.

In addition to mediation and legislation we have witnessed in the #metoo movement, AAUW is committed to education and training to ensure the cultures of workplaces where sexism and harassment has lived for far too long in every industry and every geography. That means working with employees and employers on how to make workplaces equitable for everyone. No one should have to fear losing their paycheck by speaking up against harassment in the workplace.

Q) The AAWU has a 136 yr history of advocating for public policy supporting women's issues and civil rights. The last two years women have come out to vote in historically high numbers. More women are running in local, state, and federal level elections than ever before. Given the current political climate and prospect of higher representation in government, there is opportunity to change public policy for the better. Do you see positive change and protections being put in place long term now that there is momentum (ie common enemy) and changing congress.

 A) Seeing story after story of the record number of women running for office thrills me! It’s 2018, women are half the population and only 20 percent of Congress and only 25 percent of state legislatures. It’s a far cry from equal representation. At AAUW, every election we always say “your vote is your voice, make it heard” and it’s truer now more than ever. Elections matter and it’s important that eligible voters know where candidates stand on issues important to them. Elections give us as voters the opportunity to hold lawmakers accountable for their actions—or inactions—on issues that we feel are important. Elected officials also need to acknowledge the issues and realize voters will hold their feet to the fire on Election Day and beyond. And, leadership matters – seeing more women at the federal level in elected or appointed office, state and local communities matters! We need to see women represented equally in every part of our society.

Q) Community involvement and local political involvement at a grassroots level has turned into a game changer for the next election cycle. Educational funding and immigrant rights are two of the most important issues in regards to federal legislative change. What are specific bills in congress a voter should be aware of - ie- maternity leave changes, programs for women and children, DACA reversal?

 A) Voters should be aware of their federal, state, and local lawmakers’ positions on issues important to women and families like equal pay, paid leave, paid sick days, child care, and access to education. Groups like AAUW participate in voter education as well as GOTV events in order to inform voters of the issues at stake when they cast their ballot. The AAUW Action Fund releases a Congressional Voting Record for members of Congress and our local branch members put together candidate forums where local voters can learn more about the candidates running. I encourage everyone to take the time to see where candidates running for every level of government stand and remember that your vote is your voice, make it heard.

Q) Kindly provide a link where those interested in becoming a member of your organization can go to sign up. And perhaps touch on what it entails to be a member. 

A) AAUW members have been on the frontlines in the fight for gender equity for over 135 years. I encourage people to visit the AAUW website www.aauw.org to see how they can get involved and the different types of membership we offer and how whether you’re a student, young professional, mid-career, or retired, AAUW can help you get involved on issues that are important to you. AAUW is a community standing 170,000 strong with branches in all 50 states and that community makes our powerful voice even louder on critical issues affecting women and girls. AAUW members are constantly working at the local, state, and federal levels to advance equity through advocacy and programming. Members get exclusive access to AAUW tools, resources, and support in order to better inform their advocacy and to help them make a greater impact in their communities.

Previous Article Next Article