Researchers and Practitoners Jointly Address Policy Issues

Across the state and nation, women and families struggle to make ends meet, and what to do about this is the topic of many discussions. To add to this important conversation, CEW, along with Re:Gender (formerly known as the National Council for Research on Women), hosted the “Women and Economic Security: Changing Policy and Practice” confer- ence from May 14-16. This conference was one of the Michigan Meetings,
a series of annual interdisciplinary meetings on topics of national and international significance sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School.

The goals for this conference were to further discussions on how and why women are disproportionately living in or near poverty as compared to men, as well as to put forth policy recommendations aiming to increase women’s economic security in Michigan and beyond. Conference planners stressed this event was a working conference, and partici- pants would actively contribute to a policy change agenda. Over 150 attendees took this charge seriously, engaging in conversa- tion with national, regional and local experts on women and economic security.

Day 1 set the stage for conversation, focusing on women and the complexities of financial precarity. A research panel shared data illustrating women’s financial precarity. A policy panel provided valuable insight into how policy impacts women’s financial pre- carity and finally, a practice panel provided a nuanced understanding of women’s experi- ence informed by direct service work.

One of the highlights of the conference was the Day 1 opening keynote by Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of “Half The Sky”. In an enlightening and narrative talk, WuDunn shared her insights about women’s poverty and insecurity from a global perspective, including how a culture of gender inequality helped maintain poverty among men, women and children.

Day 2 focused on economic security and its relationship to employment. The day began with a morning panel providing an overview of women’s status in the workplace from a data and advocacy perspective. Barbara Gault, Executive Director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, provided timely data on women’s participation and reten- tion in the workforce. Anne Ladky, Director of Women Employed, a Chicago-based advocacy organization, and Saru Jayaraman, Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a national advocacy organization, charged the audience to speak out against gender discrimination in organizational and public policy. The morning sessions also included an artistic performance on work and the body, choreographed by Dr. Adesola Akinyele, Director of Dancing Strong. In the afternoon, participants attended one of six breakouts, in which practitioners and research- ers engaged in informative conversations about women’s employment-related issues, such as Re-Entry to the Workforce, Workforce Development and Child Care. Participants also developed preliminary policy recommendations addressing the barriers women face in becom- ing self-sufficient.

These recommendations formed the basis for Day 3 activities. A panel of Michigan policy- makers, facilitated by Gilda Jacobs, President & CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, responded to recommendations and offered in- sight into the barriers groups face in achieving progressive policy change in Michigan. Confer- ence participants proposed recommendations such as: increasing the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 for all workers, including tipped workers; creating a state paid family and medi- cal leave policy that provides broad employer coverage and expansive worker eligibility; reducing licensure requirements and the number of occupational restrictions imposed on felons in order to support their employment options; incentivizing state workforce training programs for well-paying, high-demand jobs in which women are underrepresented; providing a refundable state tax credit for the full cost of childcare; developing more realistic housing need and eligibility requirements that incor- porate local housing costs and self-sufficiency standards.

Another highlight was the rousing Day 3 closing keynote by Cindy Estrada, Vice President, UAW. She implored attendees to take what they learned to be advocates in any capacity, whether through organizing or spreading awareness.

Participants walked away noting increased awareness about women’s experiences of poverty and policy solutions to secure women’s economic security. Additionally, participants look forward to continuing work to achieve economic security for all women. The breakout groups developed working drafts of policy recommendations. As a next step, through CEW’s economic security initiative, the Michigan Partners Project, conference participants and other MPP members will refine recommendations
for the Michigan context. Future MPP activities include a June webinar, July meetings and a Fall 2014 policy advocacy training.

For more information about the MPP, please email michiganpartnersproject@umich.edu.

Thank you!
This Conference was one of the Michigan Meetings, a series of annual interdisciplinary meetings on topics of national and international significance sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School.
CEW thanks TIAA-CREF, our Premier Anniversary Sponsor, for their generous support of all of our Anniversary events.
We also thank our Event Contributing Sponsors Morgan Stanley and Ford Motor Company Fund, and the Ford Foundation for support of the Michigan Partners Project (MPP).
The keynote address by Sheryl WuDunn was fully supported by the Christobel Kotelawela Weer- asinghe Fund of the Center for the Education of Women. CEW Leadership Council Member Emerita Menakka Bailey created the fund in honor of her mother, Christobel Kotelawela Weerasinghe, a lifelong advocate of cross-cultural dialogue and advancement for women.