In his first executive order after taking office, IL Gov. George Ryan established a Commission on the Status of Women, and appointed Executive Director Anne Ladky as one of 25 members. The group’s central task was to develop and encourage solutions to women’s economic concerns.
Building on our 1997 publication, Women’s Guide to Technical Careers, WE launched the Tech-Start program in 1998, which worked with community colleges to enable more women to explore technical occupations and improve math, mechanical, and spatial skills in preparation for careers in higher-wage technical fields.
In 1997, Women Employed received the prestigious Chicago Spirit Award from the Sara Lee Foundation. The $50,000 award recognized non-profit organizations who “demonstrate innovative leadership in improving life for disadvantaged people in Chicago,” and allowed us to build on our work to help low-wage women access training to move into better careers.
In 1996, WE was honored to have Bella Abzug keynote our luncheon. Nicknamed “Battling Bella,” Abzug joined Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan in founding the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971 and led President Carter’s commission on women. She was a member of NY’s House of Representatives from 1971-1977. Upon her election she declared, “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives."
Throughout the 1990s, WE’s Career Links program brought together girls from Chicago's low-income communities with professional women who provided career-related guidance and support. In 1995, the program introduced 75 girls to a wide range of non-traditional careers, offering one-on-one sessions with women in occupations such as railroad engineer, biochemist, diesel mechanic, police officer, and more. Over the years, the program helped hundreds go on to college and good careers.
In 1994, many employers had no policies in place to prevent sexual harassment or respond when it happened. That year, Women Employed published research showing the pervasiveness of the problem and launched a training project, Working Partnerships, to help companies draft anti-harassment policies and train their employees.
Women Employed played an integral role in winning passage of the Family Medical Leave Act, which was signed in 1993. It was a historic and groundbreaking victory for working parents and their families. For the first time, workers could take a leave of absence for the birth of a child, for medical reasons, or to care for a sick family member without fear of losing their jobs.
In 1992, Women Employed launched the Action Network (then called WE Act) to encourage WE supporters to act on legislative issues that affect women. Today, the Action Network has grown to over 4,000 members, and those members have sent tens of thousands of messages to state and federal officials via letter, email, and telephone, urging them to make the right choices on issues that matter, and resulting in huge victories like the passage of FMLA and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, increased funds for financial aid, and much more.
In 1991, Keys to Success, a program that served displaced homemakers, helped more than 100 women enter the workforce. The program offered pre-employment training and placement for adult women who had never before been in the workforce. Participants received career information, went on worksite visits, and learned about training programs. WE also partnered with employers to identify appropriate entry-level opportunities for women with no prior work experience.
In 1990, WE gathered research on the impact of discrimination on women and subsequently presented it to Congress, leading to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The bill was a response to a number of Supreme Court decisions that limited the rights of workers who sued their employers for discrimination.