Illinois Nonprofit Has Continuously Driven Major Advances for Working Women Over Five Decades
CHICAGO: Women Employed (WE), a nonprofit organization that has relentlessly pursues equity for women in the workforce by shaping policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces, proudly celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. Since its founding in 1973, the Chicago-based organization has been at the forefront of nearly every major advancement for working women in the U.S.
In February 1973, when a small group of women gathered to fight discrimination against working women and improve working conditions in downtown Chicago, they could not have envisioned the role Women Employed would play in driving change. Throughout its 50 years, WE has continuously smashed the status quo for working women.
Women Employed’s accomplishments include helping draft the rules defining sexual harassment as illegal sex discrimination and helping pass laws strengthening and expanding protections against harassment; passing laws against pregnancy discrimination; winning fair pay legislation including the Illinois Equal Pay Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and Illinois’ recent No Salary History Law; successfully advocating for the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Family and Medical Leave Act; developing career pathways programs to attach more adult students to family-supporting careers; securing hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid for low-income students; winning multiple minimum wage increases; and so much more.
Most recently, WE celebrated a victory decades in the making, playing an instrumental role in winning passage of the Paid Leave for All Workers Act in Illinois, a bill that passed in January and will provide paid time off to roughly 1.5 million working people across the state. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.
And their work is far from over. Women Employed continues to seek innovative ways to build economic freedom for women. Under their current strategic plan, WE is working to ensure the appropriate recognition and compensation of the essential work done by women ; radically shift the distribution of resources; and forge pathways to economic security, leadership, and wealth. They recently launched two new programs: a Women’s Entrepreneurship Hub (WE Hub)—a free online tool that aims to remove barriers to business ownership for women in Illinois—especially Black and Latina/x women who face greater barriers; and WE Consulting to aid employers in fostering an inclusive culture of equity at the intersection of gender and race. They are working to close racial achievement gaps in higher education, to inform thousands of Illinois women about their equal pay rights, to end the subminimum wage for tipped workers; to win longer-term paid family and medical leave, and much more.
“Throughout our five decades, Women Employed has been steadfast in our mission to improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity,” said Women Employed’s President and CEO, Cherita Ellens. “When women do better, our society as a whole benefits. But the advancement to parity is still lagging—especially for Black and Latina/x women. So we are seeking new and innovative ways to smash the status quo, and as we celebrate 50, we are energized to continue driving change for all women.”
To commemorate 50 years of blazing trails, rewriting laws, defying rules, and breaking barriers, Women Employed will honor individuals and organizations who have opened doors, crashed ceilings, and created fundamental, systemic change on May 25th at their signature annual fundraiser, The Working Lunch. They have announced a call for nominations, inviting members of the public to nominate potential honorees who have a demonstrated commitment to raising the floor and impact at the intersection of race and gender.
Women Employed believes that to advance economic equity for all women, they must focus on women in low or unpaid roles, and Black and Latina/x women. Women Employed will continue to break down barriers, open more doors, and provide all women with support to grow their economic power, benefitting families, communities, and society.
You can learn more about Women Employed’s history, their vision, and ways you can get involved at https://womenemployed.org/celebrating50.
About: For 50 years, Women Employed (WE) has been opening doors, breaking barriers, and expanding opportunities for women. Our mission is to increase the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity, and we do that by effecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces so that all women, families, and communities can thrive. For more information, visit https://womenemployed.org, or follow Women Employed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.