Women Employed Releases Women’s Economic Power Agenda Report

April 8th, 2024

Chicago – Women Employed, which has been creating fundamental, systemic change for working women for over 50 years, today released findings from the Women’s Economic Power Agenda (WEPA) Summit co-convened by Women Employed and 11 planning partners in late 2023, with Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, and 49 organizations from across the state, as well as working women with firsthand experience of the issues being discussed.

The summit was created to pull together the many stakeholders working to improve economic equity for women into one space to strengthen and accelerate the efforts to advance women’s economic power. Discussions at the summit focused on addressing the barriers to economic equity working women in Illinois continue to encounter, including a persistent wage gap and compounding effects of racism and sexism.

“We envision an Illinois in which women, their families, and their communities are both able to contribute to and benefit from economic growth and abundance, building financial power that enables agency over their lives and dismantles the gender and racial inequities built into our society,” said Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed. “We thank the many partners and participants who came together for this important discussion.”

The resulting summit report provides recommendations in the areas of caregiving, workers’ rights and protections, language access, wages and public benefits, women’s entrepreneurship, consumer protection and financial education, as well as public and private funding.

Key areas of recommendation from the summit report include:

  • Caregiving supports are vital to allow women to care for their families while maintaining a job, accessing education and training opportunities, starting a business, or getting compensated for uncovered caregiving expenses. Women have significant caregiving responsibilities, often caring for children, parents, grandparents, and/or extended family, in addition to working outside the home. Flexible work schedules, paid leave, and investment in child care infrastructure and livable wages for providers are critical.
  • Labor laws and economic policies that support and protect working women are only as good as their implementation and enforcement, and only when people know their rights. Enforcement agencies and employers must ensure laws are upheld and implemented, legislators must close loopholes and strengthen protections, and workers must be informed of their rights.
  • A lack of language access is currently a barrier for many women – immigrant women in particular – who need to enroll in education and training, participate in programs, understand their employment rights, get quality healthcare, or start a business. Language access is also a key component to ensuring safety and security for historically marginalized groups seeking services, such as domestic violence survivors.
  • We must raise wages and improve public benefits. The minimum wage is not enough to lift workers out of poverty and allow them to support their families, and subminimum wages in industries dominated by women leave those workers vulnerable. Many public benefits have overly restrictive eligibility criteria, causing families to teeter at the benefits cliff.
  • Entrepreneurship is a proven pathway to building economic power, and can provide women with the flexibility for caregiving and the independence to build wealth outside of a typical 9 to 5 job. However, women entrepreneurs, particularly Black and Latina/x small business owners,
    face significant barriers due to limited access to financial and social capital, inaccessible resources that are difficult to navigate, stereotypes about who can be an “entrepreneur.”
  • Women’s economic power also depends on consumer protections and financial education that prevent women from predatory loan practices or taking on debt that keeps them from building wealth. We also need to create the conditions that allow all workers to save for retirement regardless of the kind of job they have or the company they work for.
  • Funders, both public and private, are key stakeholders for advancing the Women’s Economic Power Agenda whether it be for structural investments in child care and higher education, or direct support services to workers and families. Existing funding systems and funder relationships need to be better designed to center the needs of low-paid working women. Current funding structures are overly burdensome and do not allow advocates to effectively design and deliver appropriate programs.

Specific recommendations in each of the areas outlined above are detailed in the report.

The WEPA Summit was co-convened by Alternatives, Inc.; Caring Across Generations; Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI); Equality Illinois; Illinois Partners for Human Service; Mujeres Latinas en Acción; Raise the Floor Alliance; SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri & Kansas; Shriver Center on Poverty Law; The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence; Women Employed; and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

“The WEPA Summit was unique, because it brought together people with lived experience and professional expertise to explore challenges and opportunities to support women and put more money directly in their pockets,” said Adela Carlin, Senior Director of Training and Community Partnerships at Illinois Partners for Human Service. “The priorities in this report reflect conversations at the Summit on dismantling systemic barriers, supporting worker-led movements, and changing laws, policies, practices, and perceptions about worker and community needs.”

“The barriers keeping women from economic equity are complex, and they cut across sectors,” said Claudia Alcantara, Director of Empresarias del Futuro Program at Mujeres Latinas en Acción. “That’s why it was so important to convene this group of organizations and workers representing different industries, identities, demographics, and issue areas. We are proud to be a WEPA planning partner, and we look forward to the work ahead to build the economic power of women in Illinois.”

The WEPA Summit and the development of the Women’s Economic Power Agenda report was generously funded by a grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co., who also supports Women Employed’s work to build and improve career pathways so that more low-paid women and people of color can gain credentials and training needed to move into family-supporting careers.

A link to the full Women’s Economic Power Agenda report can be found here.


About Women Employed
Since 1973, Women Employed has worked to improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity by affecting 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 womenemployed.org or follow @WomenEmployed on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Together, we will ensure more women, families, and communities can build their economic power and thrive.

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