Summer Leaders 2015: The Blog!

Each summer, WE invites eight interns to join our Summer Leadership Program, which gives them experience in social justice organizing, leadership training, and front-line research, as well as a first-hand awareness of the problems facing low-wage workers. Last summer, each of our leaders took a turn blogging about their experiences.

Looking Back and Looking Forward - August 10, 2015

Jishava Patelby Jishava Patel, who is interested in community organizing and advocacy work and is inspired by Solange Knowles.
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Looking back, I laugh at the number of times people asked me what the difference is between being a “Summer Leader” and being an intern. My initial responses were always that there was no difference, but now I realize how wrong that was. The Women Employed Summer Leadership Program was really a testament to leadership building in ways that not every internship is.

One of the recurring themes this week and throughout has been seeing social changemaking as a way to truly “invest in the future” of women, younger generations, society-at-large. By improving the lives and employment or educational opportunities of women and youth through their policy advocacy work, Women Employed invests in the future by putting on the SLP and developing a new cohort of changemakers every summer.

As I write this, thinking about the last eight weeks with Women Employed and the Summer Leadership Program, it's with an aura of melancholy. The obvious sadness being that we are all finished with this internship. Yet I know that I am walking away from this experience with so much more than I ever thought I could have gained from an internship. I was given numerous opportunities to broaden my network, my understandings of the nonprofit sector, and my own capabilities.

Our projects, especially the unstable scheduling and financial aid projects, never felt as though they were limited to just our time at the organization. The outcomes we delivered as Summer Leaders have real organizational and political value, and that impression was never lost upon us. Being given that kind of responsibility, along with the freedom to make mistakes and to try new approaches, pushed me to realize what strengths I already had and be confident in owning my potential. But I can’t give WE all the credit! This internship would not have been a fraction of what it was without my cohort of powerful Summer Leaders: the most supportive, encouraging, critical, and fired up group of ladies I could ask for. Thank you for everything.

Summer Leaders class of 2015

Listening as a Source of Knowledge and Empowerment - August 3, 2015

Chloe Mitchellby Chloe Mitchell, a passionate believer in education as a key solution to many of our social issues.
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Listening as a Source of Knowledge and EmpowermentThe art of listening actively sometimes goes unnoticed as an important source of knowledge. For me, receiving advice and listening to the stories and experiences of so many incredibly successful, smart, and talented women has been the most motivating and inspiring part of this internship program.

Throughout the program we were given the opportunity to hear from many different women in various professions―from a community organizer to a civil rights lawyer―who share one important commonality: a voice they use to advocate for the equal rights of all people. The ability to visualize these women using their voice to create change and improvements within our society is almost an out of body experience of empowerment.

In working with the law firm Stowell & Friedman, we were also given the unique opportunity to see advocacy through the eyes of the law, in contrast to the surveys and in-depth interviews we had been working on, where we heard the real life stories and experiences of women. We went to Stowell & Friedman's office and spoke with one of the founding partners, Linda Friedman, who gave us an overview of different race and gender discrimination cases, along with the work she has done to combat these issues in our society through use of the law. She even went above and beyond and invited us to come to court with her to see what it is like to advocate in court for the rights of people. 

This opportunity allowed me to realize that advocacy can come in many different forms. It showed me that using your voice to advocate is a powerful thing and that every and any voice can be an incredibly enriching source of power. 

Working for Women Employed has been a great source of motivation and empowerment. It has taught me that your own voice can become even stronger and more powerful after LISTENING to the voices of others. 

When given the opportunity to learn, I encourage you all to actively listen and take it all in. You never know when that information can prove helpful!

Finding Passion for a Mission - July 27, 2015

Madison Landsby Madison Lands, who believes it's a fundamental right for women to have access to stable jobs, and who is a Law & Order SVU superfan. 
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When I accepted my part with the Summer Leadership Program (SLP), I had no idea what to expect from the 8 weeks I would spend at Women Employed. During my interview, I heard about projects previous summer leaders had undertaken, but waited eagerly for the program to start to find out into what issues we would delve and the projects we would be tackling.

So on our first day at Women Employed, when I learned that we would be going out onto the streets of downtown Chicago, seeking out workers, and approaching them with a street survey, I was surprised. I’m not extroverted, and the idea of talking to strangers made me anxious. But when the day came, I took to the streets with my co-interns and ended up learning more in a couple of afternoons than I had expected. This unstable scheduling research has occupied most of our days at Women Employed, but it is certainly not the extent of the Summer Leadership Program.

One of my favorite parts of the SLP is our weekly reading discussions. As an English major, I love delving into an essay, especially those about women’s issues. Each week, one leader chooses her readings and leads the discussion. Over the summer we have read bell hooks, looked at a photo essay about global craftswomen, and discussed the unreality of working one’s way through college.

  Summer Leadership Program interns spend time at Stowell & Friedman Law Firm, learning about the intersection of law and gender issues.

Summer Leaders spend time at law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd., learning about the intersection of law and gender issues.

We have also been lucky to meet women working in the non-profit sector in Chicago. These so called “career explorations” have shown us the different ways we can apply our individual aptitudes and interests to pursue a career in non-profits. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet lawyers from Stowell & Friedman, a law firm dedicated to defending civil rights in the workplace. Personally, these opportunities have shown me the enthusiasm these women feel for their jobs. That passion is something that is often missing in other workplaces.

Finally, we have had the chance to get to know the team here at Women Employed. They have given “Non-Profit 101” presentations, where we’ve learned skills like messaging, advocacy, and financials. They have also been generous enough to hold office hours, where we can come in and ask them (almost) anything about their lives and jobs.

That certainly is not the extent of the SLP. We’re working on more projects, doing research, and we’ve received numerous trainings and played innumerable icebreakers. Overall, what I’ve gained from the SLP is a set of new friends and new experiences, and a renewed understanding that people can work together to make effective change. 

Advocating for Advocacy - July 20, 2015

Sruthi Rao

by Sruthi Rao, the daughter of a hardworking immigrant mother who can cross her eyes for impressive lengths of time.
Learn more about Sruthi »

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for what is conventionally known in my family as “changing the world.” My younger self was caught up in the grandeur of this notion—as a child of immigrants who worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for their children, I wanted to pay it forward and dedicate myself to making other people’s lives better.

I think one of the most difficult obstacles in social justice and advocacy is the disillusionment that accompanies campaigning for a cause. In the face of mainstream opposition, of a stagnated legislative process, of simple public apathy, it becomes tough to maintain a positive attitude. And as I have grown older and learned more about the world we live in, I have struggled with this.

But as a Summer Leader at Women Employed, I have learned that this is an organization that does not fall into the disillusionment trap—and that advocacy is worth advocating for.

As a team of interns, we have worked on a number of projects in the last few weeks. These include researching financial aid programs in the state, discussing issues pertaining to working women, and learning about community organizing and social justice. But the largest of our projects has been interviewing women working in the retail sectors about their schedules and how the scheduling practices negatively impact their lives.

These opportunities have given me the chance to directly engage with passionate, hard-working women who are committed to supporting and encouraging the work and success of others, and most importantly, convinced me that advocacy is a cause in itself. My time at Women Employed has shown me that people power is a force worth reckoning with, and that there are a number of strong, like-minded individuals who are dedicated to changing the world—my fellow interns are the first I think of!

Thus, this summer at Women Employed gives me hope for the future—not only for my own career, but also for the future of advocacy. We can change the world, as long as we remember that we are not alone. 

Careers for Justice - July 13, 2015

Shajaya Martinez

by Shajaya Martinez, who once worked at Express and is excited to be studying abroad in Buenos Aires this spring.
Learn more about Shajaya »


Rachel Ramirez, Community Organizer at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, talking to the Summer Leaders

When people find out I am a college student, they ask me two vital questions:

What is your major?

What are do you want to do after college?

I have given a myriad of answers, depending where I was in life at the time. But now that I will be entering my junior year of college, people expect thoughtful answers. It helps that I have contemplated these questions and have the next two years of my life planned out by the minute. When I convey to people that my major is sociology, most are not impressed, but confused. I get questions like, “What is sociology?” “What career field does that fit?" or an “I wish you good luck” side-eye. And it gets interesting when I tell people I may like to work in union labor, immigration law, public policy, community organizing, or non-profits. This is where people say, “Well, you know it’s hard to find a job,” “Those fields don’t pay much,” or “It’s hard to pay for law school.”

I'm a first generation Latina, and no one in my family came home from work and talked about how much they loved their job. To my family, a job was just a source of income. Consequently, when I began my freshman year at DePauw I made it my purpose to find my passions and only hope I could make a living. But this goal only seemed unreachable the more I thought about it.

Until I began my internship at Women Employed. Women Employed has given its summer leaders the opportunity to meet professional women who are passionate about their jobs. It is refreshing to find that the majority of these women didn’t really know where they would end up. Seeing this has reassured me that I too can find my niche. These last four weeks, we have meet a former union labor organizer, a community organizer, a financial and accounting consultant, a marketer, and a fundraiser. One speaker, Rachel Ramirez, is a community organizer who works at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. It was amazing to see that she also believes in the autonomy of those affected by inequalities. I loved when she told us that the people she works with are the ones who make decisions and are part of negotiations. This principle was an ideal I learned in Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and it was astonishing to know Rachael Ramirez is able to implement it in her career. The women I have met have given great advice and inspired me to nurture my passions and interests. 

The Illusion of the Pursuit of Happiness - July 6, 2015

Susan Ismail

by Susan Ismail, a returning adult student and mother of four who is also a henna artist and face painter.
Learn more about Susan »


Senior Program Manager Chris Warden speaks with the Summer Leaders about higher education policies

For many, the pursuit of happiness is a luxury they can’t afford to think about. Today’s retail and food industry workers have been unfairly burdened with trying to manage their personal responsibilities and make enough money to sustain themselves in an industry that is self-serving. More than not, workers are asked to be available for many different shifts, and their hours may vary drastically from week to week. Often they are required to be on-call, making daycare scheduling nearly impossible.  With skyrocketing rents, utilities bills, daycare costs, and rising cost of food, many workers deal with an extraordinary amount of stress and fear of homelessness. The job market over the years has drastically changed for the worse, increasingly putting pressure on the employee to give more and do more for less. It is time we ask ourselves, when did we as a nation forget the very people who are a large part of the fabric of society?  When did we become a number? When did “we the people” no longer matter?

This summer I have the opportunity to work as a WE Summer Leader on some of the issues I am so passionate about. This week we spoke with service workers in the food and retail industries to hear first-hand the hardships they face trying to juggle an unstable schedule with not enough hours a week to meet their financial responsibilities. Many are unable to pursue a higher education due to their schedules, which in turn makes them feel stuck in a situation they can see no end to.

As a single mom of four and a returning adult student, I myself have faced many of these same challenges. It’s exhilarating to know that these working conditions are not going unnoticed and that maybe I can play a small part in advocating on behalf of other women. I want other women to feel hope in a brighter future, one in which we do matter, our families matter, and that happiness is attainable.

Naming the Normalized: Unstable Work Schedules - June 29, 2015

Maya Arcilla

by Maya Arcilla, whose passion is advocating for women, migrants, LGBTQ folks, and youth—when she's not playing the ukulele.
Learn more about Maya »


Life with an Unstable Schedule
Imagine that:

  Your work schedule changes from week to week or even day to day.
  You only get 2-3 days notice of your work schedule.
  You are scheduled to work 30 hours one week and 6 hours the next.
  Some days you pay for child care and travel across the city, only to be sent home without pay.

As the daughter of a retail worker, the granddaughter of a domestic worker, and a former retail worker myself, the issue of unstable working schedules is one that is close to my heart. Before hearing this term at Women Employed, unstable and unpredictable working schedules were something I assumed were simply a “normal” part of the job. Unstable and unpredictable scheduling is a term to describe the issues many lower-wage workers face when their hours shift constantly week to week, they lose hours and pay against their will, or they are involuntarily scheduled part time. The more I read about this problem, the more I realized that unstable and unpredictable scheduling infringed upon women’s rights in the workplace.

My own family’s lived experiences demonstrated this fact. Growing up, I remember my mother took me to work when she closed at the retail store she worked at because she could never plan for a babysitter. Without adequate notice of her hours, she decided the only way to take care of the family was to bring me along with her. As a domestic worker, my grandmother had to leave our family for weeks to stay in her workplace. She was expected to work day in and out, while some weeks she did not work at all. Both my grandmother and my mother’s experience illustrate the challenges that lower-wage workers face in budgeting, personal health, and supporting a family.

However, the issue of unstable and unpredictable scheduling is not a hopeless one. There is power in naming this phenomenon, because that also means we can fight to change it. This week at Women Employed, the Summer Leaders are taking steps towards interviewing retail workers and food service workers on their experiences with unstable schedules. With their guidance, we can propose policy changes to make the workplace a safer and more stable place for all.

Mission Possible - June 22, 2015

Tina Watson

by Tina Watson, who can often be found making cards and vision boards and hopes to work in higher education as an advocate for students.
Learn more about Tina »

Your mission, should you choose to accept the challenge, is to complete six projects in eight weeks. Do you accept? 

Eight women, from varying walks of life, have answered the call and were selected to embark on Women Employed's Summer Leadership Program. Week one: our fearless leaders are ready with binders full of information and training sessions that will be our guide to success; the women arrive eager to learn how we will be better leaders than when we first walked through the door. We will sharpen and develop various skills over the summer which will benefit our career choices down the road.

One area of focus for me is advocacy. The goal of Women Employed is “mobilizing people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.” I have a passion to help others be successful and reach their goals and I want to learn how to be more impactful; I believe this internship will give the guidance I need. One major project we are working on takes an in-depth look at unstable scheduling, with a focus on the food and retail industry. We will have the opportunity to interview employees in both industries and gain an understanding of the effect unstable scheduling has on their lives. Hopefully, through our research, we can have an impact on policies governing this morally unfair business practice.

We will be the change we desire to see! Follow this blog to track our progress and possibly see how you can help.