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A Summer of Connections

2018 Class of The Pattis Family Foundation Summer Leadership Program

The 2018 class of The Pattis Family Foundation Summer Leadership Program. Watch their video to learn more about their summer at WE!

The next generation is already leading activism, and WE helps foster that passion for advocacy with The Pattis Family Foundation Summer Leadership Program. Each summer, a diverse group of 10 college students and recent graduates gather at WE for the internship of a lifetime. The interns learn the ins and outs of non-profit work, gender equity advocacy, careers in public service, and leadership. But the true magic lies in the connections they forge in their eight weeks with Women Employed.

By tapping into our network of civic leaders and organizations across the city, WE demonstrates to this next generation of leaders the power of partnerships in winning social justice gains. They meet with non-profit professionals, union leaders, judges, and full-time advocates. They bring energy and a variety of perspectives that help inform WE’s work. They work closely with the WE staff and learn from each other. Soon, the interns begin to see all the different ways they can use their passion for activism to build a career that makes a difference. And when the summer comes to a close, they are well-equipped with the tools and connections needed to start on a path of their own.

Shared Understanding, Shared Success

More than ever, students are juggling work and caregiving responsibilities while also trying to gain the higher education and training they need to compete in today’s job market. Across the country and here in Illinois, education practitioners are helping students, an increasing number of whom are non-traditional, advance their education through career pathway programs. These programs meet adults where they are on their educational journey and put them on a solid track to build their skills and meet their education and career goals. But without a unified understanding of what these programs should look like, they weren’t as connected—or as effective—as they could be.

We needed a solution. So Women Employed (WE) connected with our partners at the Chicago Jobs Council, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and Illinois Community College Board to convene a wide group of stakeholders in career pathways. Working together, we developed a single definition of “career pathways” for the entire state of Illinois. The definition was adopted this spring by state agencies and education policymakers and even received praise from the Center on Law and Social Policy, a national leader on strategies to promote economic opportunity. Now all Illinois agencies, providers, and policymakers are on the same page, students have a clearer pathway to success, and it happened because WE brought together the experts who could lead the charge.

Standing With Students

WE's Jessie Gotsdiner Speaks on the Student Loan Bill of Rights

Policy Associate Jessie Gotsdiner speaks in support of the Student Loan Bill of Rights at a press conference in 2017.

Supporters like you are among Women Employed’s strongest partners. You answer the call to take action when it’s needed the most, and that was the case when Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a Student Loan Bill of Rights. Women hold two-thirds of the country’s $1.5 trillion in student debt, and that burden is hard to lift when lenders aren’t as transparent with student borrowers as they should be.

The Student Loan Bill of Rights sets basic protections for borrowers in Illinois, like requiring that loan servicers are licensed and that they inform students of all their repayment options. When the governor vetoed the legislation, WE worked quickly with the Illinois Attorney General’s office and partner organizations to push for an override. Key to that successful effort were supporters like you who heeded our call, contacted legislators with the power to move it forward, and rallied friends and loved ones to do the same. Now Illinoisans can pursue higher education knowing they have the protections they need to avoid a lifetime of debt.

Equity for All of Us

Today’s political climate has underscored an undeniable truth: discrimination based on a person’s race, immigration status, sexual orientation, faith, or disability remains a deeply rooted reality. And those kinds of discrimination often intersect with the challenges women face in the workplace to create additional roadblocks to equal opportunity. This requires us to think expansively about all the communities that working women belong to, and how systemic inequities may impact those communities differently.

WE is reaffirming our commitment to understanding those intersections, recognizing them in our work, and intentionally listening to the voices of the women who experience them. We’ve convened an internal taskforce of staff and board members dedicated to promoting racial equity and inclusion. We’re building strong connections with diverse partners. And we’re ensuring women of color are front of mind as we tackle issues like the wage gap and illustrate how much wider pay disparity is for most women of color—because we won’t truly reach wage equity until all women are paid equally for equal work.

This approach is necessary to realize our dream of economic equity for all working women and families. We’re counting on you to join us on this journey as we strive to make our world a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place.

Read more from our 2018 Annual Report »