By Tina Pettigrew

Ellevate Network and the White House Council on Women and Girls are aligned in our mission. We believe investing in women and girls is key to our success, and are looking to work together to make it a priority.

Founded in March 2009, the very first Council to have representatives from every agency in the Federal government, The White House Council on Women and Girls was established "to ensure that each of the agencies in which they're charged takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies they draft, the programs they create, the legislation they support."

Below are some key takeaways from the briefing Ellevate Network had with the White House Council on Women and Girls in Washington, DC on November 2nd.

Non-discrimination laws and inclusion

We recognize that girls and women of color face specific barriers in work and in life and often get stuck in low-wage occupations. The school suspension rates for young women of color is significantly higher than their white counterparts. Addressing the “hidden cost of suspension” is necessary to include these women in the workforce and engage them in a way that does not criminalize and discriminate against them.

These same women are experiencing far less support in STEM fields when it comes to funding for their studies and expanding their network. The Council on Women and Girls is working with educational institutions to partner with private companies to provide more opportunities to support these women in STEM.

Bias plays a role in healthcare administration, how policies are formed and hiring decisions. The biggest key to changing policies is a shift in leadership to people who are aware of these issues and care about them in every action they take. The Council on Women and Girls is committed to working with the education system to cultivate leaders who value women in the workforce and can lead the way in changing these biases on the ground.

Paid leave/ flex work policies

This administration wants our country to be competitive in the global economy (the U.S. is far behind every other developed country on creating supportive workplace policies) and they recognize that excluding half the talent pool is not a smart way to achieve this.

The Council is focused on keeping women at work through policies that advocate for paid sick time and family leave (did you know that over half of women have turned down a job because it would interfere with their family responsibilities?), and is committed to working with industry leaders to set a good example in this way.

Childcare is one of the largest expenses to working families today. The President called for 3x the current tax credit on this expense to help with the cost of childcare. Changes like this are likely to decrease the burden many women have when choosing to reenter into the workforce after giving birth, resulting in a more active female workforce.

Reentry to workplace/ Retention

A key component to a thriving economy is full engagement of the workforce. The government is currently looking to industry leaders to step up and take the lead on developing policies and practices that support women in the education system and at work-- focusing on making reentry into the workplace seamless and retaining women in the workforce.

Women face various barriers to getting work and staying there. Larger numbers of women are leaving the tech industry in droves and it’s becoming detrimental to the industry. Employers need to change the way they hire and leverage partnerships with educational entities that create a pipeline of talent with specific skills (most often STEM skills) to the job. The employers then need to up-skill: take a holistic approach to hiring, developing talent and promotion based on these specific skills.

Women have historically been overlooked in education, workforce and pipeline practices, even down to the way we train our future leaders in business schools-- research has found that women are rarely even included in business cases in business school curricula.

The White House is directly engaging with business schools to address these issues. The hope is that through the business school pipeline, the future leaders of our private sector companies act as leaders in this space and good role models for the rest of corporate America and the government.

A different approach to education needs to be taken in order to better match students with jobs that are practical and give them a clear path to grow. Switching to an apprenticeship-based model where students learn very specific skill sets that lead to a job is the most useful tool in making a more engaged workforce, leading to financial prosperity. Changing hiring models to create sustainable talent pipelines and clear career trajectories is also key to employees’ continued engagement in the workforce.

Leadership

The Federal government is dealing with a stand-still in Congress, so they are counting on private sector leaders to set a good example when it comes to paid family leave, supporting female scientists/ their research and putting their money behind policies that support women and families on the ground.

Since creating policies that support workers’ families allows them the opportunity to value work and home (instead of choosing between them), worker turnover becomes lower—and in turn companies save money. The companies that put these family-friendly policies in place ahead of government regulation will see the financial pay-off before they are legally obligated to do so. Some examples of pioneers of family friendly policies include Accenture, IBM and Microsoft. The White House continues to look to private sector companies to lead the way in this endeavor.

Entrepreneurship/ women in small business

There exists a seriously low number of women represented in this space. While the Federal government is committed to giving 5% of Federal contracts to women-owned business, they are failing to meet that goal year after year (click here to learn more about becoming certified as a Women Owned Business and start receiving the benefits). Getting involved in SBA and their initiatives, and making your voice heard (yes, you!) is very important to the White House. They depend on citizens speaking their mind to create policies that are beneficial for women-led business.

If you are a small business owner and are looking for more financial resources, check out the SSBI to see what is available to you through your state. Finally, if you are looking to get more involved with other women-owned businesses and learn from each other check out the InnovateHER Summit.

The Affordable Care Act as enabled entrepreneurs/ small business owners to have healthcare for themselves and their employees while they run their businesses. 17.6 million people who didn’t have healthcare now do because of the ACA. To sign up or learn more about it, click here.

Get involved if you want to see a change, and let us know what you think in the comments below!