CAP’s Women’s Initiative is a comprehensive effort to marshal CAP’s broad expertise and promote public policies that enable women to participate fully in our economy and our society. Women have made enormous progress over the past 50 years, but our workplaces and national policies have not adapted to our changing society. We believe that women—and the challenges they face—must be at the center of our national policy debate in order to develop responsive solutions that improve the lives of women and their families.
Today, women attend college at higher rates than men, earn better grades, and graduate from college in greater numbers. Women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce and are one-third of the nation’s doctors and lawyers—more than triple what they were a generation ago. And more than 40 percent of mothers are breadwinners in their families.
Yet, despite all the progress that we have made, too many women are still struggling to support their families financially while also caring for them; to access basic health care; and to make the most of their talents and abilities.
Women, especially women of color, are more likely to work in minimum-wage jobs and remain stuck in those jobs. Although women earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees, they still, on average, make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The wage gap is even larger for many women of color: African American women earn 64 cents and Latinas earn 55 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Women account for only 4 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies but comprise two-thirds of minimum-wage workers. One in three American women live either in poverty or on the brink of it.
The challenges facing women are closely intertwined. Inflexible schedules; inadequate pay; conflicting work-family demands; longstanding racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes; and a lack of affordable, high-quality caregiving options are all factors that work together to limit women’s opportunities for advancement and erect barriers to success. Additionally, women are often the primary caregivers for their families, holding the main responsibility for providing, coordinating, or securing care.
As a result, out-of-date workplace policies can derail the careers of aspiring women leaders. We need more women in prominent leadership positions to alter our social norms and stereotypes and to change outmoded workplace policies and expectations. Although many employers have adopted progressive work-family policies, too many workers continue to struggle with conflicting breadwinning and caregiving demands because our national workplace policies have been slow to change. And too often, workplace policies are not responsive to the diverse needs of women at all levels of the career ladder, such as low-income women who may have a greater need for paid leave because they cannot afford to take time off without pay.
To address these challenges, the CAP Women’s Initiative focuses on three broad priorities:
- Women’s economic security: We need to ensure that women earn equal pay for equal work; that families have access to affordable, high-quality child care; and that workplaces offer more flexibility and predictable schedules to be responsive to the needs of hard-working families.
- Women’s leadership: Promoting “women’s leadership” means enabling women from all walks of life to participate fully in our society, because the full participation of women is integral to the health and growth of our economy. We must remove barriers to women’s equal participation and advancement by challenging and changing a culture of work that consistently holds them back.
- Women’s health: Women and their families need to be able to live healthy lives. To support this goal, we must protect the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, support Medicaid expansion, prioritize healthy pregnancies and deliveries, and ensure that all women have access to the care they need for themselves and their families.
Our strategy is to put women at the center of the policy agenda and make the case that public policies that help women also strengthen our families, our workplaces, and our nation. We want to arm stakeholders, thought leaders, policymakers, and the public at large with innovative policy ideas and solutions and help develop both national and on-the-ground strategies to transform these ideas into concrete action.
But first, we need to change the conversation. We must make it clear that issues such as women’s economic security, women’s health, and women’s leadership are not just women’s issues. At a time when women make up nearly half of the workforce and are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in almost two-thirds of families, the fortunes of women are inextricably tied to the fate of our nation.