Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Secretary Pritzker Says Increased Gender Diversity in Corporate Boardrooms Is Vital to Economic Success

    Secretary Pritzker delivers remarks at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom

    Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivers remarks at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom, hosted by the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Sept. 16, 2014.

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Commerce's blog. See the original post here.

    Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker addressed the urgent need to boost our companies’ economic competitiveness by bringing more women into corporate leadership at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom, hosted by the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

    Pritzker noted that this pressing challenge of addressing the of a lack of women in corporate leadership is nothing new in American business. Female advancement in corporate America is stagnant. Women hold less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Women hold less than 17 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. And 10 percent of these companies have no women on their boards at all.

  • Making Research Work for Young Women and Girls

    Across the world, scholars and researchers are conducting critical research on issues impacting young women and girls, yet much of that data remains out of reach for those who need it most.

    This spring, the White House Council on Women and Girls welcomed over 100 researchers, policy advocates, business leaders, members of the media, and non-profit executives to the first-ever White House Research Conference on Girls. At the conference, leading researchers presented their work on girls and STEM, girls and leadership, and the sexualization of girls in the media. Additionally, we heard from a panel of thought-leaders, including the CEO of Girl Scouts, Anna Maria Chávez, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon.

    The conference, held on April 28, was punctuated with the announcement of a new Girls Research Coalition, founded by seven leading organizations that conduct research on girls. The centerpiece of this new coalition will be a new online Girls Research Portal, which the founders hope will serve as a clearinghouse for research on girls and make this research more accessible to non-academics. The goal of this portal is to make valuable data and research more readily available and actionable for those who lead girl-serving organizations, journalists reporting on girls, policymakers and advocates focusing on girls’ issues, business leaders, educators, parents, and others.

    We applaud efforts from the research community to develop new ways to report and share their findings for broader audiences to inform discussion and action, and we will need all those working to support and empower girls to put this data to good use. When we connect research and action, we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of girls across this country. 

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

  • Unlocking Export Opportunities for Women-Owned Businesses

    It is important for women-owned businesses and firms to be able to export their products. Why? Studies have found that women-owned firms that export not only earn more, but also employ more people and are, on average, more productive than women-owned firms that do not. In addition, women-owned businesses that export their goods and services average $14.5 million in receipts, compared to just $117,036 for women-owned businesses that do not export.  Clearly, exporting has very real advantages.

    In celebration of Women’s History Month, I met with some women business owners to learn about their businesses, and encourage them to take advantage of the groundbreaking trade agreements being brokered by the Obama Administration by exporting their products and services abroad. I spoke with Erin Andrew, Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership; Margot Dorfman, President of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Karen Bland, President of the Organization for Women in Trade; and Rachel Carson, President of Helicopter Tech Inc. We engaged in a candid conversation about the growing number of women-owned businesses in America, and how we can help them unlock the opportunities and benefits of exporting.

    Under President Obama, U.S. exports have increased by nearly 50 percent and are growing nearly three times faster than the economy as a whole. Nearly 300,000 American companies export, 98 percent of which are small and medium size businesses, but exports from businesses owned by women are unfortunately under-represented. Approximately 30 percent of businesses are women-owned, but only 12 percent of businesses that export are owned by women. We must change that.

    During our conversation, Karen Bland shared her five ‘know before you go’ tips for exporting, which included knowing your business, your market, your assets, your partners, and the rules. Rachel Carson shared her experience beginning to export her replacement aircraft parts, which she now exports to 23 countries around the world. In addition to raising her sales, Rachel noted that exporting allowed her to grow her staff and hire Americans in need of work to support her overseas activity. Hearing their stories and their triumphs reminded me why USTR and the Small Business Administration work so hard to help women-owned businesses engage in and benefit from trade.

    In addition to partnering with SBA to encourage women-owned businesses to export, USTR has also utilized trade as a tool to promote women’s economic empowerment around the world. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently under negotiation with 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific includesfor the first time ever in a trade agreementa development chapter that contains an article on women and economic growth. The article explicitly calls on the countries that are party to the agreement to consider undertaking cooperative activities aimed at enhancing the ability of women, including workers and business-owners, to fully access and benefit from the opportunities created by the TPP.  

    We know that most women-owned businesses are small and medium-sized (SMEs), which is why we are dedicated to reducing barriers that disproportionally impact SMEs. To inform our negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), in order to obtain broad input from SMEs, the U.S. International Trade Commission, USTR, SBA, and the Department of Commerce worked together to convene 28 small business roundtables in cities around the United States. We also hosted a hearing in Washington, D.C., to gather input directly from small businesses about barriers to exporting to the European Union (EU).

    Additionally, the United States and the EU have convened an ongoing series of Small and Medium Enterprise Workshops to engage small businesses on both sides of the Atlantic on ways to enhance their participation in transatlantic trade and strengthen U.S.-EU cooperation on issues of interest to SMEs. Through T-TIP we can help SMEs, farmers, and workers unlock opportunity by finding new European customers and export markets.

    USTR also participates in the Administration’s efforts to improve the ability of women to participate in the global trading system through fora such as the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Women in the Economy work in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and our numerous Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with developing countries.

    The OECD reports that creating greater economic opportunities for womenincluding connecting them to global marketswill help increase labor productivity, and higher levels of female employment will widen the base of taxpayers and contributors to social protection systems, which are increasingly coming under pressure due to population ageing. At the end of the day, we all win when we expand women’s economic participation.

    For our part, USTR, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Commerce have a number of tools available to help business owners start and expand their businesses, and to sell their products and services abroad. These resources can be found at;; and

    We welcome your suggestions, and look forward to engaging with you to discuss our goal of building stronger export opportunities for women-owned firms and small businesses. Please email us at

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the U.S. Trade Representative.  

    Michael Froman is the U.S. Trade Representative. 

  • Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment at the Department of Defense

    When asked about the women who joined the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, General Douglas MacArthur called them “my best soldiers.” Anyone who doubts whether women belong on the battlefield would do well to remember those words. Today women play an indispensable role in defending America’s national security interests at home and abroad.

    Throughout Women’s History Month, the Department of Defense has been highlighting women of character, courage, and commitment who serve our country. As the month draws to a close, I’d like to introduce you to three of our most senior leaders, each of whom is integral to the department and its mission.

    Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox is briefed by Master Chief Paul Baden (USN), as she tours SEAL Beach at the Navy Special Warfare Center in San Diego, Ca., Feb. 10, 2014.

    Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox is briefed by Master Chief Paul Baden (USN), as she tours SEAL Beach at the Navy Special Warfare Center in San Diego, Ca., Feb. 10, 2014. DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett (Released)

    Last December, when President Obama appointed Christine Fox (pictured above) to become my deputy as the Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, she became the highest-ranking woman to ever serve at the Department of Defense.

  • Supreme Court Decision in U.S. v. Castleman Will Save Women's Lives

    This week, the Supreme Court decided a case that will save women’s lives.

    Back in 1996, Congress made it a crime for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to possess a gun. As Vice President Biden has often noted, there is a direct connection between gun violence and domestic violence: when a domestic abuser has a gun, a victim is 12 times more likely to die than when he doesn’t. 

    Some courts, however, have set a high bar for what counts as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” – which has meant that many domestic abusers have been allowed to keep their guns. 

    But in United States v. Castleman (written by Justice Sotomayor), the Court changed all that. It recognized that domestic violence is a unique kind of crime that doesn’t always fit everyone’s idea of what’s “violent”: often, it can involve pushing, grabbing, shoving, scratching, or hair pulling – and which, over time, can “subject one intimate partner to the other’s control.” The Court also recognized that, in a number of states, these acts are prosecuted as crimes of “offensive touching” – which, before this week, meant some courts didn’t consider them to be domestic violence. But now, according to the Court, that’s enough to subject a convicted domestic abuser to the federal gun ban.

    This is a landmark opinion. As so many abused women know, what happens to them is a far cry from “offensive touching.” It is terrifying and debilitating, and can rob her of all manner of trust, security, and hope. It can make her – as the Vice President has also said – a prisoner in her own home. But at least now, the law recognizes that those who are convicted of these crimes have no business having a gun.

    Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.

  • Supporting Women and Girls Through the Homeland Security Mission

    During Women’s History Month and every day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) upholds the commitment to the rights, security and dignity of women and girls in everything we do. Through our work to combat human trafficking, protect the rights of immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and other crimes, and ensure parents have the tools they need to keep their children safe online, DHS continues to foster various initiatives that focus specifically on reaching out to and empowering women and girls every day.

    We also uphold that commitment within our own workforce, by doing all we can to recruit qualified and talented staff, and by helping to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to advance and thrive.

    Leaders like Julia Pierson, who last year became the first female Director of the U.S. Secret Service, and Connie Patrick, the first female Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), have paved the way for women in law enforcement. These women are role models whose success encourages today’s young girls to pursue their dreams. They are also outstanding leaders, pure and simple.

    DHS is proud to have so many remarkable women serving across the Department, including Kirstin Grote, Marcy Donnelly and Harleen Singh, three individuals featured as part of our Faces of Homeland Security. We recognize those who serve on the frontlines to ensure our Nation’s borders are secure, our traveling public is safe, and our cyber infrastructure is protected.

    And through the work of the Blue Campaign, DHS’ unified voice to combat human trafficking; the DHS Council on Combating Violence Against Women; the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC) international Women in Law Enforcement Leadership Training Program; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) immigration relief for victims of crimes, as well as many others, DHS provides resources for the safety and empowerment of women and girls throughout the United States.

    I am proud to serve alongside so many remarkable women from across DHS, and to continue our work for the protection and security of women and girls every day.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of Homeland Security.  

    Jeh Johnson is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security