Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • NASA Celebrates Its Many Women of Character

    It's appropriate for NASA that the theme of this year's Women's History Month celebration is "Women of Character." The women of our nation's space program have made countless sacrifices to advance our nation, and their expertise and dedication have been crucial to our many successes in exploration.

    I was fortunate to fly to space twice with the distinguished Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, and we formed a bond that we will share all our lives. The addition of women to our astronaut corps has only enhanced and strengthened what we can accomplish.  Our latest group of astronaut candidates is 50% women, the highest percentage ever, and we look forward to continuing to raise these numbers. It is no secret that the requirement that our earliest astronauts be military test pilots essentially precluded applications from women.  It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as part of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L mission to deploy communications satellites. Since then, there have been 43 NASA women astronauts who have taken that leap and proven, as Amelia Earhart once said, that men and women were equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”

    At NASA, women are not only astronauts, they are principal investigators of science missions, engineers on our many spacecraft, program managers, budget analysts and communicators.  They serve in every capacity and provide their unique insights and perspective, helping to shape and improve the aerospace field, which has been historically male-centric. Aerospace careers are not easy, not in the training, nor in the actual day-to-day work, and it takes character to stick with it.

    NASA is a major employer of women in STEM fields and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline.  From 1993 to 2013, our agency experienced a ten percent increase in the proportion of women in our workforce. In that same time frame, the proportion of women in senior positions increased by 380 percent.  Right now in the ranks of senior leadership, among many others throughout the agency, our Chief Financial Officer, Chief Scientist, and the directors of two of our field centers are all women.

    The women of NASA to me represent character of the highest order. From those who lost their lives in the cause of exploration, to those who are working on tomorrow's missions and training to travel to new destinations where we've never been, our future in space depends on them.

    One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity to talk to young men and women, boys and girls about empowering themselves to break barriers, follow their dreams and push themselves to possibly do something no one has ever done. We are committed to nurturing and celebrating women of character, and continuing to break barriers of possibility on Earth and in the sky.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    Charles Bolden is the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  • Ensuring Opportunities for Women

    The month of March is an opportunity for all of us in government to reflect on what we are doing to provide opportunities to the next generation of women and girls. In 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Order to create the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the U.S. General Services Administration has supported the Council’s efforts through our mission and our work with our agency partners. I am proud that GSA has a role in the Council’s work, and that Julia Hudson, Regional Administrator for the National Capital Region, serves as our representative. 

    GSA partners with the private-sector to provide federal agencies the tools they need to serve the American people. Through these partnerships we are working with women entrepreneurs across the country and providing them with important opportunities to compete and grow their businesses in the Federal marketplace. In the past two years GSA has exceeded its goals for contracts awarded to women-owned small business and more than $500 million was awarded to these companies.  The federal government provides an important and stable business partner for these businesses, and they provide the government with important value and services. Without their innovation and hard work, we would not be able to conduct day-to-day functions such as responding to emergencies, caring for veterans, and preserving our National Parks.

    As an employer, GSA relies on the talent women bring the workforce. Women are in core leadership positions within the agency making up nearly half of senior executives and leadership positions. Many of these positions include roles such as technology and finance.

    GSA is also committed to supporting working women and families throughout the country by providing space for more than 100 childcare centers at Federal workplaces nationwide. These centers provide women in the workforce and those re-entering the workforce access to high quality care options for their children. GSA child care centers also participate in the First Lady’s Let’s Move Child Care program, which focuses on the importance of nutritious meals and fun physical activities to ensure the next generation starts off healthy and strong.

    In addition, our telework efforts reflect our commitment to enhancing work-life balance for all of  GSA employees. The ability to work from home affords employees an opportunity to better manage the demands of work and family obligations in a flexible manner. GSA was one the federal government’s Telework pioneers, and 80 percent of our employees are able to telework. 

    Through this initiative, agencies throughout the Federal Government have redoubled their commitments to initiatives that support equality. Extending opportunities to women is a top priority for GSA. As a father of two teenage girls, I particularly understand the importance of this responsibility. An equal, open marketplace is not only the right thing to do, but also creates the very best value for the American people. During the month of March and beyond, GSA will continue to do our part to ensure women have access to the resources and support that they need to excel and prosper. 

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the General Services Administration.

    Dan Tangherlini is the Administrator for the General Services Administration. 

  • Ensuring a Level Playing Field for Women Consumers

    Women represent a significant force as consumers. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I would like to share some recent accomplishments by the FTC that have helped to empower women in the marketplace.

    Here at the Federal Trade Commission, a key part of our mission is to stop false, deceptive or unfair practices. Whether consumers are shopping for cars, appliances or computers and apps, they can count on the FTC to lead the fight for truth in advertising.

    Women are nearly fifty percent of the workforce and an increasing number of breadwinners in American families. They tend to make the majority of household spending decisions and yield great consumer power. And this likely holds true for car purchases as well. Some studies suggest that the majority of car buyers in the U.S. are women, and, according to the Boston Globe, over 500,000 women every month plan to buy a car soon.

    In January, the FTC announced “Operation Steer Clear,” ten law enforcement actions, including nine settlements in cases charging auto dealers with misrepresenting the facts about buying, leasing, and financing cars. The FTC filed a complaint, commencing litigation in the tenth case.

    Among the sales tactics challenged by the FTC were ads that touted low monthly payments, but failed to disclose they were only temporary teaser payments that later increased significantly; promises of low monthly payments that hid a sizeable balloon payment due at the end of the financing term; and “zero down” deals that required consumers to pay substantial upfront fees and other amounts. 

    Settlements in the cases will change how those dealers advertise from here on in, and send a message to dealers around the nation that deceptive advertising is not acceptable. That is good news for women navigating the car buying and financing process.

    Other recent actions have included combatting bogus business opportunities, a particularly pernicious form of fraud for women entrepreneurs.

    In one instance, the FTC went to court to shut down a telemarketing scheme that allegedly targeted Latino consumers with false promises that they could make money by reselling high-end, brand-name merchandise. 

    The agency’s investigation uncovered that would-be business owners paid hefty up-front fees, but received shoddy, off-brand products. When they tried to stand up for their rights, the defendants threatened them with arrest or lawsuits.

    And in “Operation Failed Resolution,” the FTC stopped national marketers who used deceptive advertising claims to peddle fad weight loss products. Some of the marketers involved will pay millions of dollars in refunds to consumers who bought their products.

    These are just a few examples of the many cases we bring to ensure a level playing field for consumers across the country.

    Women are a powerful force in the marketplace. The FTC will continue to work to protect America’s consumers, including women, from fraud and to hold companies to their advertised promises.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Federal Trade Commission.

    Edith Ramirez is the Chairwoman for the Federal Trade Commission. 

  • Climbing Trees…and Ladders of Opportunity

    Every day, I come to work in a building named for Frances Perkins. Her biography is on my bookshelf and her portrait hangs directly above my desk. She is the Labor Department’s matriarch and lodestar. She wasn’t just the first woman to hold a seat in the President’s Cabinet.  She is one of American history’s most influential advocates for workers and their rights.

    Unfortunately, not all of Secretary Perkins’ contemporaries judged her on her merits. Throughout his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt received many letters of complaint about her. One man wrote in April, 1941: “Would it not be a much more desirable thing to have a man such as Wendell Wilkie holding the portfolio of Secretary of Labor, who from actual experience is familiar with the viewpoint of the laboring man?” (That’s the same Wendell Wilkie that the president had defeated in the election five months earlier).

    Others were more overt in their sexism. “With all kindness and respect to Miss Perkins, it is the opinion of many that a man should head this important department,” wrote another gentleman.

    But FDR’s confidence in Secretary Perkins never wavered. Nor did Secretary Perkins’ belief in herself and her work. “Being a woman has only bothered me in climbing trees,” she said. And she continued representing the interests of laboring men – and women – as effectively as anyone before or since. She did so for 12 years, making her the longest-serving Secretary of Labor in the Department’s history.

    At the Labor Department, we continue to draw inspiration from Frances Perkins. And not just because she fearlessly shattered a glass ceiling, but because the impact of her leadership is still felt in homes and workplaces nationwide. She was the architect of so many important labor protections – unemployment benefits, minimum wage, overtime, pensions and more – that Americans rely on.

    So much of our work today is about continuing her legacy and helping women climb ladders of opportunity:

    • Last September, we extended the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to nearly two million direct care workers, the overwhelming majority of them women and about half women of color.
       
    • We’ve established a Women Veterans Initiative to increase awareness of DOL resources among female veteran jobseekers, and to better address the challenges they face.
       
    • We continue to vigorously enforce equal pay laws and promote the welfare of women in the workforce. Since 2010, DOL has closed more than 90 cases of pay discrimination and recovered approximately $3.3 million in back pay from more than 1400 federal contractors.

    These efforts all benefit working women, but their impact is in fact much greater. With women now comprising roughly half the workforce, we cannot separate women’s issues from the nation’s overall economic strength. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Labor.

    Tom Perez is the Secretary of the Department of Labor. 

  • Expanding Opportunity for Women

    This Women’s History Month, we at the Department of Education celebrate the progress America has made toward reaching the goal of gender equity while recognizing that there is still a ways to go before women and girls have equal access to a quality, affordable education, from cradle to career.

    All of the Obama Administration’s initiatives to expand educational access and boost achievement benefit girls and women, starting with our earliest learners. Through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, the administration has invested nearly $1 billion to bolster state early learning programs. And President Obama’s groundbreaking 2013 Preschool for All proposal would enable states to provide an additional one million four-year-olds with high-quality preschool.

    The benefits of high-quality early learning for young children are clear – and their mothers and families benefit too. Child care expenses for families with working mothers range from 20 percent to nearly 50 percent of a working mom’s salary. And that steep price tag leads too many mothers to put off pursuing their own educational and career goals.

    President Obama understands what it is like for families where parents struggle to care for young children, earn a living, and pursue their own education. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to balance her own education with her family responsibilities. President Obama wants every child to have the opportunity for a strong start in school, and every parent to have the opportunity to responsibly balance careers, home life, and finances.

    In elementary and secondary education, the Obama Administration has supported the state-led effort to set higher college and career-ready expectations for all students. We have invested billions of dollars to help struggling schools improve, to prepare and support great teachers and school leaders, to expand innovation, and to increase science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities for all students--including, especially, girls and women.

    My 12-year old daughter had the good fortune to get off to a terrific start in science at her neighborhood elementary school, which has a special science focus. She did hands-on experiments, like building a headlamp from scratch and even got to electrocute a pickle! I am determined to see that she and every other girl gets opportunities like these to explore and excel in STEM subjects.

    In higher education, the Obama Administration expanded the number of Pell Grant scholarships by about 50 percent during the President’s first term. We put an additional $40 billion into Pell Grants, without going back to taxpayers for a nickel. And of the roughly nine million students who have received Pell Grants since the President took office, 57 percent of them, or 5.1 million, are women.

    At the same time, the Obama administration has vigorously enforced civil rights laws. We have taken new steps to stop sex discrimination in educational settings, to ensure equitable access for women to STEM courses and career training, to reduce sexual assaults on campus, and to protect the rights of pregnant and parenting students.

    In April 2011, our department’s Office for Civil Rights released the first-ever guidance on how colleges must respond to sexual assault complaints to comply with Title IX civil rights law. Since then, more than 50 universities and colleges have revised policies to set the expectation for a community-wide campus culture of prevention, safety, and support for survivors.

    In addition, investigations by our Office for Civil Rights have prompted numerous universities to make far-reaching agreements with the Department to reform their sexual-assault policies.

    For example, the State University of New York system recently reached a comprehensive agreement with the department to improve campus climates and reopen investigations into past complaints of sexual harassment and violence. That landmark agreement covers all 219,000 students at 29 SUNY campuses.

    Today, far too many women still suffer from sexual violence. And far too many women still lack equal opportunities in STEM careers and corporate boardrooms.

    But we are making important progress. Because of Title IX, my sister had opportunities my mother never had, including the chance to play on her Division I college basketball team.

    I believe my daughter will have opportunities that my sister never had. And when my 12-year old daughter and 10-year old son have the same opportunity to learn and explore their passions throughout their lives, I’ll know that we, as a nation, have taken that last big step toward fulfilling the American commitment to equal opportunity.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Education.

    Arne Duncan is the Secretary of the Department of Education. 

  • Our Year in Review: Accomplishments in Women’s Health

    Women’s History Month reminds us to pay tribute to the generations of women who have contributed to the growth of our nation, in public and private life. As we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the extraordinary achievements women have made throughout history, I’d also like to reflect on the accomplishments the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made over the last year to improve the lives of women and girls.

    • Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 26.9 million women now have expanded access to health coverage and important preventive care. This means women can receive screenings like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and their annual well-woman visits without a co-pay, coinsurance, or a deductible. We also launched the Health Insurance Marketplace, so for the 18.6 million women who are uninsured, there’s now an easier way for them to find insurance that fits their needs at a price they can afford. All private plans within the Marketplace must cover a set of essential health benefits — including many services important to women — like maternity and newborn care. In the individual market alone, 8.7 million Americans will gain maternity coverage because of the health care law. And perhaps most importantly, you can no longer be charged more for health insurance just because you’re a woman.
       
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection rates in teen girls have been driven down 56 percent, thanks to vaccination. A new study shows that since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, the number of 14- to 19-year-old girls who have one of the types of HPV prevented by vaccine has dropped significantly. Why is this important? According to the CDC, HPV causes about 19,000 cancers in women each year; with cervical cancer being the most common.
       
    • The U.S. teen birth rate is at an all-time low. In 2012, we found that birth rates for teenagers 15–19 dropped to 29.4 per 1,000 — the lowest ever reported. Since 1991, the rate for teens 15–17 has fallen 63 percent, and the rate for teens 18–19 has fallen 45 percent. We also saw declines across all racial and ethnic groups.
       
    • We know more about intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking victimization in the U.S. than ever before. For the first time, CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey collected data on the intersection of these types of violence and sexual orientation. The survey showed that those who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported intimate partner violence and sexual violence over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than heterosexuals.
       
    • More than 12 million medically underserved women received quality, culturally competent primary care in 2012, thanks to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center Program. Cultural competence ensures that a doctor or nurse is able to provide diverse patients with care that is respectful of their cultural and health beliefs, using appropriate languages and tools.

    As you can see, it’s been a busy but exciting year — and these are just our top five highlights in women’s and girls’ health! I look forward to continuing our momentum as champions for the wellbeing of all Americans. Learn more about how we’re expanding access to quality care by visiting HealthCare.gov.

    Click here for fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.