Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Making Progress for our Nation’s Families

    Shortly after he took office, President Obama created the White Housing Council on Women and Girls. Chaired by Valerie Jarrett, the council is charged with ensuring there is a coordinated effort between federal agencies of policies and programs that impact women and families.

    As a partner of the interagency council, HUD serves as a safety net for vulnerable women and girls, whether they are living with HIV/AIDS or living in shelters for victims of abuse. Providing them with physical and emotional safety, HUD works hard to place women and girls in transitional housing, public housing and rental housing, where they will experience a continuum of care ranging from substance abuse counseling, to financial literacy classes to job training.

    Through the Continuum of Care grant competition, HUD has awarded $46.7 million to continue 349 projects that predominately serve victims of domestic violence as well as an additional $2.6 million to support 28 new projects. All these projects provide much needed housing and services for victims of domestic violence.

    In 2013, HUD was able to expand housing protections for victims of domestic violence thanks to the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This allowed HUD to make necessary changes and begin alerting the public of how the changes will impact tenants and housing providers in HUD-assisted housing and shelters.

    While ensuring victims of domestic violence don’t end up homeless, HUD is also continuing to identify best practices, share guidance and award funding to communities based on the policy priorities of the Opening Doors plan to prevent and end homelessness. Since 2010, family homelessness has decreased by 10.7 percent. 

    Last year, HUD graduated 3,400 families from the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. This means they were free of welfare assistance and employed. Over 90 percent of FSS participants are female-headed households, 33 percent of graduates no longer needed rental assistance, and 15 percent went on to purchase a home.

    HUD has also aggressively investigated and resolved cases where women experienced lending discrimination for being pregnant or on parental leave. In 2013 alone, HUD settled 28 cases obtaining almost $300,000 for 43 complainants. Thanks to HUD’s efforts, some of the country’s largest lenders have changed their policies and practices on maternity leave lending.

    HUD continues to make great strides in ensuring our policies and programs are taking into account the needs of women and girls. HUD had many great accomplishments last year, but we have work left to do. As we look forward to making more progress in 2014, we are driven by what President Obama said in the State of the Union, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Shaun Donovan is the Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

  • The Power of Women in Agriculture

    Agriculture touches our lives each and every day—whether actively farming and ranching, conducting research, or shopping at the grocery store—and women leaders play an increasingly pivotal role across the board.

    The number of farms operated by women has more than doubled since 1978. Across the country, nearly 300,000 women serve as principal operators on 62.7 million acres of farm and ranchland, accounting for $12.9 billion in farm products in 2012. Countless more women live, work and raise families in rural America. At USDA, we support projects designed to help women in agriculture improve production, develop good business and risk management practices and transfer knowledge to other women agricultural leaders.

    Parents from all walks of life care about giving their children the best possible start in life. USDA has helped make that a reality for millions of families. Last year, our WIC program helped nearly 9 million women and young children access healthy food, nutrition education and breastfeeding support. Our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which gives families in need extra resources to purchase healthy foods, helped lift nearly 1.4 million households headed by single women out of poverty, including 600,000 households headed by women with children.

    We’ve also made it a priority to foster new talent in research, science and technology, and support young leaders. For example, last year, USDA worked with the Girl Scout Council to host a day-long event for over 100 young women. At the event, young women leaders discussed conservation, forest management, and future careers in science. The attendees also created naturalist kits that were used during a week-long outreach camp for 700 girls, grades K-5, from underserved neighborhoods to encourage them to consider future careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

    Better representation of women in agriculture means more than just an increase in the amount of food produced on women-owned or women-operated farms and ranches. It means expanded opportunity for today’s women agriculturists to access credit and grow their operations, assume leadership roles at the local, state and federal level, and perform cutting edge research that will help ensure the future food security of our nation and the world.

    I am proud to work alongside strong leaders like our Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Krysta Harden, and countless other dedicated women who work on behalf of farmers and ranchers each and every day here at USDA. These women lead by example and inspire the next generation of women leaders, including my own granddaughter, to pursue careers in agriculture. 

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

    Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

  • Corporation for National and Community Service and Women’s History Month

    Across the country, biologists are conducting research that will lead to better vaccines, mathematicians are enhancing the way we watch movies, and engineers are transforming how we connect online. Women are leading many of these breakthroughs.

    But far too often, our girls don’t realize what’s possible. Through our programs at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), we are helping young women recognize and reach their full potential.

    As the CEO of CNCS, which administers AmeriCorps and other national service programs, I see young women launching smart phone app-building teams, competing in robotics competitions, and creating partnerships between after-school programs and tech firms.

    As the number of STEM-related courses increases in schools, cultivating interest in these disciplines is particularly valuable for our girls, who are sometimes pushed to the side or discouraged from pursuing careers in science or engineering.

    The STEM AmeriCorps program seeks to be part of this effort.

    President Obama announced STEM AmeriCorps during last year’s White House Science Fair. In this program, our AmeriCorps members work alongside volunteers to improve students’ academic performances in STEM coursework.

    By supporting these initiatives and others, we are reminding girls that opportunities for leadership do not belong to boys or a chosen few. Rather, the title of leader is one they can and should claim ownership of because they show it every day.

    RoboDoves, an all-girls robotics team in Baltimore, Maryland, is an example of this.

    Eighteen-year-old Keimmie Booth says that being a part of RoboDoves changed the way she thinks about math.

    “I always liked mathematics but didn’t link that with being a part of robotics,” she said. “I got more than just technology skills—the program has helped me develop business skills as well.”

    An AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at MOST (Maryland Out of School Time Network) helped the RoboDoves team raise enough funding to build a robot and attend world championships in St. Louis. And for Keimmie, the experience has reinforced her belief in giving back. She now volunteers at the Baltimore City Robotics Center where she mentors and teaches elementary school students.

    The story of Keimmie reminds us that when we empower young women, we are empowering our communities too.

    While studies show that our universities are producing more female than male graduates, it is essential that we reach our girls earlier—long before they enter a college classroom. Because as President Obama said during his recent State of the Union Address, “when women succeed, America succeeds.” It has been my privilege to work with the President, our partners throughout the Administration, as well as leaders in the nonprofit and corporate sectors as we champion the cause of transforming our schools and communities—one girl at a time.

    CNCS supports more than 70 other programs via AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund that positively impact the futures of women and girls in more than 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

  • Keeping Talented Women in the STEM Workforce is Good For Us All

    Biologist Kate Jackson is part of a research project tracing the evolutionary history of amphibians, reptiles and their internal parasites in the lowlands of Central Africa. Forests in the Congo Basin are renowned for their immense biodiversity, but the area is plagued by violence, as fighting continues between the government and rebel groups.

    This collaborative research project received NSF funding just as Kate was having a baby. With the demands of her family and the need to do research in a place that had become very dangerous, Kate asked for her field work to be delayed until her son was older and the political situation in the Congo more stable.

    Through NSF’s Career-Life Balance initiative, Kate was able to receive an extension at no cost to NSF, giving her more time to perform the work tied to the grant.

    NSF is using Career-Life Balance to attract and keep talented women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, work force. Research funded by NSF shows that women often leave research positions when family demands take over.

    In addition, many women scientists have scientist spouses and partners. Relocating together can be difficult for these women, a reality that NSF is starting to address through our ADVANCE program.

    “The number one reason women in STEM decline a tenure-track faculty position is that their partners are not offered appropriate employment as well,” says Santa J. Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati (UC).  “We also know that women are more likely to stay in faculty positions if they have a partner in a similar field and employed locally.”

    With NSF funding, the university is laying the groundwork for a dual-career regional network that will help spouses and partners of faculty secure employment at UC or with the area’s other institutions and businesses.

    Putting the best minds together to address the progress of women in STEM was the goal of the third international Gender Summit held in Washington, D.C., this past November, with NSF as a partner.

    Attendee Isabelle Blain of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada noted, “I came out of the GS3 with pride and hope. I will follow the progress of women in science and engineering, both in terms of representation in academia and in terms of inclusion of gender dimension in research.”

    I’m proud of what we’re doing to further the success of women in STEM, with solid research as the foundation of our efforts. One example: Our report, Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities, is an excellent resource for researchers, media, and others to take a deeper look at underrepresented groups, including women, in STEM disciplines.

    I’ll end with another story. Biologist Melia Nafus was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow studying the impact of humans and climate change on desert tortoises’ habitat in the Mojave Desert. Through Career-Life Balance, NSF was able to pay a research assistant to keep Melia’s field work going during her pregnancy, when temperatures in excess of 110 degrees would have been harmful to her. Now, mother and child are doing well. Nafus has completed her Ph.D, and will soon join the research staff of the San Diego Zoo.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the National Science Foundation.

    Cora Marrett is the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation. 

  • A Cornerstone of Our Energy Future: Women

    We are proud of the close relationship between the Department of Energy and the White House Council on Women and Girls and of our united effort to bring more women and girls into energy and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Our country cannot be at its full strength in advancing our energy future without the participation of every talented American. I am committed to engaging all of the Department’s resources to inspire, connect, and train women and girls in STEM.

    One program I’ve championed since working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is C3E, which stands for Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment. C3E works to advance women leaders in clean energy. Now in its third year, the program’s Ambassadors network, annual Symposium, and C3E Awards program have recognized 12 women for their mid-career leadership and achievement in clean energy, as well as two remarkable women - Millie Dresselhaus and Maxine Savitz – for their lifetime achievement. The next C3E Symposium will be held at MIT in September, with a focus on cities and local-level action on climate and clean energy.

    Following the success of the C3E program, I directed the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity to launch the Minorities in Energy Initiative. This took the ambassadors, awards, and symposium cornerstones of the C3E program and created another collaborating force, bringing government, nonprofits, industry and the public together to talk about engaging underrepresented communities – like women and girls – in STEM and the energy sector. We’ve recruited 30 high-level Ambassadors to be spokespeople for this issue from nonprofits, industry, entertainment, academia and both sides of the political aisle.

    The Department also works to highlight the talented women in our energy workforce as STEM role models for women and girls interested in those fields. Our Women @ Energy series features 150 profiles of women leaders from the Department, and we hosted the First Annual Interagency STEM Volunteer Fair in February to connect federal employees to STEM volunteer opportunities in the Washington, D.C. area. 

    The President and Vice President, along with Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen at the White House Council on Women and Girls and so many others throughout the Administration are driving diversity and inclusion in STEM education and careers. The Department of Energy is supporting these initiatives to expose and incorporate more women and girls into STEM so as to further advance America’s energy future. 

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

    Ernest Moniz is the Secretary for the Department of Energy. 

  • We the Geeks: Women Role Models

    In order for the United States to continue to lead the world in innovation and reap the health, security, and economic benefits offered by cutting-edge discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we must engage the Nation’s full talent pool in these growing fields, including America’s girls and women. 

    On Thursday, March 20th at 1:00pm ET, the White House will host another episode of “We the Geeks”, this time focused on “Women Role Models”. Tune in to this Google+ Hangout to hear from women and girl STEM leaders as they share their stories and advice to inspire the next generation of young women to discover their inner geeks and become the inventors and leaders of tomorrow. You’ll hear from an all-star line-up, including:  

    Viewers can join the conversation by asking questions on Twitter using #WeTheGeeks. And you can view the hangout Thursday at 1pm ET by visiting