Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Goal: Local Impact with Global Implications

Last summer I interned for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions under Senator Patty Murray. Working for the Labor Policy Director, I researched policy initiatives aimed at helping working families, specifically working mothers. At one reception hosted by the Democrats on the HELP Committee, women shared their stories about facing the prospect of going to work ill, missing paychecks, or losing their job because they lacked paid sick days that would allow them to care for themselves or their loved ones. In the United States, families struggle to get by without paid sick days, adequate maternity leave, equal pay, and reliable work schedules. As the primary family caregivers, women bear most of the burden of this injustice. This partly explains why the gender wage gap widens during the years that most families raise children. Despite the desperate needs of American breadwinners, Congress has been slow to pass bills to rectify these problems.
Luckily, there are local and state governments that are taking matters into their own hands to fight for justice in the workplace. Seattle recently passed a fair scheduling ordinance that requires chain retailers and restaurants to give advanced notice of scheduling changes and end the practice of assigning split shifts, allowing mothers and caregivers can make childcare arrangements ahead of time. San Francisco, meanwhile, has passed a law which requires employers to provide paid sick days to employees, allowing them to stay home to care for a family member or recover from their own illness without fear of losing a paycheck or their job. These local ordinances will make a huge difference in the lives of working families and serve as a model for the whole country. These cases illustrate that local governments and communities can have a huge impact on the battle for gender equality.
As a CSW Fellow, I hope that my research on gender inequality in Durham will similarly inspire action in the Durham community and encourage other local governments to do more to address inequality. I would like my findings and my policy recommendations to make a difference in local policy and the lives of the people of Durham. Right now, given its distinguished and committed leaders, I believe the Durham City Council has a unique opportunity to become a leader for North Carolina and the nation in gender equality. There are two areas I’m interested in focusing on during my fellowship: the gender wage gap and women’s leadership. While North Carolina has a gender wage gap that is slightly lower than the national average, racial inequality in Durham is particularly pronounced, which may have serious implications for the gender pay gap. Secondly, while there is a lot of research on the proportion of women in elected office and strategies to get women elected, I am interested in asking how frequently they run for and win reelection compared to their male peers. I look forward to the lessons I am going to learn and the people I will meet on this journey. Most importantly, however, I’d like my work to make a positive impact in the lives of all the women in Durham.


  1. Zoe I look forward to working with you on your research. Often the most critical thing is getting facts built around a specific situation to bring it to light. The second step is getting the story told effectively-- with ideas to address roadblocks to those that can make a difference--can't wait to get started!!

  2. Zoe - great to have you on board as a Fellow! The topics you are considering are extremely important and I can't wait to learn from your research how things are looking in Durham. The gender wage gap during years that most families raise children is an often talked about issue but too infrequently acted upon and solutions that are known to be effective - like the ones you mention in your blog post - still often come up against opposition. Long way to go still but thanks to advocates like you we are getting there. Since our UNCSW theme this year is the Women's Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work, your topics will be spot on target when you present in NY next Spring!