Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) quickly set the tone for the Oct. 22 forum for women at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.
“When you have an easy job, you know who to give it to. When you have a tough job, give it to a woman,” Mikulski told the 50 women who attended the gathering that was themed “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.”
Mikulski, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) were the featured speakers at the forum designed to help women navigate the modern day gauntlet of home, career and personal responsibilities faced by women.
At the top of the agenda for the panel was income. With women continuing to trail men in pay, the target of economic parity looms large for women, the panelists agreed.
Edwards expressed the importance of paycheck fairness. “It’s important for us to have equal pay for work,” Edwards said.
Noting that women make only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes on average in the U.S., Pelosi, former speaker of the House of Representative said a pay gap exists even for career women from their first year out of college and through womens’ lives.
“That’s like saying you work in January, February and March for free opposed to males,” Pelosi said.
Income defines the choices women are allowed to make, members of the audience said.
For Maureen E. Arthur, who just earned her bachelor’s degree in gender and womens’ studies, the road to middle-class status is bumpy. She is the first in her family to earn a college degree but it came at a steep cost. As a stay-at-home wife and mother of a toddler, she was confronted with staggering price tags for both child care and college tuition.
“I went to eight different locations for childcare and the average price was $1,100 a month,” Arthur said. “I began asking myself do I even want to go … to school, but my husband pushed me.”
She was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship and the couple was frugal enough to be able to pay off $30,000 in loans for child care in two and a half years.
Still, the juggling act the couple went through convinced her to delay family expansion for a while. “Child care is one of the reasons me and my husband will not be expanding our family,” she told the forum.
Another issue that ranked high at the forum was the issue of family and medical leave.
Womens’ needs, especially for single mothers are forcing employers to be more accommodating, too, some audience members said at the forum.
Learning Centers Management Executive Director Mimi Hassanein owns and operates three child care centers. She is also the mother of three and grandmother of 15 and makes sure her workers receive paid sick leave.
“From a business point I am saving money,” Hassanein said. “If one of my workers come to work sick, they can get the children sick. I would rather pay her for sick leave then for her to get my children and other workers sick.”
Noting that the child care, family issues are still on the front burners in Congress, Mikulski said, “For the last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about ObamaCare. Well, Obama does care. We need to focus on our families.”