On Monday I attended the White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit brought together business leaders, advocates, and workers to talk about the challenges faced by working parents and how we can address them. It was both sad and inspiring to hear President Obama talk about the need for paid family leave, high-quality and affordable childcare, workplace flexibility, and decent wages for a hard day’s work. These are things a great country like ours should already have, and yet it’s clear that we all have to work together to push for these changes. Too many women are living paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to take a day off to stay with a sick child or care for a family member. 

I was especially happy to hear the President talk about the need for more women and people of color in nontraditional jobs, especially the STEM fields. For example, we know that despite making up almost half of workers in all occupations (47 percent), women are only 2.6 percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations. This underrepresentation negatively affects women’s income, as traditionally male fields pay higher wages and have a lower wage gap than those dominated by women. That’s why our new report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground, is so important. More must be done to reverse this trend and bring the construction industry into the 21st century.

The President agrees. In conjunction with the Summit, the White House released a fact sheet that outlines how federal agencies and Congress can help:

Expand access to high-wage, high-skill jobs in construction for women.

  • The Department of Labor is releasing a guide for employers and community organizations to increase representation of women and minorities in apprenticeship programs, as well as to improve retention and completion rates.
  • The Department of Labor is creating a forum for organizations, advocates, and tradeswomen to share promising industry practices, job and training opportunities, research and data, and apprenticeship opportunities. It also examined existing data to identify barriers women face in accessing nontraditional occupations.
  • The Department of Education will look into the roadblocks women face in traditionally male fields, commissioning a study to examine the access girls have to quality nontraditional training programs in high school.
  • Jobs for the Future and Wider Opportunities for Women are collaborating with the Departments of Labor and Education to ensure that women have equal access the $100 million American Apprenticeship Grants. Over forty unions and labor management organizations have also pledged to expand opportunities for women to train for occupations in the fields of construction, transportation, and manufacturing.
  • Federal agencies will increase enforcement of federal employment nondiscrimination laws, like Title VII, to ensure that women have equal access to job opportunities and to eliminate discriminatory barriers women face to economic stability and success.

Increase access to STEM careers.

  • The Department of Energy will expand their Women @ Energy series to highlight women scientists and engineers. 
  • The National Science Foundation will allocate funds to provide childcare at professional conferences to lessen the barriers to attendance for working families.
  • In conjunction with the Summit, NIH released a report that compiled research on the obstacles to attracting and retaining women in the biomedical science field.
  • The Administration is also partnering with the National Center for Women & Information Technology to increase women in technology careers.

As President Obama said, “We know from our history that our country does better when everybody participates; when everyone’s talents are put to use; when we all have a fair shot. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America I’ll keep fighting for every day.”