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Young Women's Initiative to work on closing racial-gender gaps in Minnesota

Lee Roper-Batker, foundation president and CEO
Office of the Governor
Lee Roper-Batker, foundation president and CEO, announcing the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota on Tuesday.

A first-of-its-kind initiative may help close some of Minnesota’s longstanding racial and gender disparities.

On Tuesday Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith unveiled the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, a new effort involving the Minnesota governor’s office, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). The initiative will be the nation’s first-ever private-public union in tackling racial-gender gaps, and will focus on improving the quality of life for women of color, women in Greater Minnesota, women who identify as LGBTQ and women with disabilities — all between the ages of 12 and 24.

“Today is a landmark day,” said Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. “The future economic health and prosperity of our state is linked to the future success of our young women. Once again, Minnesota will lead.”

Pay disparities

In the workplace, white women in Minnesota make 20 percent less than their male counterparts, according to research done by the Humphrey School’s Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota. And that pay gap widens further for women of color; African-American, American Indian and Latina women all make about 40 percent less than white males.

The Women’s Foundation will launch the initiative with $8 million over six years to pay for research and other overhead costs that will go toward drafting an action plan and other policy recommendations by April of next year. Dayton said he hopes to allocate state funding for the project in the next budget but doesn’t know how much just yet.

A new young women’s cabinet, along with eight working groups composed of the initiative’s target demographics will create the action plan, Roper-Batker said, and the project will be modeled after My Brother’s Keeper, a coordinated federal effort to address racial gaps for young men across the nation. In total, she said, the groups will be composed of more than 100 women who will all have a say in how to draft the final action plan.

Prosperity and well-being index

The Women’s Foundation, with help from UROC, will also be working to create a “prosperity and well-being index,” Roper-Batker said, to help them determine the success of their campaign, along with a third-party evaluator who will come and audit their work independently. If successful, she said, the new policy changes based on their recommendations could help improve quality of life for hundreds of thousands of women living in Minnesota.

Kalice Allen, an intern for the Women’s Foundation, said she’s experienced firsthand the barriers facing women of color growing up in Minnesota. “I’ve struggled to overcome generational poverty … homelessness and the early death of both my parents,” she said.

Allen, who is black, said she was lucky to have gotten support from organizations like the Women’s Foundation, and that other women of color may not have the same opportunity. This initiative could be pivotal in changing that, she said, and changing the lives of women like her.

Lt. Gov. Smith said she also has high hopes for the initiative, and that she’s proud that women of color will play such a large role in constructing it.

“Young women and girls want a life that affords them freedom and opportunity and independence,” she said. “And they know how to get this done; we just need to listen to them.”

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