“We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.”
As we reflect upon the wise words of poet Amanda Gorman, we see the intentions of young women and youth across Minnesota who have been rising up to make history — driving policy solutions designed to deliver economic justice for generations to come.
Through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN), the Women’s Foundation and its partners are on a mission to create a Minnesota where every young woman thrives. We engage the leadership and vision of women impacted by economic barriers to create long-term solutions. As co-chairs of the Executive Council for the Young Women’s Initiative, we see the power of partnering cross-sector leaders from corporations, government, philanthropies, and communities statewide with the vision of young women and gender-expansive leaders. We know that centering solutions around those most directly impacted is vital to economic justice and driving policy change is a key ingredient for delivering lasting results.
The pandemic has triggered great hardship across the country, but it has shed a particularly harsh light on the root-level inequities in our state – realities young women and communities of color know all too well. We have seen the power of investing directly in the recovery of our families and businesses, but we continue to live amid stalled progress on gender and racial equity in all areas, including employment, education, and healthcare.
A report by the University of Minnesota’s Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, “COVID-19’s Unequal Impacts on Minnesota Workers” [PDF], reveals the pandemic has exposed unique vulnerabilities for women, especially Black, Indigenous, and women of color: These workers are concentrated in the essential workforce with higher risk of virus transmission and greater vulnerability to layoffs. This combined with Minnesota’s significant labor gap between what we have and what we need means that we must look at assets and opportunities for young women in the workforce in new ways.
However, many of these young workers face barriers, including race and gender, that prevent or limit their participation — including barriers to affordable and accessible child care, limited access to paid family medical leave, and low wages. Simultaneously, without the strong representation of this demographic in our workforce, Minnesota’s economy risks losing a vital source of talent, creativity, and leadership. Black, Indigenous, and women of color have a long led as innovators, culture bearers, and the centers of families – we need to build on this vital legacy if we hope to ensure Minnesota’s continued economic growth and competitiveness.
So, how do we remove barriers? To change outcomes and build greater financial stability and prosperity, we need to advance bold policies that are centered around women and young women of color. As co-chairs of the Executive Council for the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, we view economic policy as an effective and essential tool for leveraging that change. But to develop and drive policy change, no sector can go it alone.
The Women’s Foundation and a coalition of cross-sector partners led the development and passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) — signed into law on Mother’s Day 2014, with widespread bipartisan support. Designed to protect and promote opportunities for women in the workplace, the new law was a landmark win — addressing the root causes preventing Minnesota women from gaining an economic foothold and securing a pathway to prosperity.
Through the collaborative model of the Young Women’s Initiative, we can build on that success and continue to introduce bold, inclusive policies that target women and families. This year, we are calling for cross-sector solutions that support young women pushed to the margins in our state. In our policy agenda, one area where we recognize a clear need for investment is in strengthening our state’s care infrastructure to value women for the essential work they do as caregivers. As we partner with organizations and coalitions leading policy to strengthen women’s economic future and build opportunity, young women are leading in their families, on the frontlines, and at the Capitol with bold demands for climate justice, community safety, and economic opportunity that centers the value they bring to the workforce. We can and should lift up the voices of young women leaders in their workplaces, schools, homes, and communities.
We all have an active role in writing our history for the next generation. As we await the upcoming special legislative session, we have no choice but to look the inequities and injustice of our past in the face and engage more Minnesotans in demanding economic opportunity and equal leadership for all women and girls. Equity in design yields equity in outcomes. History shows us: When women are economically secure, Minnesota families and communities thrive.
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — Amanda Gorman
Gloria Perez is president & CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. Peggy Flanagan is the lieutenant governor of Minnesota. Verna Price, Ph.D., is CEO of The Power of People Consulting Group, founder of Girls in Action. They are the co-chairs of the Executive Council for the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota.
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