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The Values Behind International Women’s Day

Secretary Solis reflects on the progress of women and emphasizes the importance of equality for women in the workforce.

Editors Note: Watch President Obama and the First Lady speak about the achievements of women around the world at a reception marking International Women’s Day.

I grew up in a time when graduating from high school was an accomplishment, and expectations of young women were very low...especially for women of color.

My high school guidance counselor told me that I was best suited for a career as a secretary... an office assistant to be exact. Well, he was right after all. I ended up as a Secretary, but not quite the one he had in mind.

I am a product of the women's movement... the social justice movement... and the civil rights movement. I come from a home that valued hard work and taught me to provide a lending hand to your neighbor when they are in need.

And so, yesterday in celebration of International Women’s Day I thought of several women I have met in my travels across the country. These are women who are trying to feed and clothe their children without a guaranteed income, or without a doctor to see because they have lost their health insurance.

Despite the changes in today’s workforce and families, today’s workplace benefits simply do not reflect the challenges and realities of today’s workers. Too many families must make the painful choice between the care of their families and a paycheck they desperately need.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of hosting the First Lady at the Department of Labor. In an address to more than 600 employees, she emphasized this administration’s commitment to today’s working families saying “It’s time we viewed family-friendly policies as not just niceties for women but as necessities for every single working American—men and women.”

First Lady at Labor Department Headquarters

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks at the Labor Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., January 14, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Reducing work-life conflict is a priority for the President, First Lady and for me. Together we support such proposals as the Healthy Families Act which would make sure workers have the ability to stay home if they are sick without fear of losing their jobs.

Millions of working women don't have one, single, paid sick day. Many face discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and the recession has again brought to light long-standing disparities in employment status among racial and ethnic groups.

This is unacceptable to all of us. While we are working to help American families get back on their feet, this Administration is making investments in women and girls, at home and aboard, a priority.

Since families are depending more and more on working women's wages it is more important now than ever that we:

  • Encourage and support more young women in non-traditional and science, technology, engineering, math and health fields;
  • Demand fair and equitable wages and work to close the pay gap;
  • Reject discrimination and harassment in the workplace; and
  • Provide flexible workplace and leave options, including paid family leave, child care benefits and support services.

I am proud to say that my Department is doing all it can to support women. My proposed 2011 budget establishes a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund to help cover start-up costs for states that choose to launch paid leave programs. In addition, it provides resources for the Women’s Bureau – celebrating it 90th anniversary – to improve the collection of data related to the intersection of work and family responsibilities.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.

Hilda Solis is the Secretary of Labor