An Interview with Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin of the Women’s Equal Pay Network

By Jackie Collens

The Women’s Equal Pay Network is an organization committed to ending gendered pay discrimination in the legal professions. Their goal is to encourage women to break the silence about discrimination they have faced in the workplace by allowing them a place to share their stories and hear the experiences of others. I recently had a chance to speak with two women working on the WEPN, Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin, to learn more about the organization.

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Tell me a little about how and when the Women’s Equal Pay Network got started:

 Shari: It actually started when a few of us at the Carnegie Group became more aware of the issues that women faced in really enforcing their rights when it came to enforcing equal pay, and we thought it would be great if women had a place to tell their stories. The legal system can be really inaccessible, and this is a way to give women a voice.

 

What strategy is the WEPN using to seek an end to gender discrimination in the legal professions?

 S: Well, first and foremost we’re collecting women’s stories and sharing their stories with policy makers.

Lisa: What I’m trying to do through social media is build a following and give news updates, highlights, trends, whatever’s going on out there currently about the equal pay discussion, and at the same time direct people to the website. It’s important to have that first step of having somebody listen to the women sharing their stories and helping them feel validated.   I think with everything it’s very hard to put a face to an issue when you just keep hearing these numbers all the time. When you hear someone’s personal story it’s easier to put a face to the issue.

 

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment, or most rewarding experience, with the WEPN so far?

L: I’ve only been doing this for about three weeks now, and there’s a lot of start-up. In another life I was a lawyer so I love to tackle something new and research it. Personally I really enjoyed just digging into it and seeing where things stood. From a social media angle, it’s very hard to build a following from scratch and move into an area like this that has such heavy hitters. And we’ve been able to move in, we’ve been re-tweeted by Ms Magazine; we’ve had people dialoguing back and forth on twitter. We’ve been able to become part of the conversation very quickly.

S: Everyone I’ve spoken to so far and asked if they’re interested in being involved in this, has been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic.   They just are very excited about being involved. Everyone has automatically shared at least one of their stories. Always, everyone has a story like that.

L: Everywhere you go, you’re right, everyone has a story.

S: Think about if we didn’t have this issue, what the arc of our lives would be like. It would be totally different. There’s never been a depository for those stories. It’s been really rewarding to see.

 

What do you see in store for the future of the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: First of all, we really have to focus on growing the social media platform and of course we need to focus on growing the story bank. But we really need to find a way to make people comfortable.   There really is a social stigma with talking about this issue. Getting women to share these stories has been really challenging, but once you do, they really open up. Some people have fifteen or twenty stories, not only their own, but they want to share others’ stories as well.

 

What are the best ways for others to get involved in the fight for equality in the workplace?

 S: Get involved with the Women’s Equal Pay Network! Get people to share stories. If you know of someone who is experiencing challenges with their work, we will also help someone who wants to file an EEOC charge. There is an unlimited license to use our logo. Stay aware of the news. Re-share it, re-tweet it, like it. The more people who see that we’re talking to each other, the more power we have together. There’s a power employers have in knowing women are too afraid to talk about this. By outing that, we eliminate that huge power.

L: I agree. It’s social media. Once you start to see everyone else doing it you want to jump on the bandwagon. This is the way people talk and this is the way they get their information. We need to get people to be comfortable sharing their stories. This is a unique place where people can take a moment and be heard about what’s happened to them. I think people don’t realize how many people it affects.

 

Are there any final things you’d like to say about employment inequality or the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: If there are readers who are interested in becoming involved, all they have to do is type their story. We really want to get those stories.

L: It’s really important to share. You can do it anonymously, but share your stories.

If you’re interested in learning more, getting involved, or reading the stories, visit the Women’s Equal Pay Network at www.wepnetwork.com, and follow them on twitter @WEPNetwork

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Remembering the Ms. Revolution, the History of ‘Personhood’, and Umbrellas

The first cover of Ms. magazine, Spring 1972.

  • In honor of its 40th birthday, a fabulous tribute to Ms. magazine at NY Mag. My favorite tid-bit: some of the proposed titles for Ms. included Everywoman, Sisters, Lilith, Sojourner, Female, A Woman’s Place, The First Sex, and The Majority. Plus the article is structured as an oral history, with insights from the pioneers themselves. From Mary Peacock, one of the founding editors:

When Ms. started, you couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Ms. Magazine,” because what people heard was “Mmzzz” and they’d ask, “What are you saying?” This would happen 25 times a day. So when we picked up the phone, we said each letter separately: “M-S magazine.” But gradually something changed—I could shoot myself that I can’t remember when it changed, because it was a huge watershed: Suddenly you could say “Ms.,” and everybody knew what you were talking about.

  • And also at NY Magthe feminist blogosphere! Holllllaaaa! Emily Nussbaum uses blogs to show how far the movement has come since the days of Ms.:

Subjects recurred from early feminism, including outrage at sexual violence. But there were also striking differences: While seventies feminists had little truck with matrimony, feminist bloggers lobbied for gay marriage. There were deconstructions of modern media sexism, including skeptical responses to the “concern-trolling” of older women who made a living denouncing the “hookup epidemic.” There was new terminology: “slut-shaming,” “body-snarking,” “cisgender.” And there were other cultural shifts as well: an acceptance (and sometimes a celebration) of porn, an interest in fashion, and the rise of the transgendered-rights movement, once seen as a threat, now viewed as a crucial part of sexual diversity.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich on OWS and homelessness–reminding us that the messy conditions faced by protesters are a daily reality for many Americans. She asks, why aren’t our cities legally required to find accomodations for homeless folks? It is a deeply troubling contradiction:

LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

  • Also, Nick Kristof breaks it all down and builds it back up with his defense of birth control and family planning in the NY Times. Here’s something to tattoo on yourself: “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.” BOOM.
  • House Democrats have filed an amicus brief against the anti-LGBT rights Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that DOMA undermines the stable family structure that children need to thrive by denying married gay and lesbian couples federal marriage benefits. Hell yeah–but it’s not just for the kids’ sake, right Dems?
  • “I’ve been protesting what’s been going on on Wall Street for a long time.” -Elizabeth Warren showing her support for the OWS movement at a speech in Brockton, MA, Wednesday evening. Watch this video and read about how she eloquently handled some Tea Party b.s. during the speech. [Favorite part: As the Tea Party dude is leaving, members of crowd shout, “Thanks for coming!” as others boo.]

Of course men’s liberation is tied up in women’s. Men, particularly those operating within a traditional Western context, have missed out on some of the most exhilarating parts of being human for far too long—authentic expression of emotion, the joys of being a present parent, intimate relationships with other men in which they can show up as their whole, vulnerable selves. Likewise, they have suffered from tremendous pressure to make money, to appear eternally strong, to wedge their diverse interests, passions, and reactions into the narrow box of socially acceptable masculinity.