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Honorable Women
ABB Honorees: Kalpana Kotagal, Ai-jen Poo, and Cindy Robbins.

Honorable Women

Next month, at our Fall Celebration, A Better Balance will be honoring an amazing group of movement leaders who work every day to support and protect women and working families.  Meet our honorees:

Frances McDormand may have made Kalpana Kotagal’s work instantly famous when she uttered the words “inclusion rider,” as she accepted her Academy Award for best actress earlier this year, but fame is not what drives Ms. Kotagal. More typically, her work focuses on inclusion, justice, and equality for workers who toil not under Hollywood’s klieg lights, but under the glaring lights of factory and retail floors throughout the country.

As a partner at Cohen Milstein, a member of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice group, and Chair of the firm’s Hiring and Diversity Committee, Ms. Kotagal has fought for workers’ rights at Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plants, at Walmart stores, and at Sterling Jewelers Inc., one of the nation’s largest jewelry chains, seeking fair pay and an end to sex and pregnancy discrimination. Indeed, the now-famous “inclusion rider” is not about celebrities like McDormand; it’s about the crews that make the movies happen and the lesser-known actors who fill the smaller on-screen roles that rarely, if ever, get recognized for their contribution to the industry and our culture.

Speaking of these less visible workers, Kotagal told the Washington Post, “Those are the folks on whose behalf I litigate every day. In those workplaces where things have gone so profoundly wrong, those are the folks on whose behalf we advocate.”

Inspired by her own family’s experience caring for a sick grandparent, Ai-jen Poo has devoted her life to protecting and expanding the rights of caregivers and domestic workers.  This is a workforce that is largely invisible and isolated. Their workplace is often behind closed doors in private homes. By design, their work is excluded from certain federal labor protections. And they typically work for low-wages and are subject to abuse and harassment by their employers.

As Co-founder and Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, Poo led the way to the passage of the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, historic legislation that extends basic labor protections to over 200,000 domestic workers in New York. In 2011, she co-created the national Caring Across Generations campaign to ensure access to affordable care for the nation’s aging population and access to quality jobs for the caregiving workforce.  In recognition of her important contribution to the field, Poo received a MacArthur “Genius” award, in 2014, and in 2015, published a bestselling book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.

“[W]e’re talking about a workforce that’s working incredibly hard and still not able to make ends meet doing this work,” noted Poo in a recent interview with the PBS NewsHour. “And so our mission is to make these jobs really good jobs that you can take pride in and support your family on, where you can feel valued for your contribution to our economy and our society. And to also give voice to the stories and experiences of these women who really make everything else possible in our economy.”

Sometimes the fight to clean up your own house can be particularly daunting, especially when your house is a Fortune 500 company.  Cindy Robbins, President and Chief People Officer at Salesforce, did just that in 2015 when she raised a concern with Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff about a potential serious gender pay-gap in the company. According to press reports, Benioff initially pushed back in disbelief. Robbins was undeterred and convinced Benioff that looking closely at this issue was the right thing to do. Under her leadership, Salesforce reviewed the company’s employee compensation data. The proof was in the numbers. The audit revealed that there were statistically meaningful differences between men’s and women’s pay throughout the company, regardless of department or geography.

“The one thing we can’t do is do the assessment, look under the hood, see a big dollar sign, and shut the hood,” Robbins pressed.

Her commitment to gender equity and leading by example paid off, resulting in the company spending $8.7 million to date to address any unexplained differences in pay. Moreover, Salesforce recognizes that this is an ongoing effort that requires regular assessments and course corrections. Robbins has also scaled Salesforce’s unique culture that has earned the company top rankings in Forbes’ Most Admired Companies, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for, LinkedIn’s Top Companies, and Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards.

You can see why we’re thrilled to be honoring Kotagal, Poo, and Robbins, along with two of our Community Advocates, Otisha Woolbright and Candis Riggins, at our upcoming Fall Celebration on October 15th. These women are the true leaders of our movement. Because of them, we are hopeful that equality for women and families in the workplace is attainable and sustainable from Hollywood to Walmart to the Fortune 500.  We hope you can join us.

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