Last Monday night, we celebrated an extraordinary year of fighting for justice and equality for women and caregivers in American workplaces. It was an inspiring and uplifting evening. We are grateful to everyone who joined us, and we are in awe of the passion and dedication of our speakers and honorees. Below are some highlights from the evening:
When Candis Riggins, one of this year’s recipients of our Community Advocate Award addressed the gathering, she brought down the house. Her story of courage in the face of extreme adversity made clear why the fight for justice for women and families in the workplace is so important.
I was working at Walmart as a maintenance associate and I found out I was pregnant and they refused to accommodate me. I kept working, pushing through my illnesses, scared to lose my job. At that time, I was the breadwinner for my family…. So losing my job just wasn’t an option for me. Then one day they terminated me while I was pregnant, putting my family in a terrible financial position.
I had to move myself, my new born baby, and my two other children into a homeless shelter because we were evicted from our apartment. I was so scared and angry when Walmart fired me. Why was I being forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my job? I decided to channel that anger into advocacy. [That’s when I turned to A Better Balance.]
When Dina [Bakst, ABB’s Co-Founder and Co-President] told me that Lisa Lang at CNN wanted to interview me. I was thrilled, overwhelmed in a good way. I knew it was a big deal and it felt amazing to know that the world would be able to hear my story. It left me wanting to do more. That’s why I immediately said yes when A Better Balance asked me to go to Washington, DC, to tell my story in front of Congress. Then this summer my picture was on the cover of the New York Times. If you had told me years ago when I was pregnant working as a maintenance associate at Walmart that my picture would be on the front page of the New York Times, No!
Being an advocate means something to me because I really and truly do not want this to happen to anyone else ever. I am doing this to be a role model for my children so that they will have the courage to speak up when they are older. I want them to learn from my experience and understand the importance of taking action.
It has been a long road, but when I heard the incredible news, earlier this year, that Walmart updated its pregnancy policy, I was so proud. Proud to know that my voice and willingness to fight made a real difference.
This year’s Workers Champion Award went to Ai-jen Poo, Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director, Caring Across Generations Campaign. She offered a vision of how important it is that we stay the course in our fight for justice, especially, as she noted, in these volatile times.
It just feels like women are without a doubt the most powerful force for change in the country right now. On every front, politically, saving the republic, running for office in unprecedented numbers, showing up and protesting and having our voices heard. It is an incredible moment for women.
She went on to offer the metaphor of a sun storm:
When there’s an incredible torrential storm—hail, rain—and at the same time the sun is shining incredibly brightly. I believe that we are in a political sun storm in this country and that women…are the sun. What that means is that it is incredibly critical that we continue shining.
Part of the way we’ve been showing up right now is we’ve been shining in a way that creates space for the most vulnerable among us; those who have been the most targeted in this period of history… And we’ve been able to continue to dream even as they try to take away and harm the core moral fabric of our democracy and the institutions of our democracy. We have asserted time and time again that they can never take away our dreams and they will never stop us from organizing.
These organizations [like A Better Balance] are the homes that we go to to support each other, dream, and organize. It is actually a moment to dream big. To keep moving the ball forward, Let’s dream about paid sick and family leave in every state. Why not? Because that is what we deserve.
The recipient of our Distinguished Public Service Award, Kalpana Kotagal, Partner, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, spoke of her gratitude to the colleagues and family that have given her the support she’s needed to build a legal practice focused on fair pay and ending sex and pregnancy discrimination. She noted,
I pray every day that all of us–A Better Balance, legal advocates, organizers–that we can create workplaces like the one that I’ve been so fortunate to grow up in. Places where we can give our all to do the work we care about and do it without sacrificing the ability to love, raise, and care for our own families.
Indeed, the ability to love, raise, and care for our families is what undergirds all of our work.
And last, but certainly not least, Cindy Robbins, President and Chief People Officer at Salesforce, and recipient of our Distinguished Corporate Citizen Award, described her professional journey at Salesforce and the work she’s done with a colleague to create pay equity across the company.
Their strategy was first and foremost to get buy-in at the top and to get people to understand that achieving pay equity is not just a one-time thing. To date, her team has done three audits that have resulted in almost 9 million dollars in adjustments at Salesforce. As she noted, “It is an audit and like any other audit you have to do it every single year.”
Equal pay for equal work is not just the right thing to do it is also good for business.…The workforce trusts us with their careers, they trust that it will be a great place, a safe place to work, and that we are going to pay them fairly.
Equal pay is not a tech industry issue; this is an issue across industries….It’s also not an HR issue or legal issue, it’s a leadership issue at the end of the day.
I hope together we can close the pay gap for good one day.
Congratulations again to our amazing 2018 honorees. We look forward to seeing what you accomplish next especially if we all continue to dream big and keep our focus on achieving justice in the workplace and beyond.