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On the Frontlines of New York City's Pay Equity Public Hearing

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On the Frontlines of New York City's Pay Equity Public Hearing

Alexandra Feldhausen, freelance writer and former Mindr intern, writes about attending the New York City Pay Equity Public Hearing in September, and reflects on where New York stands on pay discrimination.  

“What can we do to eliminate the pay gap in New York City?” asked Jacqueline Ebanks. 

Ebanks, Executive Director of New York City’s Commission on Gender Equity (CGE) in the Office of the Mayor, was the perfect person to pose the question in opening the Pay Equity Hearing last Thursday. Along with CGE, the event was hosted by the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the New York City Bar Association. It brought together advocates, activists, employers, and employees from across New York to provide a forum for New Yorkers to tell their experiences with pay inequity, provide potential solutions, and discuss recent amendments to the state’s pay equity law

Hosted at the New York City Bar Association, the hearing carried a special legal weight to a problem that often skirts meaningful government regulation. 

“When I think about why women are paid less, it is in part because they can be. Our equal pay laws are just not strong enough.”

“When I think about why women are paid less, it is in part because they can be. Our equal pay laws are just not strong enough,” Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), stated in her opening remarks during the gathering.

Despite both federal and state protections, the pay gap persists. While the precise numbers vary, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that a full-time working woman earns 80% of what her male counterpart takes home. These statistics are only compounded when a person’s multiple identities are taken into account. Black women make approximately 64 cents to every dollar earned by a white man; gay government employees make between 8 to 29 percent less than heterosexual workers; and mothers make an estimated 71% of a father’s salary

Yet, until this summer, New York State’s Equal Pay Act only protected against discrimination based on sex. The new law, passed in the final weeks of the 2019 session, now extends these same protections to all classes protected under New York State Human Rights Law. This includes areas such as race or ethnic background, familial status, national origin, disability, and domestic violence victim status. Additionally, amendments in the law loosen the criteria needed to demonstrate discrimination; instead of “equal work” a person must show they completed “substantially similar work.” It should be noted that some of these protections only apply to workplaces with four or more employees

These figures were just some of the many topics covered by speakers from Time’s Up, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Deloitte, and UN Women amongst others. There was discussion of PepTalkHer, a new app that gives women the tools and confidence to advocate for and negotiate the salaries they deserve, and advocates spoke on the pay gap spillover benefits of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), which trains women to become electricians, mechanics, or steamfitters. There were also calls for additional legal protections, like Britain’s requirement that all companies with over 250 workers publish their pay gap findings

Ranked 3rd best in the country on pay equity, New York has undoubtedly made strides in narrowing the wage gap. The hearing was therefore both a cause for celebration and an expert brainstorming session for the city. 

At the same time, all attendees were keenly aware that this was just the first step. 

Returning to the words of Fatima Gross Graves from NWLC, “We deserve better, and we are ready to turn up the volume.” 

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Observing Maternal Mental Health Month this May

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Observing Maternal Mental Health Month this May

Happy May! The Mindr team is welcoming the flowers that have started to bloom and disavowing the allergies (and rain!) that come along with them. What you may not know about May is that it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. This awareness campaign is young, starting in 2016, with activists, clinicians, researchers, and other moms taking a stand to talk about an issue faced by so many women.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of mood or anxiety disorder. In developing countries this number is even higher, where 15.6% of women during pregnancy and 20% of women after childbirth experience a mood disorder. It’s likely that these numbers are even greater than reported, as the WHO estimates that over 75% of these cases go undiagnosed. Sometimes these signs and symptoms don’t settle in immediately for new moms. In fact, many women do not experience symptoms for 12 months after childbirth. May is a time to elevate women’s stories, continue to advocate for scientific research on the topic, and normalize the notion that pregnancy and childbirth are crucial times to be dialed into the mental health of the mom.

The topic of maternal mental health was first introduced to the world stage with the adoption of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal #5, Maternal Health, which included maternal mental health in the agenda for the years 2000-2015. Now, with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for global progress by 2030, mental health and substance abuse are even more directly indicated in the health targets. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development.”

Celebrities have also played a role in heightening awareness about maternal mental health. People at the top of their fields such as Serena Williams and Cardi B have opened up about their experiences battling postpartum depression with their first babies, while navigating demanding careers. Previously, the late Princess Diana brought the issue to the global stage in 1995, while talking about her own experience with the illness “which no one ever discusses.” In 2017 Sarah Michelle Gellar shared her prior experience with postpartum depression to help normalize this issue for other women. With readily available social media and digital news platforms, we also now have the opportunity to share the stories of women who may not have the same access or resources as these high profile women.

Beyond awareness, our hope is that we can reduce incidences of postpartum depression and other mental illnesses through public and corporate policies. Multiple studies like this and this acknowledge that longer maternity leaves are best for children’s health, but go further to conclude that longer maternity leaves actually lower the risk of postpartum depression and other mental and physical health risks. These studies argue that having longer paid leaves reduce the financial burden and the guilt that can accompany new motherhood. We want this conversation to go further, for people to discuss and study the cultural norms that put mothers’ mental health at risk. This month we can converse about the pros and cons of the expectation that mothers are relied upon to ensure the health and wellbeing of the entire family unit. We can also discuss the impact of social media on mothers’ mental health. For example, what it feels like to be struggling mentally and physically postpartum when everyone else around you looks ‘together’ with a happy bouncing baby in their laps.

This May serves as a reminder that none of us are alone in any of this, and that your own mental health should always be prioritized. You can use the hashtag #maternalMHmatters to join the conversation this month.

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Friday Five

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Friday Five

Have you heard of pregnant stand-up? Female comedians like Ali Wong, Christina P., Amy Schumer and Natasha Leggero are leading a trend of growing their stand-up careers while pregnant, and speaking explicitly and hilariously about being an expectant mama. Through her comedy, Amy Schumer has opened up about her experience of hypermesis, while Ali Wong has basically taken over the world with her two Netflix specials filmed while pregnant. 

Peggy Alford, mother of two and senior vice president at PayPal, has just been tapped to serve on Facebook’s board of directors. She will be the first black woman and second black executive to serve on the board. In an interview with PayPal, she shared her story of choosing motherhood later in life while making time for her career.  

After Lori Lightfoot's Mayoral victory in Chicago, mother of two and former police chief Jane Castor was recently elected to serve as mayor of Tampa. Within the past month she, Lori, and Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wisconsin, have grown the number of lesbian candidates to be elected mayor of America's most populous cities from 2 to 5!  

Recently the New York Times published an obituary for Geraldine "Jerrie" Cobb, who was poised to become the first U.S. female astronaut, but due to sexism was never able to soar to space. This piece illustrates how her greatest triumphs and setbacks broke the glass ceiling for future female astronauts. 

With the Cannes Film Festival coming up in May, there is a focus to improve inclusivity among directors. Gender inclusivity is improving slightly, with four female directors scheduled to show their work out of 19 total entries. This number may seem low, but it's the highest it's been since 2011.

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