The Feministing Five: Vivien Labaton

Vivien Labaton

Vivien Labaton

Fresh off the advocacy presses, the newly launched “Make It Work” Campaign is the latest initiative in fighting for equitable workplace rules such as equal pay, minimum wage, caregiving, and increased support for balancing work and families. “Make It Work” is gearing up to influence political and electoral campaigns for the next three years, hitting upcoming midterms and the ever looming 2016 election, focusing on the systemic ways to bring out change rather than continuing to place the locus of work on individual (take a wild guess who I’m referring to).

Reflecting its mission to bring about 21st century workplace securities for 21st century realities, “Make It Work” seems to be targeting a bit younger of an audience than what we normally expect to be concerned with workplace family / life balance. But when you think about it, it makes sense — as more and more young folks enter roles that fail offer benefits like paid sick days or family care leave, it’s important to send the message that these should be areas where no one should have to settle. With its Beyonce and Tina Fey quotes and Buzzfeed-like-quiz (I got Olivia Pope y’all!), the “Make It Work” site appears to give folks who may not think they have a connection to workplace rights an introduction to terms and concepts, and invitation to share their story, and an opportunity to move together to influence political and social change.

We spoke with Vivien Labaton, who along with Ai-jen Poo, Tracy Sturdivant, and Alicia Jay co-founded “Make It Work” to learn more about this burgeoning campaign and where we can expect it to go in the months and years to come.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Vivien Labaton!

Suzanna Bobadilla: To start us off could you describe for us the goals behind “Make It Work” and how you became involved? 

Vivien Labaton: The goal of Make It Work is to put forward a vision of what we need our lives to look like around work and family in the 21st century. We need to change the policies and practices that hold women and families back, and that are out of sync with our needs and daily realities—whether it’s the fact that women are primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of all households but yet are still not earning equal pay, the fact that child care is necessary yet unaffordable for many families, or the fact that many women and men can’t even afford to take a week off to be home with a newborn child. Many workplace rules and practices were created at a time when the workforce looked very different than it does today, and we are still struggling with the vestiges of that in many respects.

We want to sound a steady drumbeat on these issues over the next three years so that economic security for women is a priority for policymakers and candidates, especially those who hope to win the coveted women’s vote. And we want to open up the conversation about what women, men, and families need in order to thrive at home and in the workplace.

As for my involvement, I’m one of the co-founders of the campaign, along with Ai-jen Poo, Tracy Sturdivant, and Alicia Jay. We believe the moment is ripe for a campaign like Make It Work. Economic inequality is one of the defining issues of this political moment and we want to make sure that women’s needs are front and center in that conversation, especially since many women are in increasingly precarious situations (2/3rds of minimum wage workers are women, many low-wage workers lack paid sick days or predictable schedules, etc.) At the same time, there has been increased attention to issues around women in the workplace due to books and articles like Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay in The Atlantic, and many others, that have created an opportunity to expand the conversation and to draw attention to the full range of women’s experiences in the workplace and the challenges that many women still face. And finally, there’s the fact that we’re heading into an election season in which the women’s vote will once again be in high demand, which creates an opportunity to elevate women’s needs and a women’s agenda.

SB: After looking through your campaign, I noticed your core focuses on Equal Pay, Caregiving, and Work & Family. In light of the conversation surrounding Jill Abramson’s “leaning in” and subsequent firing, how does your campaign help to switch economic justice from an individualistic framework to one that tackles the systemic problem? 

VL: One of the goals of this campaign is to do precisely that—lift up the fact that the issues we’re working on are systemic issues that warrant our collective attention. You used equal pay as an example but you could just as easily use another example like child care. If you talk to a lot of parents with kids, they feel like they are barely holding it all together financially, logistically, in lots of ways. And yet, even if that’s the experience of a huge proportion of families, many people experience it as if they’re going through it alone, that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t make it work. One of the goals of the campaign is to bring to light the fact that these problems are widespread and warrant a collective fix—that clearly something isn’t working and has to give. We need to reckon with these challenges as a country.  

To go back to your question about equal pay—though it’s often discussed in the context of individual situations, like the Abramson example, the fact is that while sometimes it’s a situation in which a woman is paid less than her male counterpart for the same job, the other factors that contribute to the pay gap between women and men are the fact that women disproportionately occupy jobs in lower paying professions and are the majority of minimum wage earners, and that they take time out of the workforce more often than men for caregiving or other responsibilities. So in order to address pay disparities, we need to look at that bigger picture and address the conditions that affect women up and down the economic spectrum, albeit in different ways and to different degrees. In other words, the Abramson example is one manifestation of a bigger, complex picture that requires us to look at how women’s work is being valued on an individual level as well as on a structural level.

SB: How can folks who are starting out a career but perhaps don’t have caregiving on their minds take action now to make it work in the future? 

VL: The campaign is taking on a range of issues, some of which are specific to people who have caregiving responsibilities and some of which aren’t. Issues like equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage are relevant to people with and without caregiving responsibilities alike.

We also know that some women (and increasingly men), who don’t yet have children but plan to, have anxieties about how they will manage the demands of work and family if and when that time comes. Whether these issues impact you right now or are likely to impact you down the road, you should speak up on them to push for the policies and conditions that will allow you to make it work.

SB: How can our readers help support your campaign? 

VL: They can share their story with us. We have a story sharing tool on our website and we’d love to hear how folks are dealing with these challenges in their daily lives. We want to lift up the voices and experiences of a broad range of women and men. People can also sign up on our website to stay abreast of campaign activities and get involved. We have a fun Buzzfeed-style quiz on how people make it work on our site–people can take the quiz and share their results on Facebook and Twitter. Our goal is to get the word out about the campaign far and wide, so people should check it out and tell their friends.

SB: A year from now, what do you hope would be happening with the campaign? 

VL: We want to see progress on these issues at the state level in terms of policy wins. And we want to make sure these issues are front and center in the run-up to 2016, to make clear that these issues must be a priority for any candidate who wants the women’s vote. We also want to cultivate and contribute to a robust, public conversation around what women and families need in order to make it work. Before we launched the campaign we conducted a national poll on campaign issues. People responded with high intensity and during the course of that process, we were reminded of the extent to which people are really struggling with these issues on a daily basis and that there’s really no release valve. Make It Work is about creating that release valve and making clear that though these issues play out in our personal lives on a daily basis, they are issues we need to address as a country so that women, men, and families can not only make it work, but thrive.

Suzy 1 

Suzanna Bobadilla is the interviews contributor for Feministing. If you have someone that you think she should talk to, give her a shout at @suzbobadilla

 

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