Women's Economic Mobility Initiative

Having a quality job is key to moving out of poverty.

But not all jobs are quality jobs. At this very moment thousands of women in California are working but barely making ends meet. That's because they’re making the minimum wage or slightly above it. In fact, two-thirds of all minimum wage workers in California are women and they’re earning just $1,600 per month. Imagine raising a family on that salary!

What is Women's Economic Mobility Initiative? It’s our new workforce development initiative designed to reduce the time a low-income, low-skilled woman stays in a low-wage job. Our approach is three-pronged: We’ll invest in programs and services that bridge the transition to living wage careers, we’ll influence policies that address barriers to employment and we’ll incorporate a gender analysis to workforce development strategies and systems, making them more responsive to the complex needs of women.

Why are we taking on workforce development? Catalyzed by research that revealed that in California 40 percent of single mothers are unemployed and 16 percent of women are living in poverty, we decided that getting women to work is essential to improving their economic wellbeing, as well as that of their families,  their communities and our state. The fact is, when women attach to work that pays a living wage, their lives stabilize and our economy thrives.

For 35 years, we've been investing in multiple strategies that increase women's economic security and we’ve gained expertise along the way. With this initiative we’ll do what we do best—grantmaking, leadership development, policy advocacy, research and coalition building—to influence systems change within the workforce development field.

Year 1: Seizing the opportunity in the health care sector. In 2014-15, we're focusing on helping women enter living wage careers in the health care industry, which is projected to grow at a rate of 8 percent over the next three years alone. This sector offers vast opportunities for women to achieve economic security: It offers many low-barrier-to entry employment opportunities, defined career pathways, multiple occupations requiring less than a 4-year degree and middle-skill jobs that offer family-sustaining wages. However, while employment opportunities in health care are promising, we need to ensure that these jobs are quality jobs and are addressing the challenges of its employees, who are mostly women.   




In 2014-15 we made six grants totaling $500,000 to organizations that are providing comprehensive services aimed to connect and advance women in the workforce. They are: El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center, Goodwill Serving the People of Southern Los Angeles County, In Home supportive Services Consortium, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project, Taller San Jose, and Vision Y Compromiso.

All six organizations are using breakthrough strategies to increase the number of low-income, low-skilled women who are completing education and training programs that lead to employment or advancement within the health care sector.

Over the course of next 18 months, we’ll learn from and with our impressive grant partners. Our six grant partners are part of a learning community; they will have time, space and resources to support each other’s strategies and highlight learnings and challanges so as to deepen their individual and group impact and broaden their collective reach. Our aim is to scale and replicate their learnings across the state.

Learn about our 2014-2016 Women's Economic Mobility Initiative grant partners >>

Leadership Development

WPI Fellow in front of Capitol Hill in Sacramento 

Through our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI), our year-long fellowship program now in its 12th year, we are training community-based women leaders to articulate and shape policy solutions for the challenges their communities face. Fellows gain skills in researching issue areas, working with the opposition, honing their public speaking, crafting and presenting testimony, creating fiscal estimates, building cross-movement coalitions and framing issue messages for policymakers, the media and the general public.

In 2013–14 we established our first ever Health Care Workforce Development WPI team. This team of five women grassroots leaders worked on Assembly Bill 2102 (Ting), which was signed into law on September 18, 2014. This bill promotes diversity and ensures that California has a health care workforce that reflects the cultural and linguistic needs of the people newly insured through the Affordable Care Act.

In 2014–15 we launched our second class of Workforce Development fellows. From time to time, we’ll feature updates about this team on our blog and in our newsletters.

Learn about our Women's Policy Institute >>


Policy Advocacy


Stand with Women is the Foundation's strategic communications and advocacy arm. Through this program, we launch on-the-ground advocacy campaigns on behalf of low-income women and families.

In 2013–14, we advocated for two workforce development public policies: The Minimum Wage bill (SB 935) authored by Senator Mark Leno and cosponsored by the Foundation and SEIU and Certified Nurse Assistants bill (SB 1384), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell.

SB 935 bill aimed to increase the minimum wage in California to $13 per hour by 2017 and then index the minimum wage to inflation. Sadly, it died in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on June 25, 2014.

SB 1384 ended the mandatory denial to receive licenses as Certified Nursing Assistantsaimed for people with over 70 different criminal convictions. In essence, a woman (or man) who had served a prison sentence at any time was automatically denied career advancement in the health care industry. This bill was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 29, 2014.


Coalition Building

Coalition Building image


We know that in order to move the needle in the workforce development field, we have to join forces and work in alignment with other organizations and movements—from women’s rights to economic justice movements, from philanthropic organizations to labor unions. Our efforts are interconnected and interdependent and we know that change will happen only if we coordinate our efforts.

We’re part of two coalitions:

Women’s Economic Security Campaign: WESC is a collaborative project between four regionally diverse women’s funds—Chicago Foundation for Women, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California and the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis. WESC, in collaboration with the Women’s Funding Network, aims to use the power and resources of women’s funds nationwide to increase economic opportunity for low-income women.

Last year, in partnership with WESC, we published a report titled Building Economic Security: The Power of Gender-based Philanthropy. At that time, we also published our case study about workforce development in the health care sector titled Re-Envisioning the Work of Women.

Partnership for Women’s Prosperity: Partnership for Women’s Prosperity is a collaborative initiative of the Women’s Funding Network and six leading women’s foundations across the country, which include New York Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Women’s Foundation of California, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. The Partnership’s goal is to meet the challenge of our new economic reality by supporting strategies that will increase the long-term economic security of women and families through job creating and employment, systems level change and advocacy on behalf of economically vulnerable women in the halls of power and in state legislatures across the country.

Read our most PWP recent report.


Questions and details


If you have any questions or concerns, contact Jaimi Cortes at jaimic@womensfoundca.org.

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