Valerie Jarrett: Women Deserve a Fair Shot

African-American women must overcome a longer list of inequities.

Posted: 09/18/2013 01:42 PM EDT

American women have made extraordinary strides in industry and the public policy arena. They are graduating from college and graduate school in higher numbers than men and 40 percent of women bring in at least half of their families' total income.

Speaking at a forum on women, leadership and getting a fair shot Wednesday morning, hosted by the Center for American Progress, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, quoting basketball great Bill Russell, said the best way to measure progress is to look at how far you have left to go.

Women today earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man for the same work. African-American women earn 64 cents of that dollar.

"We have much left to do. The work we have left to do is about providing our women and girls the fair shot that they deserve: a life of success and wellness," Jarrett said. "Tackling the economic challenges of our time depends on prioritizing the economic security for women because economic security for women means economic security for families, communities and our nation."

One of the challenges African-American and other women of color face in achieving equity economically and leadership roles, noted Spelman College President Beverly Tatum, is the stereotypical way they're often viewed.

"When we're talking about stereotype of the 'strong Black woman,' we think about Michelle Obama, who's very popular today, but when she was the candidate's wife, she was being characterized as aggressive and in essence told to tone herself down," Tatum said.

Young Black women, she added, are too often hyper-sexualized, which can have a negative impact from a public policy point of view because the stereotype can lead decision-makers to question whether someone they view as "immoral" deserves help.

Tatum said that at her institution's convocation this year, she discussed how Spelman women played an important role in the civil rights movement 50 years ago.

"I asked the students, 'How are you going to respond to the challenges to your right to lead? Are you going to mobilize the way [those women] did?'"

Tatum believes it's very important for the younger generation of women to feel like they can conquer the world.

"But the reality is we also need to help young people understand what the barriers are, not so they'll be discouraged, but so they can be strategic in terms of thinking how to overcome them," Tatum said.

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 (Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

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