During Friday’s conference, the White House announced that $118 million had been raised to support programs that close the opportunity gap for women of color. Independent foundations pledged $100 million for a five-year program to improve their economic prosperity. Another $18 million was promised to fund academic research on women and girls of color.
Of all the barriers women of color face, here are the top five the White House is trying to tackle:
1. Excessive student suspensions
Girls of color are suspended at school at a disproportionately high rate, according to the Department of Education. Black girls are suspended at a rate of 12 percent—more often than girls of any other race and more often than white boys. Repeated suspensions often affect a student’s academic success and likelihood of dropping out of school.
What the White House is doing: The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have been pushing back against zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, instead urging schools to adopt alternatives to suspension.
2. Juvenile arrests
Girls of color make up a growing share of juvenile arrests these days. About 32 percent of girls detained and committed are black, even though they make up only 14 percent of the United States population, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Native American girls are only 1 percent of the general population, yet make up 3.5 percent of girls who are detained and committed. Skipping school and running away from home are the most common reasons girls are arrested—behaviors that are also symptoms of trauma and abuse, researchers say. Once in the system, girls are often treated as criminals instead of children who need support, keeping alive a vicious cycle known as the “sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline.”
What the White House is doing: The Department of Justice has recommended that local and state law enforcement agencies stop arresting youth for minor offenses like skipping school, running away, or underage drinking. They urge police and the courts to consider alternatives to detention, such as counseling and parent engagement.
3. Opportunity gaps in STEM education and careers
Girls of color are rarely encouraged to pursue classes or careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2012, for example, women of color received only 11 percent of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8 percent of master’s degrees, and 4 percent of doctorate degrees, according to the National Science Foundation. The Obama administration points out that there are few role models for women of color in the STEM fields and they often face discrimination in the hiring process.
What the White House is doing: The White House launched a website highlighting the untold stories of women in science and technology, and held its first ever Demo Day for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds.