Amy Poehler

The Story Behind Amy Poehler's Smart Girls

By Lifestyle and Budget FOXBusiness

It’s been over a decade since the United States has seen real progress in the fight against gender inequality in the workplace. Women continue to get paid less than men, and discrimination in the labor force promotes occupational segregation.  

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“You know, I wouldn’t have predicted in 2000, that 15 years later we are almost at the same point as we were then, [that] there’s been so little change in the last 15 years,” Ariane Hegewisch, Program Director for Institute for Women's Policy Research, told FOXBusiness.com.

It’s National Business Women’s Day, and FOXBusiness.com talked with the co-founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and their mission to empower women, and breaking down the preconceived notions that gender discrimination in the workplace is simply the norm.

“My question is, what do you think that says about us as a culture, as an economic system, as a nation, that gender inequality in the workplace is even a question in 2016?” Meredith Walker, co-founder of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, said.  

It all started with a casual conversation between two friends. “It really was, it was just two friends talking and we remembered that age range: puberty. The pre-teen and teenage years that was filled with the ups, downs, and everything in-between was where it all started,” Walker said.

And, it was an experience during that complicated age which led to the motivation and creation of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. “When somebody would say, ‘tell me more about that,’ and just be interested in what we had to say, and let us be our goofy selves, and still want to be around us, it really had an impact on us – it truly did,” Walker said.

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Smart Girls lives by their motto, “You change the world by being yourself,” Walker said. The social impact, digital media company empowers women and encourages adolescents to pursue their dreams, and overcome hurdles such as gender discrimination.

“The girls that we deal with…they’re all confident, capable, and they can accomplish incredible things if we just don’t put up obstacles in their path, and justify the obstacles as that’s just the way things have always been, that’s just the way it’s done, sorry,” Walker said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 women earned 78.6% of what men make. So, for the $50,383 median income for men, women made just $39,621. But why is there still a wage gap if the fight has been going on for decades?

“The two big reasons, kind of statistically – one is that women and men tend to go into different occupations. And, the occupations that women go into pay less,” said Hegewisch. She went on to add that the other big factor is an unknown. “So there is still almost something like 40% of the wage gap we can’t explain, and scientists or academics typically take that as the best indicator of discrimination,” she added.

Walker says Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls is helping fight the ongoing battle against gender discrimination by offering mentorships and digital role modeling, as well as providing workshops at schools. “We celebrate the everyday girl,” said Walker. “We love pointing out that we all matter right now as we are, but we also seek out and share the stories of girls and women in diverse fields and we highlight those.”

People can have a drastic influence on one’s life; Linda Ellerbee from Nick News filled that role for Walker. Now, she uses what she learned from her time with Ellerbee as a mentor, colleague, and friend to help drive the Smart Girls mission forward.

“We always try to lead people to the truth and the facts, and that really has to do with me coming up through my hero, my journalism hero Linda Ellerbee,” Walker said.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both say they will make efforts to eliminate gender discrimination, but until that comes to fruition, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls will continue to be a voice and an outlet for young women.  

“I've really come to believe when you find your passion; you find what your life can really begin to mean,” said Walker. “And, that’s what I found with Smart Girls.”

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