Speech: Shinae Chun (2002)

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Women’s Bureau Director, Shinae Chun, gave this speech at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Women’s History Month Opening Ceremony. It is titled “Women Sustaining the American Spirit.”

Thank you for that very kind introduction. And thanks to all of you for being here. It is my pleasure to join you this morning, to honor the incredible women whose courage and dedication have sustained the American spirit throughout our history and through these difficult past six months. Pioneers and heroines who have broken down barriers, created new opportunities, championed justice, and risked their lives for the greater good.

Some are household names… Like Betsy Ross, who created our nation’s most cherished symbol—the American flag. And Harriett Tubman, who guided more than 300 slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Others are unknown outside of their families and communities. However, all are part of our history.

They were joined this past September by a new group of heroines, whose bravery and sacrifice should fill us with pride. Women such as New York Police Officer, Moira Smith, who perished at the World Trade Center as she directed others to safety. Navy Officer, Melissa Rose Barnes, who was preparing for her first assignment at sea when she died at her post at the Pentagon. And too many others to list here today. All deserve our recognition—and our heart felt appreciation.

March has been designated Women’s History Month for just that purpose. It is an opportunity to acknowledge groundbreakers of the past, thank the heroines of today, and inspire the leaders of the future. And it is a reminder that, if we believe in ourselves, we can make a real difference.

My childhood experience taught me that gender equity starts at home. As I was growing up in Korea, beef soup was a very popular and special dish that every family enjoyed. More often than not, I noticed that I did not have beef in my portion of the soup. Mine was full of vegetables with no beef. Beef was all in my father’s and brothers’ soup. I did not have any hard feelings toward my father or brothers. In fact, I enjoyed my beef soup without the beef, but I have been very conscious about the missing beef and have been asking “Where is the Beef” ever since. The Women’s Bureau is driven by this message.

Being the first Asian American Director of the Women’s Bureau is a very high honor. Only in America could an immigrant like myself be given such an incredible opportunity. For that, I thank President Bush and Secretary Chao, and two other women whose determination made my path possible.

The first is my mother. My mother’s only wish in life was for her girls to get a college degree instead of a dowry. I joined my two sisters and attended Ewha Woman’s University. When my mother passed away, the only precious jewelry left was this ring. This ring reminds me every day of my mother’s belief that education would open doors for her girls that otherwise would not be available. And I am forever thankful for her forward thinking.

The second is Mary F. Scranton, a 19th century Methodist missionary, who made my mother’s dream possible. Mrs. Scranton made the choice to leave her comfortable home in the U.S. She traveled across the world to establish the first institution of formal education for women in Korea in 1886. She started with one student; Ewha currently has 18,000 students, and is one of the largest universities for women in the world. I wish I could tell her how many thousands of lives she changed—including my own. Without her vision and sacrifice, I would not be standing before you today.

I am proud to serve a President who understands just how much women can accomplish and has had no hesitation in appointing them to the top posts in his administration.

Just look at your own leader, Secretary Ann M. Veneman, the first woman Secretary of Agriculture; Condoleeza Rice, the first woman National Security Advisor; and my boss….Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, the first Asian American Woman to hold a Cabinet position in any Administration. She oversees the Department, which has over 17,000 employees and regulates 180 labor statutes. We are very proud to be a part of her team.

We have come a long way and made significant progress. We intend to go even further.

*In 1900, women accounted for less than one in five U.S. workers. Today, we make up nearly half of the workforce.

*And women are responsible for nearly 60 percent of the labor force growth between 1980 and 2000.

 *At the same time that we are increasing our numbers, working women are also taking on more senior level positions. As of 1999, more than 45 percent of all managers were women. That’s a 10-fold increase from the turn of the previous century.

*And women are not only succeeding in other people’s businesses, we’re starting our own. Today, there are 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. These businesses employ 27.5 million people and contribute $3.6 trillion to the economy.

This is all good news—for our nation’s women, and families, and for our economy as a whole. But there is still more work to be done.

Secretary Chao emphasizes that one of the most critical issues impacting national economic development is the skills gap in the workforce. And her focus on the skills gap is a 21st century reality: learning pays well.

In support of the Secretary’s goals, the Women’s Bureau came up with the “Women and Technology” initiative in FY2001. We designed six high technology demonstration projects. To name a few:

*On Line learning for Single Mothers in New Jersey *High Technology Virtual Conference Calls *GEM-SET (Girls e-mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology)

We strongly believe that technology is the ticket to better paying jobs. Women in IT earn 60 percent more than women in other occupations. Of the fifty-four jobs expected to experience the most significant growth between now and 2005, only eight do not require technological fluency.

We are extremely proud of these efforts, but we are not stopping here. In December, we launched our new “Strengthening the Family” initiative to address working women’s security, opportunity, and flexibility. Our initiative includes three major components. The first is “Financial Security for Working Women.”

*Of the 59 million wage and salaried women working in the United States as of June 2000, less than half (47 percent) participate in a pension plan.

*Women are less confident about having the money for a comfortable retirement.

*Women live longer by nineteen years versus sixteen years for men.

The second component is “Expanding Workplace Flexibility.”

*In 1900, 80 percent of American children had a working father and a stay-at-home mother; by 2000, only 25 percent of American children had such an arrangement.

*A 1995 survey by Penn and Schoen Associates found that 75 percent of Americans surveyed favored a proposal that allowed hourly employees to choose whether to take their time-and-a-half overtime compensation in the form of wages or time off.

The third component is “Reducing Worker Shortages.”

*As I mentioned earlier, we are facing a worker shortage in technology. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Other critical fields are also in need of workers.

*The Women’s Bureau is researching ways to help fill such gaps with existing sources of experienced workers—such as older workers and disabled workers.

*We are devoting special attention to shortages in the area of nursing—and to the difficult employment situation facing military spouses.

We believe our “Strengthening the Family” initiative will help to make the work place a better place—which is what the Women’s Bureau, and the Labor Department, are all about.

Thank you again for joining me today to celebrate the past and for working every day to create an even brighter future—for this nation’s women and for all of us. God bless you and God bless America.


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