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Speeches & Remarks USDA Women’s History Month Observance

Remarks of OPM Director Katherine Archuleta

USDA Women’s History Month Observance

March 13, 2014

As prepared for delivery

Thank you Audrey. Thank you for your leadership of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. And especially for your efforts on the First Lady's "Let's Move" program. What a success that has been. Your research in the early 1990s on the feminization of poverty was ahead of its time. I'm so grateful you are still fighting the fight for the nation's neediest women and children.

What an amazing group of women on the program today! You are impressive examples of the depth of talent we have in the Federal service.

Thank you Vivian, Cheryl, Zina and Krysta for your service and for putting together this wonderful program.  I also want to thank Secretary Vilsack for his visionary leadership of USDA. I'm looking forward to meeting with the Secretary after this program.

I am so happy to be part of USDA's celebration of Women's History Month. I was looking forward to this. When they told me the theme of the event was around the courage, character and commitment of women I knew it was a subject I could talk about all day. I won't try to do that.

I will give you a few moments of just reflections, not only about my own experiences but also about my new role in the Office of Personnel Management.

When I think about courageous and heroic women in my life began in my own home. My mother never received a formal education beyond the fifth grade. When she was 57 years old, she quietly and deliberately took it upon herself to get her GED.

When we asked her why she was so intent on doing this after she had raised six children and had several grandchildren already, my mother said she always wanted to go to school. It was a day of pride, not only for her, but for the whole family. She had accomplished something that had been a dream that she had set aside to raise us. She was a woman with a purpose to fulfill!

At the other end of that spectrum from my mother is my daughter Graciela, whose challenges are very different. Graciela graduated from some very fine schools, something which her father and I are very proud.

But at the age of 19, Graciela faced a very, very serious health crisis. Yet she was able over the course of the past five years to face that and to make decisions about her future that frankly no one at that age should have to make.  She did that with resolve, and with a look at what her future could be and the hope that that brings with it. That makes her a true hero for me. She is a woman with a dream.

By the way, we received some great news about Graciela the other day. She was asked to serve on the Community Health Centers Community Advisory Board for Denver Health.

She will be the youngest member of the Advisory Board – serving the community she teaches in with the provider of her health care – Denver's Public Hospital. I'm thrilled that she is continuing in our family's tradition of public service and giving back to our community.

When I think about women in the Federal workforce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is definitely one agency I look to as a model. You show the way.

Your forum last summer on A Roadmap for Women in Agriculture was an example of how important it is to showcase the successes of women in every aspect of our society and in business. Many people talk about how important it is to do that. You acted on it. Well done.

Not only has USDA succeeded by showcasing the importance of women, you have hired and promoted women in tremendous numbers.  I want to applaud your culture of learning and of continued training and of fairness.

This agency has so many strong, accomplished women in some key leadership roles, jobs that not that long ago were held mostly by men.

Ramona Romero is the first Latina and person of color to serve as this agency's General Counsel. Catherine Woteki is Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. Phyllis Fong is Inspector General. Ann Mills is Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.  And Anne Alonzo is administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Those are just a few of the great women at USDA serving the American public every day. Congratulations USDA.

I salute all of these strong, courageous and committed women for their determination to succeed. You are women of purpose.  And while I'm at it, I want to thank the MEN who had the wisdom to promote them. Thank you Secretary Vilsack!

It is up to each of your leaders here and throughout the Federal service - men and women alike - to groom the next generation of women leaders. We need to mentor the young women. We need to look out for women. We need to help each other. We need to encourage each other.  We need to look out for women in mid-career who feel stuck and don't know how to reach the next level.

And we need to encourage senior women executives to look to the Federal government as a place to share their talents. We have an obligation to one another. We need to support, network, aim high, encourage. We need to do all those things for one another.

That's where leadership must come in. We must sponsor women. We must advocate for women.

Sometimes people say we need to look to the private sector as model employers. I say all we need to do is look right here in government, where nearly 34 percent of our executives are women, and more than 35 percent at USDA.

Frankly, we are doing better than the private sector. And we continue to improve. Our feeder positions into the SES - GS 14's and 15's - those numbers are great. But we need to get them higher.

There's no question that the interest is here. The Federal Women's Leadership Summit sponsored by the White House last year had a tremendous response. Twelve hundred women signed up for the webcast to learn how to write their corps qualifications and get more leadership information.  We're going to do more of those.

We're going to Federal Executive Boards across the country. We're going to start a coffee talk program. We're going to invite women from every level of government to participate to make sure they have an opportunity to see the possibilities for them to advance and to succeed. I am committed to expanding and improving the training and development opportunities for the Federal workforce, especially for women, people of color and those from groups underrepresented in Federal service.

As women, we have to make sure to take advantage of these opportunities. We've got to take advantage of the President's 2015 budget proposal where employee training money is available to support the exchange of training ideas across government. We can all learn from each other what works and how to share our successes. Women can be in the forefront of this opportunity.

Take for example, Karlese Kelly, your Chief Learning Officer and Deputy CHCO and Billy Milton, your CHCO. They have partnered together to advocate for women at the USDA. They are a powerful team that is standing up for you. This is the kind of partnership and collaboration we must promote across the Federal workforce.

Before I go, I want to talk to you about some of the work/life benefits available to Federal employees that women sometimes are not taking full advantage of – but should be. And some quick advice.

You know what; we've got to save more. Look to our Thrift Savings Plan. We are participating. But we're not saving enough. Save more!

When it comes to health care benefits we're the ones who usually make those decisions in the family. We've got to make sure we review all our health care choices. OPM has an online tool that can help at open enrollment time. Take a look.

We've got to make sure we can balance our work life and our home life.

And I want you to think about Teleworking. Telework is a great advantage for women and their families. In 2013, the share of Federal employees eligible to telework reached 47 percent. Think about whether this is something you want to take advantage of. Step up and work with your managers.

And finally I wouldn't be doing my job as Director of OPM if I didn't talk to you about where women stand when it comes to pay and leave.

Our President is passionate about this issue and so am I.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first law President Obama signed in 2009. And he ordered a government-wide review of pay and leave. What I can tell you right now is that the Federal government is doing better than we thought.

We have a principle in law in the Federal government that equal work deserves equal pay. It's the law. The President has directed us to make sure that we're doing it within the Federal government. Equal pay for equal work.

I am proud of the steps we have taken throughout government on the issues that are important to its women's employees. But we have more to do.

Frankly, it is not just about us – it's about the communities we serve. Your commitment to serve families wherever they are, help them meet their basic needs and expand their opportunities is important to all of us.

So I want to thank you again for inviting me to participate in this important day of recognition for women.

Let me leave you with this thought.

Just as I talked about my mother and my daughter being my personal heroes, we should all remember that heroes are not always those people whose names are on the front page of the Washington Post or at the top of the nightly newscast.

Sometimes they are right here in our own workplace. I want you to take a look at everyone in this room. Look to your left. Look to your right. Because I can assure you – you are sitting right next to someone's hero and we are all lucky that she is here with us!

Thank you.

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