To advance equity, empowerment and opportunity for women, Autumn McDonald worked with the Mayor’s Office in San Francisco to design the agenda for the Bay Area Women’s Summit, focused on finding solutions for all women, including middle- and working-class women’s need for reliable, affordable child care. The resulting impact: McDonald worked with the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland to improve policy surrounding affordable childcare, parental leave, workers and salaries, and explicit bias training for all city staff.

In the Bay Area, much like the rest of the country, women tend to be compensated significantly less than male counterparts and are underrepresented in leadership roles across professions. Adding to the problem is the Bay Area’s high cost of living, which makes two-income households a necessity for many, creating hardships for families who often struggle to find affordable, reliable childcare and workplace policies that fit their needs.

To address the issue, the city of San Francisco hired Autumn McDonald, a 2015-2016 FUSE Fellow, to work on the Bay Area Women’s Summit, a landmark event designed to bring together leaders in government, business, philanthropy, and education to advance equity, empowerment, and opportunity for women.

Autumn McDonald with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

One of McDonald’s most important goals was to expand the original summit agenda from how women can “lean in and move up,” to empowering middle-class and working-class women to be better served by their careers/employment and find affordable, reliable child care.

“The issue with childcare isn’t just about finding a good place for your child. People find they can’t get back into the workforce because of the cost of childcare,” said McDonald, who’s worked with multi-sector organizations on strategy, program design and evaluation. “There was a time when the majority of breadwinners were men. Women were staying home and caring for kids, and sometimes their parents too. Care on any level was done by women, but today most families can’t afford to do that.”

Over the course of her year-long fellowship, McDonald worked closely with the mayor’s senior staffers, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Children’s Services to focus the agenda of the summit on those issues.

The Bay Area Women’s Summit was held in June 2016 and included a range of organizations, including leaders from local businesses like Kaiser Permanente and Salesforce, as well as education and government leaders. Every one of the 1,200 participants made personal pledges to work to promote gender equity, and several corporations pledged to promote gender equity in their workplaces.

One of the lasting imprints of McDonald’s work came after the event, a framework put in place by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, to institute new policies that benefitted women. As part of that work, both mayors pledged to address and enact policies that supported middle- and working-class women, including affordable childcare and childcare subsidies, and parental leave, and to provide implicit bias training to all city employees.

“Autumn methodically developed a women’s empowerment program that helped shape policy discussions and spurred pledges across the region,” said Lani Kent, an advisor to Mayor Lee who worked with McDonald on the project. “She was a soldier in moving toward something that regional businesses and local women could engage in real time. She made the content of the event and pledges meaningful. We would not have arrived there without her.”

McDonald also brought forward a strong sense of collaboration, bringing together internal and external stakeholders, Kent said, which was not always easy to do. McDonald showed that it’s possible for a government agency to work nimbly, while mitigating risks.

The summit will take place again every two years, the next one planned for 2018.