Julene Allen is the Executive Director of the women’s rights organization, Women For Action. They feature stories about the under-recognized efforts of women-firsts, award-winning subjects and other women of significance. She is also the founder of Lean In Ohio and Lean In Women Of Colour. A former US Army Veteran, she has written Lean In Ohio 100 Women Archives: A Keepsake of Interviews with Women Trailblazers, Volume One. It is the first of the three-part historical book series containing interviews with Ohio’s prominent female leaders.

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Born and raised in Chicago, she had enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard. After the military, she worked in the corporate sector as an insurance underwriter and felt that her writing was unfulfilling and unappreciated.

“It did not take me long to realize that the people I was interviewing were facing visibility challenges and recognition for their hard work. As a result, I founded the nonprofit organization, Women For Action which champions the work of women innovators.”

“My writing journey began after having my son, who is now in college. I went back to school and became fascinated with Feminism through a Women’s Studies course. Since I was a child, I was told I had a natural knack for creating things and I enjoyed writing. I started submitting my ideas and work to local journals and online blogs after getting high marks on an essay and project I did in college. It eventually led me down the path of interviewing both men and women documentary filmmakers. I was approached by a film distribution company to interview some of their filmmakers.

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Initially, I noticed both women and people of color struggled with funding for their projects. It became a common theme to tell stories about those who had a greater need. Soon I realize that the people I was interviewing were facing visibility challenges and recognition for their hard work. As a result, I founded the nonprofit organization, Women For Action, which champions the work of women innovators.

After years of writing, blogging, interviewing and feeling as though my own work was lacking visibility, I decided to publish. In the beginning, I lacked the confidence and did not know what it would mean to publish a book. I am glad I did it.”

In spite of being the most powerful country in the world, gender disparity and discrimination is still rampant in the US.

Allen feels we can’t discuss what’s happening now until we trace it back to its origin. How hundreds of years back to the African slave trade and the ousting of Native Americans happened. A rich nation was built on the backs of the oppression of others.

“It’s shameful to know that our history is tied to such an atrocity and oppression of an entire race and culture. To do away with the stigma, those who are being oppressed do not want to magnify the hatred by doing the shaming. In the US, we tend to feel that if we don’t discuss a problem, then the problem will go away.  Many people want to forget that slavery ever happened to African-Americans and that the Native Americans were the first here.

…Less than one hundred years ago, women were granted the right to vote. Then approximately forty years ago, feminist activists tried to ensure that women were protected under the US Constitution because the founding document excluded women. That legislation never passed and the constitution still to this day has not been amended.

In this past election, things seemed to boil over because President Trump was at the center of a racist demographic that wanted to express their grievances. In my opinion, the sexism and racism are more blatant and obvious. But it’s always been there.”

Having said that, Allen is still optimistic. She says that there has been a deeper focus on equal pay for women and women of color. Benefits such as paid family leave and other ways to level the playing field for women have been initiated within this past year.

For the first time is 40 years, she thinks women have a real shot at advancing.

When it comes to writing a book on women leaders, Allen informs that Ohio is the best place to do anything socially and politically. For one, Ohio matters to the rest of the country. “What happens in Ohio during a national election will determine the outcome for the rest of the country in a presidential election. As the saying goes, ‘As Ohio goes, so goes the nation’. Ohio is a fascinating marketplace to establish a project such as this. It’s great to examine the stories of the women leaders who are at the center of national progress.”

But with Donald Trump as the US president, do women have to fight harder to be taken seriously and have their seat at the table? Is it even harder for women of colour?

“President Trump is doing away with a mandate that requires companies to report pay data by race and gender. Women and women of color are paid much less than the average white man. We have been able to determine who has been impacted by pay inequity. Also, which geographic regions are being affected the most. This is a serious setback.”

“Electing President Donald Trump showed us just how much more work is needed to establish equality for women and women of color. President Trump is doing away with a mandate that requires companies to report pay data by race and gender. Women and women of color are paid much less than the average white man. We have been able to determine who has been impacted by pay inequity. Also, which geographic regions are being affected the most. This is a serious setback. Finally, we were getting to a place where we were holding companies accountable. It is not a bad thing because paying people unequally is just terrible for business.

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I do feel women as an entire voting demographic must realize that they are being treated unequally and unfairly.  Those of us that know that we are do not know how to get through the demographic of women who don’t realize it. Donald Trump is not “the” problem but only a contributor to a much larger problematic issue. Again, Trump’s presidency only brought these issues to the surface. So the rest of us can see why the progress on civil rights and equal rights has slowed.”

Allen hopes people get to know that each of the women featured in her book worked extremely hard to obtain the positions that they have and they should be noted.

She wants it to inspire more journalism work to tell stories about women’s achievements because women’s stories are usually under-noted.

She adds, “Additionally, I hope each reader is inspired by one of these women’s stories. Whether they find the inspiration to finish a project, go after a career goal or decide to mentor or support others. I hope it sparks action and movement.”

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