In a letter addressed to members and participants of Federally Employed Women’s 50th anniversary, National President Wanda Killingsworth said, “For 50 years, FEW has worked for the advancement of women in the federal service, which is a great milestone as we continue to work to remove the obstacles that remain in the federal workplace that hinder employment opportunities for women.”
She continued, “It was a heroic act by our founding members to come together in 1968 and decide that enough was enough. They could no longer tolerate women being pushed aside and being discriminated against. They felt more could be done to retain highly skilled women as well as a diverse workforce. These fearless women began the nuts-and-bolts work of making their vision a reality by establishing an organization dedicated to improving the status of women in government.”
At FEW’s 49th National Training Program, GovLoop had the opportunity to sit down with Killingsworth and gain her perspective on the legacy of FEW and her hopes for the organization’s future.
Like many women involved with FEW, Killingsworth started out as a passionate federal worker. She has over 25 years of public service both in the IRS and Treasury Department. “I was originally recommended to the organization for mentoring and networking,” she said. “I fell in love with it. I really wanted to advocate on behalf of women as both my parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s in my blood.”
National administration changes and efforts to reduce the federal workforce over the last few years proved challenging for Killingsworth and Federally Employed Women. “In the past couple of years, the greatest challenges have been sequestration and furloughs with limitation on training dollars,” she said. “The National Training Program is our biggest fundraiser. If we can’t put it on, we can’t grow the organization.”
To counter such challenges and keep the organization moving forward, Killingsworth has used her background in finance to focus on investment and running the organization as a business. “We started a corporate advisory committee to gear up the funds we need now that we have a structured organization,” she said. “That means we can still sustain the organization for at least the next five years and beyond. But we have to focus on fiscal security during these times.”
Along with focusing efforts on helping women get training dollars from their agencies and running FEW as a business, Killingsworth is especially proud that she was able to give back through her role as National President. “I love knowing that I could touch somebody’s life,” she said. “Last year, a high schooler heard me speak at the Training Program and this year she brought back five of her friends. That’s how I want to keep women motivated and inspired so they do something with their lives.”
Additionally, Killingsworth is glad that her administration was able to revamp their military awards program for the first time in three years. The program recognizes three to six outstanding women in the military who have distinguished themselves with significant contributions to their service and the nation.
This will be Killingsworth’ last year as National President of FEW. For the future and her incoming successor, Karen Rainey, Killingsworth would like to see more training dollars released and an emphasis on garnering awareness for public servants’ rights. “Government employees are being targeted right now,” she said. “There’s an emphasis on reducing retirement benefits and there’s even talk about cutting insurance policies and firing at will. We’re going to have to refocus and advocate for those who don’t have a voice. We need to put the word out there.”
For example, FEW recently had an advocacy week where they marched to Capitol Hill to advocate for maintaining government employee benefits. “We have to get back to the grassroots and get out there for more advocacy,” Killingsworth said.
FEW is also focusing on recruiting younger generations including millennials by widening outreach and social media engagement. “We need to reach out to those demographics and also emphasize that anyone can join, not just government.”
Ultimately, for Killingsworth who has long been fighting for the voices of women and government employees, FEW’s mission boils down to these three things: “Invest in your life, invest in your future and let your voice be heard.”
For more articles about Federally Employed Women and the 49th National Training Program, click here.