Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

Too Much Self-Reliance

MAKERS Moment

Too Much Self-Reliance

More From Karen

Watch in Cinema View

In this video

Nussbaum observes that younger women have lost the spirit of organizing and seeking help when they face discrimination.

Karen's Biography

Childhood dream: To become a social worker.
First Job: Babysitter
Favorite advice: “Keep an open mind but don’t let your brains fall out.”
Cause of Choice: Working America

Karen Nussbaum is an activist, labor leader, and founder of 9to5, a pioneering labor organization for female clerical workers. She has also served as Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Labor Department during the Clinton Administration, and as the head of the Working Women’s Department of the AFL-CIO from 1996-2001.
 
Nussbaum was born in Chicago in 1950, where her mother worked as a publicist and her father as an exterminator. She dropped out of the University of Chicago after a year and a half in order to move to Boston and devote herself to the anti-Vietnam movement. During this time she began supporting herself as a clerical worker at Harvard University, an experience that opened her eyes to the inequities and privations faced by middle and lower income working women throughout the United States.
 
By 1973, she and several colleagues had formed 9to5, an organization that sought to address these issues and forged a union for female office workers in 1975. In contrast to many labor organization, 9to5 focused on the plight of what Nussbaum calls “mainstream working women,” many of whom were performing the same work as men but for lower pay. Within just a few years the organization had gained national attention and, in 1981, it joined with the SEIU to form a partnership known as District 925.
 
Nussbaum served as director of District 925 from 1981 to 1993 when she stepped down to join the Clinton Administration. She held the position of director of the Department of Labor Women’s Issues—the highest ranking position devoted to women’s issues in the government—for three years before joining the AFL-CIO. She currently heads Working America, the community affairs affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Related Videos

Laura Cha Shin May-Lung
Laura Cha Shin May-Lung
Former Vice-Chairwoman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission

Laura Cha Shin May-Lung grew up in an ordinary, middle-class family in Hong Kong and is the first non-mainlander to serve the Chinese government at the level she did. Throughout he...

Wendy Kopp
Wendy Kopp
Founder & CEO, Teach For America

Wendy Kopp is CEO and founder of Teach For America. The idea first came to her as a senior in college, and she proposed the concept in her senior thesis. Following graduation, she ...

Maddy DeLone
Maddy DeLone
Prisoners' Rights Attorney

Maddy DeLone is the Executive Director of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to exonerating the wrongly convicted through the use of DNA testing and c...

Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman
Fortune 500 CEO

Meg Whitman is not your typical Silicon Valley tycoon. Not only the rare woman in a largely male club, Whitman was neither a tech geek nor web-obsessed venture capitalist when she ...