Ai-jen Poo

The Woman Defending America’s “Invisible” Workers

Ai-jen Poo is on a mission to give a voice to the nation’s unsung heroes: domestic workers. These women are the nannies who take care of our children, the housekeepers who bring order to our lives and the nursing-home staff who tend to our parents and family members. They heed what is most important to us but often don’t receive the same care and concern. As director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations (and, oh, a 2014 MacArthur fellow), Poo is focused on improving the working conditions of these women and giving them the respect they deserve.

When did you realize what you wanted to do in your life?

“While I was in college, there was a pivotal moment for me while I was volunteering for a domestic-violence hotline that served immigrant women. I spoke with women who had escaped their abusers and were working 60 to 70 hours a week, yet still couldn’t afford their own apartment. They went to incredible lengths to keep their kids safe and healthy, making sure they did their homework and getting them off to school each day.

“That experience taught me about the unbelievable challenges that define what’s possible for many women, and it also made me realize how incredibly strong and resilient women are. I decided that I wanted to do work that would open up what’s possible for women, and as I continued working and learning it became clear that there was much to be done for domestic workers, who were many of the women I was meeting. So I realized what I wanted to do in my life as a result of first realizing whose lives I wanted to [change].”

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Digital team, ready!! #familiesbelongtogether

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What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“Domestic work is invisible to most of us. It happens in the privacy of our homes, hidden behind closed doors. Culturally, it’s not even fully recognized as real work—it’s often referred to as ‘help.’ And yet the women who do this work take incredible pride in the care and support they provide for children, elders, people with disabilities and the working families who count on them. So being part of building a national alliance of more than 60 organizations that work day in and day out to bring recognition to this workforce has been such an incredible honor. To be able to represent this workforce, while keeping laser-focused on making these jobs good jobs, has definitely been the greatest accomplishment I’ve been a part of.”

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#GoldenGlobes #timesup on our way

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What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. And keep your mentors close. You could even create a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of women who you really trust, who can support you and be a sounding board for you. Linda Burnham has been a mentor to me since I was 25 years old. She is 70 now, and I’ve learned so much from her, so seek out intergenerational mentorship. And be someone like that for somebody else too.”

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