Nationwide Initiative Amplifies Underrepresented Voices, Diversifies Leadership


PISCATAWAY, N.J. (June 24, 2020) – The Rutgers Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO), with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, today expanded a nationwide initiative to elevate more women and people of color—especially women of color—to leadership positions in unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations. The expansion comes at a critical time in the worker justice movement, as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the depth of social and economic challenges facing low-wage workers and their families.


“With COVID-19 disproportionately impacting Black communities and women workers, we activated the WILL Empower network of women labor leaders,” said Sheri Davis, senior program director of Rutgers CIWO and co-director of WILL Empower. “They not only shared policies, practices, strategies, and relief language; these same leaders have been on the frontlines pushing the worker justice movement to demand racial justice at every level. With W.K. Kellogg Foundation funding, CIWO can further expand our communities of learning, providing the infrastructure needed to support bold and courageous leadership.”


Rutgers CIWO, a research center within the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, will level-up two of its existing programs as part of today’s announcement. Build the Bench breaks down silos in the economic justice movement by convening the leaders of diverse, community-based organizations. WILL Empower, a partnership between Rutgers CIWO and Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, works to identify, nurture, train, and convene a new generation of women labor leaders. The expansion includes:


  • Hosting a national symposium focused on advancing women’s leadership in the worker justice movement;
  • Recruiting more women, people of color, and especially women of color to join Rutgers CIWO’s growing communities of learning;
  • Creating a “coaching suite” for women who are managing directors or executive leaders of community-based organizations, with an emphasis on supervision strategies, public speaking, and other skills;
  • Engaging and supporting more professional coaches and facilitators who are women of color; and
  • Launching a new research and strategy fellowship program.


“Given the extraordinary moment we are in as a country, we need transformative leadership to bring us greater racial and economic justice,” said Marilyn Sneiderman, executive director of Rutgers CIWO. “Our Center is working to support and strengthen the collective leadership of women and particularly women of color to create the kind of impact and change we so urgently need.”


Today’s announcement advances the Kellogg Foundation’s commitment to supporting groups disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kellogg Foundation’s grant to the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations supports both the CIWO program and a new initiative by the Rutgers NJ/NY Center for Employee Ownership to provide succession planning strategies to businesses owned by women and people of color.


“Structural racism cannot be dismantled by discrete policy change alone,” said Jeanne Wardford, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We also have to transform cultural norms about race. CIWO’s exemplary work in this area – powered by Sheri’s and Marilyn’s effective leadership – informs all of their efforts.”


Press Contact

Steve Flamisch, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

848.252.9011 (cell),


About the School

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization is a “think and do tank” that seeks to shift the balance of power toward greater economic and social equality.


About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast entrepreneur and innovator, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have equal opportunities to thrive, WKKF works to create conditions in under-resourced communities for children to realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the U.S. and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is made on priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty, and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.