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DBT40

DBT40 Honoree: Melanie Ross Levin

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Age: 39
Director,
Office of Women’s Advancement & Advocacy, DHR 
(Wilmington)

Describe your organization: The Office of Women’s Advancement & Advocacy (OWAA) is a new office for the State of Delaware that focuses on expanding opportunities for women and girls.

Why me?  Since graduating from the University of Delaware in 2003, I have helped pass more than 25 pieces of legislation that benefit women and girls in the First State. Delaware now has the best paid parental leave for state workers in the country and is the only state that includes teachers in that benefit. Delaware was the first state to ban child marriage without exception. Delaware was also one of the first states in the country to ban employers asking applicants about their salary history, which has been shown to help decrease the wage gap between men and women. And Delaware is one of a handful of states that protect pregnant workers from discrimination by mandating accommodations. My selection would help raise the profile of these important issues and the need to continue seeking equity for women in work and society.

Professional accomplishments: At the National Women’s Law Center, I led the grassroots effort to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – the first bill President Obama signed. To get this bill over the finish line, I organized a coalition of national and state organizations to put pressure on their legislators and raise the profile of the bill. Because this bill passed, worker protections across the country were bolstered. 

Towards the end of my time at the National Women’s Law Center, I convinced my boss to let me drive to Dover to pitch a package of women’s bills. At the time, nothing was passing in D.C. and therefore we needed to move our advocacy to the states. Over time, these bills turned into the “women’s package” and all 11 passed. The bills included a wide range of topics, from equal pay for equal work on state contracts to family leave for public employees and breastfeeding accommodations for jury duty. 

Two years ago, I moved back to Delaware to lead the Office of Women’s Advancement & Advocacy.

Leadership examples: In college, I led the student effort to get emergency contraception at the University of Delaware. At the time, the Director of the Health Center was opposed, which meant that students experiencing sexual assault or failed birth control needed to go off campus to get this medication. After lots of advocacy – including working with women faculty – we were able to change the policy. 

Vision: I want to use my office and position to make Delaware the best place for all women and girls to live, work and thrive.

Community service: I serve on the board of directors for the University of Delaware Hillel. UD Hillel aims to enrich the lives of Jewish college students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. I also serve on the youth committee for Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington. The youth committee supports the youth of the congregation in social, spiritual and social action activities.

 Tell us a few things that aren’t on your resume or your LinkedIn profile:

  • I was at the White House for the first-ever bill signing for President Obama. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – an equal pay bill that I had worked on. At the time, President Obama had gotten a lot of heat for being a “community organizer.” So when I met him, I said “from one community organizer to another, thank you.” 
  • I like to win stuffed animals for my daughters by playing whack-a-mole at the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. 
  • My happy place is back at my sleep-a-way camp in Warwick, New York (Kutz Camp). Camp is where I feel most at peace. 

What was your favorite work moment in the past year?  After a long fight, the Equal Rights Amendment became law in January. It’s not easy to pass a constitutional amendment and this one was no exception. As a mom, it was an extra special moment since my oldest daughter Elliana had the opportunity to sit in for the historic vote.  

Where are you most at ease?  Growing up, I went to a Jewish sleep-away camp in Warwick, NY. I would spend countless hours sitting in a pagoda looking over a lake. It was a space for reflection, attempting to play the guitar and prayer. Whenever I need to think of a happy place, that’s what I think about.

Guilty pleasure?  Fresh bagels. But I have a good excuse – while I was growing up my dad owned a bagel shop. Every day, we would have a bag of fresh bagels. And when I went to sleep-away camp, I would volunteer to slice hundreds of bagels every Shabbat.   

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?  Don’t stay in Washington, D.C., very long. The traffic and political gridlock will only get worse. You can do a lot more good for women and girls back in Delaware.

Family and education: Husband Seth Levin and two kids Elliana (age 9) and Sariah (age 4) and a dog Buddy. Bachelor’s in political science and women’s studies from the University of Delaware, MPA from the University of Delaware.

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