“She Says” with Cynthia Alfaro on Moms’ Equal Pay Day

Women Employed
8 min readAug 24


In a world full of challenges, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the negative. But while progress may move slower than we’d like, our hard-earned successes become stepping stones for the path forward.

Cynthia Alfaro, founder of Moms Winning, has exemplified this throughout her life. From the intense struggle of her early motherhood years spent escaping domestic violence and battling food and job insecurity, she used her experience to empower and create community with other women. Now on Women Employed’s Board of Directors, Cynthia shares her story of perseverance and inspiration in honor of Moms’ Equal Pay Day, which we marked on August 15th.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in Chicago. I come from an immigrant family, and it really shaped who I am and how I see the world. It was very busy, and I learned a lot about what a strong work ethic looks like. Though I felt like a fish out of water, I really tried to study this “system” of how to succeed and navigate through it. I originally wanted to get into social work but I made the pivot to finance because my mom wanted me to be able to earn more money. So again, it was about how to create more economic options for myself. It was a very urban upbringing in Chicago in the ’80s and felt hard at times and challenging. It’s what made me.

A hard worker, Cynthia earned a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and her Masters in Human Resources before moving to New York. But she eventually found that the “system” she had worked so earnestly to navigate, would fail her. Her passion for many of the issues Women Employed tackles — such as equal pay, paid time off, and flexible work schedules and accommodations for caregivers — was deeply shaped by her experiences with a system that was not built with women, and especially not mothers, in mind.

How did Moms Winning come about? Where was that idea born?

Out of a ditch of despair. I had a very, very rough entry into motherhood. I was in a domestic violence situation, living far away from home in New York City. I dealt with food and economic job insecurity. I felt entirely isolated, but knew I couldn’t be the only one dealing with this. And so from there, my friend suggested I start a blog to share stories and resources.

I started working out at the playground and asking parents to join me. From there, I started doing time management and budget workshops using my HR gifts of facilitation and leadership development. I just tried to create more space for moms to feel connected — to know that we’re not alone.

I decided to take my pain and make it a platform for others. Because as I said, I couldn’t and just didn’t believe that I was the only person. I wanted to be helpful for others as I was going through this, because I’m a firm believer that your story is not just for you. It’s for me, it’s for others who come after you.

Women Employed does work around pay equity, pay leave, and caregivers. Why does that matter for working moms like yourself?

I mean, it is literally a life or death scenario, because it is connected to our mental health, and to what we can actually afford: emotionally, mentally, physically. I not only had this very isolating motherhood experience personally, but also was even more susceptible to harassment or barriers at work. For example, at one point in time, because my children were so small, they were constantly getting sick. But my paid time off (PTO) allowance was insufficient, so I went into the negative PTO. I tried to be “professional” by offering to dock my pay. The work remained intact and to an excellent standard. But that wasn’t good enough.

I was penalized for just being a mom. And if you think about it historically, these work environments are not made with mothers in mind. We need to create a standard that allows everyone to thrive. At the end of the day, when you take care of moms, you take care of everybody, you take care of the community. So if you allow me to be able to feed my kids better, my kids are going to be better, and the next generation is going to be better.

“Historically, these work environments are not made with mothers in mind. We need to create a standard that allows everyone to thrive…when you take care of moms, you take care of everybody, you take care of the community.”

While Cynthia has persevered incredibly to make the best life she could for herself, her children, and her community, she doesn’t shy away from sharing the pain and immense struggle along the way.

I have definitely experienced the dark side of motherhood mentally when my back was up against the wall. I was four months behind on rent. Minimum wage is not enough for basic needs, and that further affects mental and family wellness. I had to self-fund both of my maternity leaves in New York City while working for one of the biggest employers of women. They had no maternity leave. To me that feels like a penalty, a motherhood penalty in the workplace.

The “motherhood penalty” is not imagined — mothers really are at a disadvantage at work.. Working mothers earn, on average, just 62 cents for every dollar working fathers make. That’s compared with the 77 cents that all women earn, on average, compared to all men. Moms’ Equal Pay Day, which we marked this year on August 15, highlights this inequality. Women Employed, with the help of leaders like Cynthia, is working to close that wage gap through advocacy, policy, public education, and increasing access to education, training, and career pathways.

So what led to your involvement with Women Employed?

I officially joined the Board about a year ago, but I had been following WE prior to that. When I moved back to Chicago from New York City, I wanted to really focus on what I’d learned, which was a lot. I have these gifts — where do I put these gifts to use? And one of the organizations that stood out to me in my research was Women Employed.

But it wasn’t until I met (WE Chief of Staff) Mary Kay Devine at an event with The Mom Project that I made that initial connection. A year or two later, she tapped me to see if I’d be interested in being on the Board of Directors.

What’s something that you would tell people about why they should support Women Employed?

We all sit back and say these changes need to happen. But how do they actually happen? I think an organization like Women Employed helps us to see beyond just direct service (which is still really important!). They think about how to help us do the deep work to change the foundational cracks in the system, through policy, through legislation. So that’s the piece about Women Employed that I think makes it very unique. And that’s why I’m like 10 out of 10, 5-star rating!

Tell us more about where Moms Winning is now.

We are holding online and in-person workshops for moms. The workshops include topics like time management, budget management, and goal setting. I’m really big on strategic life planning, which is essentially taking your year and saying okay, every quarter for this year, what do you want to accomplish in all the categories of your life? It’s also important to create a space to pause, reflect, and make adjustments if necessary. Because what I do know for sure is life is really busy and goes really fast. But certainly as a mom, it’s like three times as fast.

My goal is to provide child care during the workshops because I know that is a barrier. It was a barrier for me to get at any time for myself, so to give moms that space, that 60–90 minutes of kid-free time to even feel herself can equate to better mental health.

I also have a podcast out where I share mom’s stories and do an online HR series called Moms Winning at Work. My fellow-HR professional and mom friend in New Jersey and I talk about HR topics for free every month for moms. This is to equip us to deal with the hardship of navigating traditional workspaces as moms.

We’re going topic by topic every month and sharing tips and tools. We’ve gotten private messages of people wanting help with their benefits and some tricky situations in the workplace. I want people to know: you’re not alone in dealing with this “motherhood penalty,” this dispute, this harassment even. There’s a lot of work to be done there. So Moms Winning is trying to activate the work so moms don’t need to feel like an overlooked marginalized kind of population who does miracle work every day!

What was the most surprising thing that you learned entering motherhood?

Well, first of all, that I don’t know anything! (She laughs) I was living a very full life. And then I became a mom and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Motherhood will take you to the edges of yourself and off the cliff. So it’s very scary, very frightening. Very humbling. It has required me to think critically about my old thoughts and ways, and how I want my new thoughts and ways to be. Because I could just demand my way and be a tyrant to my children. That doesn’t feel right to my spirit. Even if I am triggered by something, I have to still sit there, neutralize myself and just be an active listener. It’s not about my way. It’s about being a guide and a facilitator.

Every day is new. Even as I see my kids now, they’re different people in middle school, versus who they were 10 and 11. It’s just an ever-evolving invitation to learn and grow and know how to meet people where they’re at.

What inspires you?

Of course, my mom has inspired me throughout my life. And all mothers who I meet and interview everyday — that’s why I have a podcast. And I choose on purpose not to only gravitate towards a certain type of mom that’s “accomplished.” Everyday moms — we’re our heroes. So I hear other moms’ stories, and what they’re doing, and what they’re holding, and how they’re still winning. Any underdog story is inspiring to me, because I identify with that a lot.

What kind of impact do you hope to make or legacy to leave behind?

I hope my legacy is one of hope, one of gratitude, and one of service. I think that can happen, no matter the income level you are or the age you are. So every step of the way in raising my daughters, I tried to be of service. Even if the girls and I could only bake cookies and write a thank-you note for our mail person, that’s what we did.

Sometimes I can only give attention or a listening ear, or a prayer. I want to really make sure that people remember me as a positive energy that didn’t let those dark times get to her in life.

People like Cynthia Alfaro give us hope! Her story is inspiring. She’s taken the obstacles in her life, and used them as motivation to build a better world for working women, and for moms! She reminds us that we’re not alone, and we are stronger together. WE are working to change the systems that have created barriers for women like Cynthia. In honor of Moms’ Equal Pay Day, join us in the fight for equity and economic empowerment of ALL women!

And make sure you know your own rights to equal pay. Visit https://equalpayillinois.org to learn more!



Women Employed

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