Portrait of Debra Fitzpatrick
257 Humphrey School
Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy

Debra Fitzpatrick

Community Engagement Director
Co-Director, Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy
public policies on work and pay; work and life issues; gender

Debra Fitzpatrick has served in a leadership role with the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy since 2007. As co-director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, an academic center focused on gender and policy that fulfills the land-grant mission of a public university, Debra sits squarely at the intersection of sound, valid research and public action. For her research is a process as much as a product, one that builds investment and capacity as well as knowledge, leading to improved public policy. Her interdisciplinary quantitative and qualitative research focuses on the full-range of barriers women face in pursuit of economic parity (paid time off to balance work and care, family responsibility discrimination, equal pay for equal or comparable work, lack of childcare assistance, workforce segregation, cross sector leadership) and is grounded in the collaborative networks necessary to achieve change.  For example, in collaboration with over 100 cross-sector working group members, she played a significant role in designing and successfully advancing the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), a broad-based nationally recognized legislative package simultaneously addressing the many factors that contribute to the gender pay gap.

Most recently under contract with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Debra served as research lead and author for the most comprehensive policy design and implementation report on state-level paid family and medical leave insurance, arguably one of the most complex areas of public policy being considered across the country today. On WESA and other research-based policy projects, such as paid family and medical leave, Debra works with advocates and legislative counsel to draft legislation based on best available research, advises chief legislative and executive branch authors on policy choices, testifies in multiple committees as the key subject matter expert, defends methodology and recommendations in committees and one-on-one meetings with both supportive and oppositional stakeholders, and works with state agencies on fiscal notes. 

As an engaged scholar, Debra’s work is designed to foster learning communities. She collaborates with others to design and implement a range of creative learning environments where people from different backgrounds come together to co-create knowledge and build the capacity and relationships necessary to take action. These have included: a community-based participatory research project on paid leave and African-American families; “bootcamps” to prepare women of color for opportunities on the state and federal bench; a course on Research and Policy in Marginalized Communities; a public/nonprofit management and movement building cohort program for executive directors of women-centered nonprofits; skill-building workshops on gender analysis for mid-career leaders from around the world; annual Women’s Economic Security Summits; evaluation-driven learning communities; role-playing exercises during which participants sit as judges in gender-based legal cases; and Road to Equality Tours where quantitative presentations are combined with focus groups to create a fuller picture of lived experiences. She regularly represents the Humphrey School and the Center and presents on gender issues and related policy to a diversity of communities (policymakers, employers, advocates, agencies, interest groups), and in a variety of settings and formats (conferences, webinars, discussion groups, committee hearings, role playing simulations) in accessible ways. 

In prior positions, Debra led a U.S. Department of Education-funded partnership with the National Governors Association (NGA), working with governor-led teams on K-12 education reform and advanced policy changes in several states; managed Gates Foundation-funded programs to design and implement new models for secondary education; and administered a national NIH-funded effort to involve under-represented populations in the design of clinical trials.  As a committee administrator with the Minnesota Senate, she conducted policy research and managed legislative agendas on a wide range of issues. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Affairs and her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota.

In The Media

Debra Fitzpatrick, co-director of the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, is quoted in this story about the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville where a dozen key government and business positions are held by women.

Star Tribune
July 18, 2019

This story highlights a new research report on paid family leave by Debra Fitzpatrick, co-director of the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy. Fitzpatrick is quoted. 

MN Daily
February 12, 2019