empowering women, girls and their families to achieve equal opportunities in their personal and professional lives


Posts Tagged: CWEALF


“Supporting Family Values Means Supporting Paid Family Leave”

–Michelle Noehren, Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW)

On Tuesday June 10, a group of passionate community members gathered to discuss the possibility of paid family leave in Connecticut at the first “Let’s Talk About It” event in a series of community conversations about current issues impacting women.  The first topic was family and medical leave insurance (FMLI) also referred to as paid family leave (PFL)[1]. The conversation was led by the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave co-chairs Catherine Bailey of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and Michelle Noehren of PCSW.  CWEALF and the Campaign co-hosted this event in Hartford as a way to hear the perspectives and personal narratives of workers and family members.

Participants ranged from lawyers and policy advocates to curious family members struck by the imbalance of safety net policies for employees. Participants shared their experiences about how family leave policies—paid or unpaid—assisted them when they needed time or when it was detrimental to not have such as policy in place.

One motif to cut across all stories was the notion of unpredictability and how that affects work and home life. A participant shared that her best friend, a 25 year old woman, developed cancer and had to leave work to go through treatment. Her parents needed to stop working to provide their daughter care for several months. That family is still dealing with the repercussions of a lack of pay compounded with medical bills and ultimately the loss of their daughter.

Another challenge emphasized was how workplaces can vary greatly with what they provide to their employees. Some people shared organizations in the community who excel with family friendly policies. But, many pointed out that these policies may not become apparent until you need them. Several women mentioned that they did not know the state or federal policies regarding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) until they became pregnant or until they or a loved one became ill. Participants shared a lack of awareness of the policies and disbelief that there is no statewide or national policy to provide compensation for needed leave.

During an emotive stretch of a person’s life it becomes even more grueling to require a leave of absence from employment without pay or being unable to take an unpaid leave. While this type of legislation has many moving pieces, several states have already successfully implemented PFL. Several research studies have shown positive effects in the workplace and in family life after passing such policies. Longer term economic gains including lower likelihood of needing public assistance and higher wages among new mothers entering the workforce after leave should be seen as important gains for Connecticut (http://paidfamilyleavect.org/why/).

Lindsay Farrell, Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families, noted that the economy was not what it used to be; in two-parent household most families need two incomes. Lucy Brakoniecki, Research and Evaluation Director at CWEALF, commented that even more individuals are “sandwiched” in between providing unpaid care to elderly parents and dependent children or grandchildren while balancing a career. To encompass these cultural and economic changes, policies need to adapt to the changes of the market to reflect this reality and the unpredictability of life.

For more information, visit the Campaign for Paid Family Leave. http://paidfamilyleavect.org/


Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention faith study.

[1] FMLI or PFL would create an insurance system in which employees could receive temporary wage replacement in the event of a serious illness (personal or to care for a family member), having a child, arrival of an adopted child, or to care for an injured service member. Logistical considerations such as duration of leave, those eligible, and amount of wage replacement, are all factors involved in the policy planning process. 


CWEALF has been examining teens’ experiences of sexual harassment in school over the last three years. Extending beyond the school, it seemed unfortunately plausible that the same acts could be occurring in workplaces for youth. Following a literature review, and seeing the lack of attention to this important issue, we decided to take a look ourselves. Sexual harassment is legally denied as the unwelcome attention of a sexual nature, occurring through verbal and/pr physical interaction. These acts can be persistent or one time occurrences, but the key is the lack of consent from the person being sexually harassed[1].

About 140 students from 15-18, in different areas of Connecticut, and in both school sponsored and non-school sponsored workplaces took the anonymous survey. The goals of the survey were to measure knowledge, experiences and attitudes related to sexual harassment of students in the workplace.

We found that 40% of students experienced unwanted comments about their clothing, body, or experiences, 30% reported someone making sexual gestures or facial expressions at them, and 25% were touched, kissed, or stroked in a sexual way. While some findings were comparable whether students were in non-school sponsored or school-sponsored workplaces, incidence rates of some specific types of sexual harassment were higher in non-school sponsored workplaces. In non-school sponsored workplaces, twice as many students had been promised an employment incentive in exchange for sexual favors (9.4% in non-school sponsored workplaces v. 5.1% in school sponsored workplaces) and more respondents reported being threatened if they did not comply with a sexual request (11.6% v. 6.5%).

Another troubling finding was found in data reflecting youths’ attitudes around such behaviors. 30% of students did not think certain behaviors constituted sexual harassment, including coworkers’ unwelcome comments about body/appearance or sexual identity, and watching inappropriate videos near them.72% felt that how a person dresses or behaves can precipitate sexual harassment in the workplace. Further, for students who experienced sexual harassment but did not report it, the majority (75%) felt that it was not a big deal or they didn’t think anything would come out of it.

Findings which point to a victim-blaming belief can affect the ways in which a student perceives the perpetrator’s actions as sexual harassment, if s/he will report and how peers respond to the individual’s experiences. This could also reflect some of the students’ beliefs that the event was not a big deal or that nothing will change. Realizing the high rates of sexual harassment and that the majority of high school students over 16 are employed in some capacity[2], it is even more concerning.

CWEALF has already begun taking action by following through with our recommendations. Contracting with a local nonprofit in Hartford, students are developing outreach audio messages to be played on the radio and on school systems. Additionally, we are recommending additional training within  the required workplace safety training,  so that teachers and students will have more information on sexual harassment. CWEALF is also offering its I&R services for students to call for assistance with sexual harassment in the workplace experiences. These measures should help facilitate training and sensitivity to the issue while informing students of their rights. Our hope is that these efforts will reduce the barriers associated with asking for help, empowering students to be able to advocate for themselves, and for teachers and supervisors to create a supportive culture which protects all employees.

Photo by UNDP in Europe and Central Asia, “Youth led solutions for youth problems in Montenegro.” Retrieved on May 12, 2014. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a second year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF continuing as summer staff for the HTPPI faith study.

[1] Hansen, G.L., & Mallory, W.W. (2005). Eliminate sexual harassment. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved from http://www.agnr.umd.edu/nnfr/adolsex/fact/adolsex_harass.html

[2] Steinberg, L. (2002). Adolescence. (6th Edition) New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

This year we asked CWEALF supporters to contribute towards our Generating Girls’ Opportunities Initiative by funding the lovely bedazzled safety glasses modeled above.
Donations are still being accepted at www.causes.com/CWEALF

This year we asked CWEALF supporters to contribute towards our Generating Girls’ Opportunities Initiative by funding the lovely bedazzled safety glasses modeled above.

Donations are still being accepted at www.causes.com/CWEALF

CWEALF’s Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initative engages girls, parents, and teachers in expanding girls’ educational opportunities.
Read more on our website!

CWEALF’s Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initative engages girls, parents, and teachers in expanding girls’ educational opportunities.

Read more on our website!


The Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) has a variety of opportunities for volunteers, ranging from projects that span a few months to some that can be done in one day. One of these opportunities is volunteering within our Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) initiative. Most of our G2O volunteers help by attending Girls and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Expos which are hosted at different college campuses around Connecticut. These are day-long expos where we invite young girls to participate in hands-on activities to expose them to careers in STEM. Volunteers attend these expos to help staff set up for activities, distribute goodie bags and t-shirts, as well as take the girls to different classrooms on campus for each workshop. Learn more about G2O volunteer opportunities here.

For Women’s History Month, we asked CWEALF staff and volunteers what inspires them. In case you missed it, check out our Facebook for the captions to go along with these pictures.

Who inspires YOU?

For Women’s History Month, we asked CWEALF staff and volunteers what inspires them. In case you missed it, check out our Facebook for the captions to go along with these pictures.

Who inspires YOU?

Happy 14th Anniversary as Executive Director, Alice!

In case you missed Dr. Pritchard’s “Reflections From the Current Executive Director,” check it out here!


Did you read our recent post, Breaking Down Barriers to Women in Politics and become frustrated by the lack of ladies in politics? This absence is due to multiple systemic factors that make it more difficult for women to run for political office, such as implicit bias. Luckily, two upcoming events are targeted to assisting women interested in breaking down those barriers to be involved in politics.

On Wednesday March 12th, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) is hosting Women’s Day at the Capitol entitled “Journalism & Gender: When Women Report on Politics and Public Policy.” The day will begin with networking at 9:30 followed by a welcome from constitutional officers.  Next, a panel of female political reporters will share their experiences in the field.  Lunch is provided after the panel, another opportunity for attendees to network with one another.

After PCSW’s program, participants have the opportunity to learn how to manage a political campaign or run for a political office.  Specifically, CT NOW is hosting an informational forum with Patti Russo, Executive Director of the Yale Women’s Campaign School at 1:45 in the North Lobby of the LOB. CT NOW is offering two full scholarships* to cover the cost of attending the annual summer session. The Yale Women’s Campaign School tuition costs $1,250 and runs from June 9-June 13, 2014. The informational forum will allow participants to learn more about the Yale Women’s Campaign School, how to apply for the scholarship, and ask questions.

*Please note: Eligible women for the full scholarships are pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and interested in holding office in Connecticut.

Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a first year Master’s in Social Work (policy concentration) student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Research & Evaluation intern at CWEALF.


In recent years, several measures have been taken to advance gender equality in today’s workforce and political environment.  For Connecticut, the 2013 election became a historical turning point for women as many prevailed in highly contested political races within the state.   While this defining moment promises future success for female leaders, women still remain widely underrepresented in leadership roles.  Presently, women constitute only 14 percent of the state’s Congressional Delegation, 29 percent of the Connecticut General Assembly, and 25 percent of municipal governing bodies.  What’s striking about these statistics is that studies show that women tend to fare well against men in political campaigns. The existing disparity among female representation in politics can be attributed to a variety of societal factors that impact a woman’s decision to pursue a political seat.  Nonetheless, women are vital to the political arena as they provide a perspective unique to their male counterparts. 

Women face a range of barriers regarding their political involvement.  The most prevalent is the gender bias within American society, which urges women to take on more of a domestic identity than professional or community leader.  This implicit bias often shapes a woman’s political and occupational experience and work availability which ultimately impacts their success within the political arena.  These factors contribute to the common lack of political ambition among women and girls.   

Furthermore, while women fare well against men in political campaigns, women are often presented with obstacles during the campaign process.  These include bias within political party recruitment, securing fundraising sources, and fewer network connections within the “political pipeline.”  Studies show women are less likely to be considered during political party recruitment and endorsement.  Without party endorsement, candidates are frequently put at a disadvantage.  In addition, men and women candidates usually raise comparable campaign funds; however, women are more likely to have difficulty attracting funders from traditional sources.  These factors derive from the limited access women have to political networking.  With fewer women in politics than men, female candidates lack networking and mentoring opportunities.  This again disempowers women from seeking and obtaining political leadership positions.

Having more female leaders within Connecticut would not only encourage young women and girls to pursue non-traditional professions, it would also benefit the productivity and functionality of our governing bodies.   In fact, female political leaders are more likely to advocate for women’s rights and social justice issues and offer a different perspective in addressing public policy.  To learn more about how CWEALF works to promote women in policy and leadership, read our recap on the 3rd Annual Women’s Policy Day.

Nina Candels is a CWEALF social work intern from the University of Saint Joseph, who is specializing in policy and the Campaign for a Working Connecticut.



Most people have several experiences with getting hired, promoted, or even fired from a job during their lifetime.  Because of this, various federal and state laws have been passed in order to protect employees from facing discrimination during routine employment procedures. Despite the seemingly broad reach of both state and federal legislation, there are certain categories of discrimination that are notoriously absent from protection. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two of them. Currently, in 29 states, it is perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or promote someone on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The same can be said about 33 states regarding gender identity protections- in those states, workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender identity are allowed by law. Connecticut is one of the few states that presently offers protection against discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are numerous federal laws that, at present, protect employees from facing discrimination in the workplace. The most sweeping of these protections is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Further, federal laws currently exist that protect employees from discrimination on the basis of age, disability status, and genetic information.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency tasked with administering these laws, as well as adjudicating complaints made against employers. In addition to federal laws, 47 states have their own agencies tasked solely with adjudicating employment discrimination claims under relevant state law, as well as assisting and referring with claims made under federal law. In Connecticut, the state agency that handles discrimination claims is the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Anyone who feels that their rights have been violated at work; whether through hiring or termination procedures, harassment, retaliation, or denial of opportunities for advancement- can file a complaint with their appropriate state agency or the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination.

Currently in Congress, there is a proposed measure to provide nation-wide protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, entitled the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). On November 4, 2013, ENDA cleared a major procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate, garnering both Democratic and Republican support in order for it to pass the Senate three days later. Currently, the bill has been sent to the House of Representatives, where it will stay pending until the Speaker of the House decides to call it to the House floor for a vote. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this will happen during the 2014 legislative session. Despite this bleak outlook, there is an opportunity for President Obama to issue an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for all federal contractors. This would represent a significant step towards achieving a discrimination-free workplace for all.

Photo by Jo Guldi, “Nurses at Work.” 6/3/2007. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Kaitlyn Fydenkevez is a legal intern at CWEALF, and a second year law student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. You can read more from her at kaitlynfydenkevez.com/blog/.