Embracing the progress women have made in fighting for equal rights and acknowledging the fight ahead were the motifs of the third annual Women’s Policy Day. On December 3rd at the Legislative Office Building, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and six other organizations – CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), CT Sexual Assault Crisis Services, League of Women Voters, General Federation of Women Clubs of CT, and the Junior League of Hartford - cosponsored the day dedicated to encouraging and informing women how to engage in the legislative process. Approximately 70 women took advantage of this free opportunity to learn the tools of advocating for policy change.
The day opened with Commissioner Catherine Smith of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the co-chair of the Governor’s Wage Gap Task Force. The Wage Gap Task Force, which included Alice Pritchard and Catherine Bailey of CWEALF, recently released its study, The Gender Wage Gap in Connecticut: Findings and Recommendations, which was the focal point of Commissioner Smith’s discussion. She highlighted key differences that create unequal pay between men and women; nationally women earn 77% of what men make, while Connecticut is ranked 25th with females earning 78% of what men earn. Factors impeding women receiving the same pay as men include less labor force experience, occupational segregation, slower career advancement, and less negotiation for salaries. The task force recommended increasing transparency of wages, incentivizing businesses to create more standardized pay for both genders, implementing greater supports for working families, and increasing awareness of pay inequity and unconscious bias. The data gathered from this study provides clear evidence of the road ahead for women advocating for policies to diminish these inequities.
Following the Commissioner’s remarks, a panel of female legislators weighed in on the report, as well as their experiences getting involved in politics. The panel, moderated by Diane Smith of CT-N, consisted of Senator Joan Hartley, Representative Catherine Abercrombie, Representative Susan Johnson, Representative Noreen Kokoruda, and Representative Rosa Rebimbas. During the panel, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman stopped by to share her passion for advocating for women’s rights as well as to encourage women to get involved in the political process. The legislators emphasized that great strides have been made for women in the workforce. For instance, Rep. Johnson noted that when she was first applying for jobs, the newspaper had separate sections of classified ads for men and women. The panelists also encouraged women to work with men to create change, such as gender pay equality. In fact, several of the panelists began their careers because men encouraged and supported their campaigns. Rep. Abercrombie noted that it’s imperative for women to speak out when they agree with a policy, but also when they disagree with a policy.
A General Assembly 101 workshop provided attendees with a brief overview of the legislative process. Liza Andrews of CCADV and Natasha Pierre of PCSW led the discussion about how to advocate for bills or issues. Tips for testifying at public hearings included providing a 1-2 page summary of your written testimony, abiding by the three minute time limit, and not being afraid to say “I don’t know” to a follow-up question by a legislator (but noting that it is important to get back to him/her with the answer). Participants learned that a legislator typically takes note of an issue as having significance after receiving only 5-10 constituent inquiries. Phone calls or letters make more of an impact than an email, which could get lost in the hundreds they receive daily. Suggestions such as these help guide women to effectively use their voices in the legislative process.
Women’s Policy Day finished with a mock public hearing. Participants split into groups depending on their interests in three hypothetical bills, including higher education attainment, civil restraining orders for sexual assault victims, and expanded paid sick days. Each group designated one to two members to testify on the proposed bill. This allowed attendees to get real experience of what it’s like to attend and participate in a public hearing. Those who had never had the opportunity to testify on an issue were able to do so in this simulation. By attending the general assembly 101 and the mock public hearing, participants learned techniques to use their voices to speak out against policies that help advance women’s rights and those that challenge women’s opportunities.
If you missed it, check CT-N for its recording of the day. Although women have come far in creating more equal opportunities, the gender wage gap is just one example of work that is yet to be completed.
Written by Nikki Seymour. Nikki is a first year policy student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a policy intern at CWEALF.