5 takeaways from “Beyond Equal Pay: Achieving Equity in Boston for All Women and Girls”
“I didn’t know I needed to see a panel of successful, REAL, councilwomen to believe I could do it too, until I did.”
– Erica Gordon, audience member
Earlier today, YW Boston was proud to host nearly 300 Bostonians at our “Beyond Equal Pay” panel discussion featuring all four female Boston City Councillors – Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Annissa Essaibi George, and Andrea Campbell. NECN evening anchor Kristy Lee moderated the discussion, which covered recent advances in efforts for pay equity, areas in which women and girls still face discrimination and inequity, and what can be done to see positive change.
Here are our top five takeaways from this inspiring event.
1. Women are not a monolith – we need more women in leadership roles to represent the diversity of female experience.
Ayanna Pressley broke barriers as the first woman of color on the Boston City Council, and for several years was the only woman or one of just two women on the Council. As the sole female voice in the city’s legislative body she was judged as to whether she could understand or represent all women, when in fact, as she said, “women are not a monolith.”
Ayanna shared that the recent addition of Annissa Essaibi George and Andrea Campbell to the Council was a welcome change so that the diversity of women’s backgrounds, needs, and priorities can be better represented. But, she stressed, more women and a greater diversity of women need to take leadership roles, both in government and other power structures within the city.
Ayanna Pressley, At-Large Boston City Councillor
“I want more mature women [in leadership roles],” Ayanna Pressley said. “I want queer women. I want trans women, the entire spectrum. Women that are married and childless because they choose to be. Women with children.”
Michelle Wu added that having diversity of women in policy-making and leadership roles helps to “unlock policy discussions” so that resulting laws and programs can effectively meet the needs of all kinds of Boston women and girls. Michelle emphasized, “What’s important is to have more voices at the table, and more different voices at the table, so you have a picture of what’s real. It’s not perfect. It’s messy, but adding more voices means that there are more opportunities to show all the different facets.” Annissa Essaibi George also agreed, “As more of us get elected to office, and there are more women in higher profile positions, and we realize ‘Oh, she can do it, I can do it.’ But you can do it. You can choose to run for office, move up the corporate ladder, or choose to do something else.”
2. Issues that affect women and girls can and should be addressed at the local level.
While federal level elections and policies tend to capture much more public attention, changes that can truly improve equity for Boston’s women and girls are perhaps more likely to be effected at the local level. The councilwomen all shared examples of local policies they are working on that support women and girls that were influenced by conversations with constituents, such as criminal justice reform, education and job training, parental leave, and living wage policies. Andrea Campbell highlighted the need for all issues to be discussed at the local level, explaining, “Everyone needs to be a part of the conversation if we are going to transform our communities.”
Andrea Campbell, District 4 Boston City Councillor
Andrea Campbell said she sees her role as a public servant, rather than a politician, for the residents of District 4. She often tells her constituents, “You can’t call President Obama, but you can call me!”
The City of Boston has made landmark progress in recent years in policies that advance equity for women and girls, such as Mayor Walsh’s 100% Talent Compact, the Work Smart Boston initiative, and the city’s Paid Parental Leave Ordinance.
3. Our destinies are intertwined – policies that support women and girls are beneficial for the entire community.
Ayanna Pressley remarked early on that here in Boston, our destinies are tied. She emphasized “understanding the intersectionality, that we are all connected. When we are not ensuring the advancement of women, we are choking at our promise as a city, and as a country.”
Michelle Wu cited that while families headed by single mothers make up only 35% of Boston’s families, they make up over 70% of Boston’s families in poverty. Therefore, efforts like increasing the minimum wage and creating pathways to stability and building wealth are clearly critical for women and their families, but will have the effect of helping all families. In regards to working for a living wage specifically, she stated that, “as we work to create policies to help women stay in the workforce, we don’t just help these women, but we help the constellations of families and the next generation of youth who are growing up in these families.”
Michelle Wu, At-Large Boston City Councillor, Council President
“Every step we take to improve the lives of women is really improving the lives of the vast majority of our families and residents,” said Michelle Wu.
Annissa Essaibi George included the importance of policies that support immigrant women and girls, saying that helping immigrant women to build some wealth and equity, both financially and in the sense of community, is “critical to our success.”
4. Participation, civic and otherwise, is critical.
While all the councilwomen urged the audience to contact their policymakers and share their desires, concerns, and experiences, Annissa Essaibi George also remarked on opportunities to make change outside of official settings. She emphasized the importance of engaging coworkers, neighbors, and family members in conversations about advancing opportunities for women and girls, and challenging ideas or rhetoric that is discriminatory.
Annissa Essaibi-George, At-Large Boston City Councillor
“Taking care of those quiet conversations is very important,” said Annissa Essaibi George. “That’s where people’s minds are changed. It doesn’t need to be on the front of the newspaper. We can change minds at home.”
Ayanna Pressley agreed, adding that, “You cannot fix it all, and you cannot fix it alone, but you can start in your workplace and in your community.” She referenced a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Michelle Wu asked that women in the audience “change the calculus” around decision making to get involved, away from fear of being unready and and towards asking, “If I don’t go for it, who will?”
5. Be mindful not to “run away from being a woman.”
When asked for concrete action steps, Ayanna Pressley asked the audience, “Please, don’t run away from being women.” She acknowledged the threat of marginalization that women must wrestle with when faced with the opportunity to speak up for women’s rights, but stressed that it is essential if we are to make changes that really work for women. Andrea Campbell agreed with this idea, that women must speak up as women for women, saying, “We need this unique perspective and experience. I’m a firm believer that we advocate strongly for policies and transformative change by our personal experiences.”
Rather than attempting to be “gender-blind,” Ayanna advised that, “We have to ‘name’ girls and women. We need gender-specific and responsive programming and policies across the board, and we need to be intentional about that.” Michelle Wu stated similarly that, “If you only allow women to be perfect in the workplace, you will never uncover the real issues and fix policies.”
The councilwomen several times made reference to unique strengths that women bring to the community as leaders, such as active listening and empathy. Annissa Essaibi George said of the councilwomen in particular, “What we bring to the table is different, but complimentary to one another.”
This cohesion among the councilwoman was highlighted often, and several times throughout the conversation as they amplified the work and accomplishments of one another. The panel was not only a strong call to action to keep improving gender equity in Boston, but also a call for women to be allies to other women, as a real life example of shine theory.