70 Women Attend Congressman Garamendi’s Women in the Workforce Symposium

Congressman Garamendi and his wife Patti urged the participants to continue being leaders in their communities.
Congressman Garamendi and his wife Patti urged the participants to continue being leaders in their communities.

DAVIS, CA – As the father of five daughters, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA) has long been interested in shaping a society where women are able to pursue their dreams free from discrimination. Today, the Congressman hosted a “Women in the Workforce” symposium on the UC Davis campus. Dozens of professional women leaders from across the 3rd Congressional District participated in the discussion: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

Panels served as a launching point in the conversation, focused on succeeding in the workplace and balancing work and family life. UC Davis Vice Chancellor Adela de la Torre also gave a presentation on the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and employment in those fields.

In his keynote address, Garamendi explained some aspects of his and the House Democratic Caucus’s Women’s Economic Agenda.

“I’m here to tell you what you already know: when women succeed, America succeeds,” Garamendi said. “Our success as a nation depends on women taking their rightful place as equal leaders in our community, free from discrimination. Our country is not going to do well, until the women in our country do very well.”

Flexibility in the Workplace

Congressman Garamendi’s opening remarks relayed the story of one woman invited but unable to participate. She wanted to be there, but she is an hourly employee without paid leave. For her, the symposium was a luxury she literally couldn’t afford.

Time and again, panelists and participants stressed the importance of flexibility in the workplace. This includes flexible work schedules, paid sick leave, guaranteed parental leave with right of return, and support for young children when parents are at work. Federal and state assistance programs – including nutrition assistance, the child tax credit, and subsidized college loans – were mentioned several times as crucial tools for women entering the workforce. Workplaces that offer onsite child care were frequently lauded by mothers of young children trying to advance their careers. “For some of us, flexibility is worth more than money,” one panelist said.

One panelist, a Latina, is now a manager at a state agency. She noted that she was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her rise to the level she has achieved, where she can mentor other women, is largely due to low-cost federal student loans.

“The Discrimination of Low Expectations”

Another woman professional, a black mother, explained why she was reluctant to send her children to early childhood education. Subtle biases in some classrooms begin at an early age, with black and Latino youth subjected to suspensions in situations where white students wouldn’t. Later in their education, black and Latino students are less likely to be considered for advanced courses, and they eventually face a “school-to-prison pipeline” where they are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated. This was described as “the discrimination of low expectations.”

Multiple guests described experiences in the workplace and classroom, being told they were “bossy,” “aggressive,” and words not appropriate for a press release, while exhibiting behavior identical to their male peers. These problems are exacerbated for women of color. Black, Latina, and Indian participants all described scenarios in which they were negatively judged twice over in the workplace based on gender and race. “There’s a construct that’s developed before I even open my mouth,” one black participant explained.

Creating a “Culture of Empowerment”

Another panelist, a leader in a biotechnology company, noted that women executives are hard to find in America and even harder to find globally. She stressed the need to create a “culture of empowerment.” This requires changing the thinking of management who don’t understand the unique challenges faced by women balancing home and family life. To prevent unhealthy ferment among employees, managers should be the leaders in encouraging parents to play an active role in their children’s lives, several participants noted.

A cultural change is needed, participants repeatedly stressed. This doesn’t just apply to mothers. One participant noted the reluctance of a male colleague to take paternity leave, because none of his male colleagues had done so prior. Another participant noted the importance of fathers to take time off for the children as well, to ensure that the expectation of sacrificing time in the workforce isn’t entirely on the shoulders of mothers.

A Multi-Generational Cause

Two generations of women were at the symposium, including students and professors at UC Davis and mid-level executives and women just starting out in their careers. Several participants, including Congressman Garamendi, stressed the importance of remembering the past as we chart the future. “We were fighting these same battles in the 60s and 70s,” one participant said.

Congressman Garamendi noted that in 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. “We’ve worked on these issues for more than a century,” Garamendi said. “Advancements have been made, but we’re not there yet. In this room, there is the power of change.”

Congressman Garamendi plans on continuing conversation with related events in other parts of the 3rd Congressional District. More information on the House Democratic Caucus’s Women’s Economic Agenda is linked here.