The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day this week is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” A discussion on the economic well-being of Vermont women looked at data and policy changes experts say are needed to bridge disparities between genders.
Vermont Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray is serving her first term and is hosting a series of discussions with constituents and stakeholders across the state on targeted issues. Her latest Seat at the Table discussion focused on the Economic Well Being of Vermont Women and was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day. Gray, a Democrat, says while the global event recognizes women’s social, cultural, political and economic achievements it also highlights a need to close gender gaps in Vermont.
“I want to actually draw on some of the data that we know of," Gray said. "We know that in the month of November 73% of unemployment claims were filed by women in Vermont. That is the highest percentage of filings by women in any state in the nation. So today we’re going to dive into the data and the impact on women.”
Vermont Commission on Women Executive Director Cary Brown said COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating entrenched inequities for the state legislature to confront.
“The COVID relief money that’s coming from the federal government provides Vermont with an opportunity to think strategically about how to use that money to benefit working families and working parents in particular," Brown said. "Child care is the other thing. We know that the legislature is working hard on this right now. The help that our child care system needs is profound and dramatic. And then paid family and medical leave is another one. There are a number of bills in the state legislature right now.”
Change the Story VT has been collecting and reporting on Vermont-specific data for six years. Executive Director Jessica Nordhaus said they also use some national data and recent reports of interest focus on the gender wage gap.
“The International Women’s Policy Research Group just released an analysis on the weekly gender wage gap by race and ethnicity," Nordhaus said. "And what’s that showing is the racial and gender wage gaps really do remain profound. So we see weekly earnings for LatinX women are just 58% of white non-Hispanic men and Black women’s earnings are at 63% right now.”
Vermont’s first Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis says policies must include all communities at risk.
“All of our work should have process equity built into it which means we’ve got to hear directly from people and be less prescriptive in telling them this is what we think is best for you based on our history of always being in power and often leaving you invisible," Davis said. "And instead pivot to what do you need to make you whole? And then we do that. It’s smart. It’s simple and it’s inclusive in a way that people have had agency. And not because we give them agency because that’s not something to be given but it’s just something that we can stop denying them.”
Vermont Women’s Fund Director Meg Smith hopes the pandemic is a catalyst that will foster positive policy making.
“We have a new landscape that we’re dealing with and as perhaps discouraging as it might be on the surface it’s really actually giving us a much clearer picture and a more accurate landscape and framework for us to move forward," said Smith.
Lieutenant Governor Gray is hopeful that pending proposals both in Vermont and nationally will help the economic status of women.
“There’s a lot out there," Gray said. "I think the moment is right in many ways. We have to act. We have to act now to address the economic well-being of Vermont women and the crises that we face.”