On Wednesday, March 8th, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, State Senator Roxanne Persaud (SD 19) hosted a virtual chat with “four dynamic women” in her constituency, “who are making great strides in their respective fields.” The conversation focused on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as celebrating and valuing differences and confronting bias, stereotypes and discrimination.
The panel was comprised of Jacqui Williams, CEO of 99 Solutions LLC; Dr. Sheila Tomlin-Reid, Principal of High School for Civil Rights; Nora Vega, Carpenter at New York City District Council of Carpenters; and Moshit Rivkin, Executive Director of the Hebrew Educational Society (H.E.S.). The women spoke of the struggles they endured before getting to where they are today and the challenges they still face in the workplace, mainly because of their gender.
Vega, who grew up watching her dad and other men in her family build things, explained that construction came naturally to her. Yet, she was discouraged from pursuing it as a career. “I’m capable!” she contended. “Tell me I can’t and I’ll prove to you that I can.”
Rivkin, who said, “My goal is to one day own this place,” (referring to H.E.S.) said she too was viewed differently even after she “moved up the ranks.” She said her decisions were often questioned, and she constantly had to prove that she knew what she was talking about.
“They just assume you don’t have knowledge,” said Williams, who faced overwhelming obstacles before she eventually overcame the odds and started her own business, which is now a multimillion-dollar company.
“We always have to go above and beyond,” said Tomlin-Reid, who grew up in East New York housing (NYCHA). The school principal said she believes “if you ‘make it,’ you should make a difference.” She started several programs, including one called “Crown the Queen,” aimed at not just giving back, but mainly empowering young women to be anything and everything they want to be.
The panel admitted that gender stereotyping harms women in many ways, because they are often steered away from industries where they could excel, despite being women, or are paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same or similar work. They concluded that women need to be confident, love themselves, forge ahead and not be hindered by any lack of acceptance or recognition for their accomplishments.
“It’s okay not to seek other’s opinions,” Williams asserted.
Rivkin agreed. “Love yourself the way you are,” she added.
“Looking for validation will set you back,” Tomlin-Reid agreed.
“But we’ve got to make a change,” Vega interjected. “We just can’t keep having conversations about it.”