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When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, were both considering running for leadership positions over the course of their careers, many of their colleagues were less than welcoming to the idea of having multiple women in the highest ranks of Congress.

On Saturday, the two congresswomen spoke to an audience of around 150 community members at Gateway Community College to discuss their respective career paths and their current policy efforts to advance gender equality in the Capitol and throughout the country.

At the event, which was moderated by Deputy Director of Connecticut’s Women’s Education and Legal Fund Catherine Bailey, several women shared their personal experiences with gender inequality. Pelosi and DeLauro opened the event by thanking grassroot organizers who continue to fight the battle against gender discrimination, such as by organizing the annual Women’s March to change public sentiment about progressive policies.

“Know your power,” Pelosi said. “Nothing great can be accomplished without you weighing in.”

The representatives discussed their recent successes in Washington. DeLauro first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in the 105th Congress in June of 1997 and she has introduced it in every Congress since. This March, the bill finally passed in a bipartisan effort in the House with a vote of 242 –187. Seven Republicans voted in favor of the bill. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation.

The House Speaker explained that to convince Republicans on the importance of equal pay legislation, she likes to remind them that President Dwight Eisenhower was one of the first to call for equal pay, calling it a “simple justice.” She argued that messaging around the bill is the reason that Republicans on the federal level were not convinced that such legislative action is necessary.

Pelosi credited the labor movement for its contribution to the fight against gender inequity in the workplace and expressed her frustration that under the current government, labor organizing and collective bargaining are under assault.

“No institution has done more for equal pay for equal work than the labor movement,” she said.

Connecticut state officials also joined the left-leaning national representatives at Saturday’s event. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz gave a short address at the beginning of the event, which touted recent state legislation passed under the Lamont administration to address gender inequality ensuring equal pay and paid family leave.

Attendee Isabel del Toro ’20 noted the importance of Pelosi and DeLauro recognizing of the nuances in the fight for gender inequality, particularly who is most impacted and who receives credit for advancements in women’s rights.

“I think it was really important that they highlighted that workplace inequality disproportionately affects women of color because it is an issue that is intersectional,” she said.

DeLauro was first elected to the House in 1990.

Alexandra Bauman | alexandra.bauman@yale.edu