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Raimondo reinstates R.I. Commission on Women to tackle gender equality

Commission to pursue gender pay equity, encourage more women to seek governmental positions

The new Rhode Island Commission on Women, comprising 26 businesswomen, community leaders and government officials, met for the first time Tuesday. Gov. Gina Raimondo reinstated the commission last month to address women’s issues after it dissolved in 2010 due to funding reductions.

“It was great to get strong Rhode Island women together,” said Rep. Joy Hearn, D-Barrington and East Providence, a member of the commission. At the meeting, “we set the important context for the work ahead,” she added.

The commission was originally founded in 1970 but lost its funding under former Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri in 2010. Obtaining funding through public means for a relatively low-cost and popular initiative such as the Commission on Women would not have been that difficult, Scott MacKay, political analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio, told The Herald.

This time, funding for the commission will come from its members’ fundraising and a private 501(c)(3) organization, protecting the commission from a budgetary cut similar to that of 2010, wrote Ashley O’Shea, deputy director of communications for the governor, in an email to The Herald.

Raimondo, the state’s first female governor, announced the commission’s restoration March 31, the last day of Women’s History Month, and charged it with “promoting equity, strengthening our economy and showing the leaders of tomorrow they can do anything they set their mind to,” according to a press release.

More specific goals include encouraging more women to seek jobs in government, developing and supporting programs and services for women, compiling information on policies relating to women and collaborating with concerned groups on these issues, O’Shea wrote.

The governor appointed 12 members to the commission, primarily from the private sector. Each of the chambers of the General Assembly appointed three members, while state agencies appointed eight.

Hearn and Rep. Doreen Costa, R-Exeter and North Kingstown, emphasized increased gender pay equity, one of Raimondo’s campaign promises, as a major goal of the commission. Its first task will be to create an equal pay certification status, “which will be awarded to Rhode Island businesses that show a commitment to equal pay practices,” O’Shea wrote.

“Ensuring paycheck fairness will boost our local businesses by putting money directly in the pockets of working families, whether it’s to buy an extra bag of groceries or new school supplies,” Raimondo said in a statement given to The Herald by O’Shea. “Pay equity attracts first-rate employees and promotes a more productive workforce.”

Pay equity in the public sector is far more achievable than in the private sector, MacKay said. Public employees, like teachers, could be given pay equity through state laws, while progress among private sector employees is much harder to monitor and enforce, especially for non-unionized workers, MacKay said.

Hearn acknowledged the obstacles the commission’s plans could face but emphasized that the commission includes many people with the power to drive change on the issue. O’Shea also wrote that the governor’s 12 commission appointees were picked for their diverse perspectives and community connections, hopefully helping the commission “move the needle on important topics like equal pay.”

Costa also suggested the group may discuss other women’s issues, like domestic violence and sex trafficking, at future meetings.

“It was a good group, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” Hearn said.

The commission will meet once a month, and its mandate is to present reports to the governor for her consideration and potential implementation, though the timing, frequency and specifics of the reports are yet to be determined.

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated that each of the chambers of the General Assembly appointed two members while state agencies appointed ten. In fact, the chambers each appointed three members while state agencies appointed eight. The Herald regrets the error.


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