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Equality for women and girls

Date: 5/22/2015

Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by inspiring women – whether it’s my mother, a social worker and scholar, my wife, a solo practicing attorney, or my two sisters who are both pursuing their career passions. I'm also the proud father of a young daughter.

Probably because of this, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can make sure our laws promote equal opportunities for all Western Massachusetts residents, including for women and girls.

Unfortunately, workplaces have not kept up with the needs of modern working families. Now is the time to break down the obstacles still standing in the way of progress.

In the Senate, here are a few items I’m working on:

First, I’m proud to co-sponsor the Equal Pay bill, which creates common-sense, modern-day measures that give Massachusetts women an equal footing in the job application process. On average, women in Massachusetts earn just 82 cents per dollar compared to men – a gap that largely persists even when factoring in education level, hours worked and employment sectors.

This bill would enable employees to talk to coworkers about their salaries without fear of repercussions, require employers to provide a minimum salary when advertising job vacancies, and make it illegal to require an applicant to submit his or her salary history. These simple but important measures will ensure that the salaries women earn really do match their skill levels and qualifications.

I’ve also co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure pregnant women and new mothers can be granted reasonable accommodations without worrying about negative consequences. Given that more than half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force, this bill will make our workplaces more fair, more humane, and ultimately more productive.

These common sense accommodations include, for example, allowing pregnant women to use stools at job sites or break for a glass of water. Frankly, it’s shocking that current laws don’t already protect pregnant women taking these steps to care for their health and the health of their child.

Third, I’ve co-sponsored legislation that creates a Commission on the Status of Women and Girls in Hampden County. The volunteer-run Commission would assess all matters regarding the status of women in our area, and recommend policies to state and local agencies and other organizations to help improve their quality of life.

I’ve also encouraged girls to consider careers in science, technology, education and math – areas where women have traditionally been underrepresented. I’m particularly excited that Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the gender gap in computer science, is launching its first program this summer in Springfield, where participants will meet women in the tech industry and learn about mobile apps, robotics and computer languages.

My goal is for everyone, regardless of gender, to feel they have an equal shot at reaching their potential and making the most of all of life’s opportunities. Reaching that goal admittedly takes time, but my hope is that these steps will bring us just a bit closer to its realization.

State Sen. Eric Lesser