November 6, 2003

Panel addresses women's issues

University students packed tight in the Reynolds Club South Lounge on Wednesday to hear bold comments from powerful women.

The event, part of a discussion series held by the University Community Service Center (UCSC), featured former Lieutenant Governor of Illinois Corinne Wood, vice president for Policy at Planned Parenthood of Chicago Tracy Fischman, and Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown. The group talked about their experiences as women in the "old boy's club of public policy-making," as Wood phrased it. The discussion ran from 6:30 to 8, followed by an hour of questions and answers.

Each guest briefly discussed her past work in public policy. Once the general discussion began, it covered a wide range of topics, from the fight for equality in the workplace to the personal decisions concerning work and family to opinions on the recent abortion bill signed by Bush.

Brown, who ran for her post as a Democrat, talked about how her views on gender politics in the job market have changed since over time. When Brown graduated from college first in her class but did not receive a job, she concluded that it was because she was a woman.

Soon realizing that the reason she did not have a job was because she was not competitive enough, she became a certified public accountant and found work at a well known firm. "I took that last ball and hit it right out of the park," she said. "It's not always gender, it's just human nature and competitiveness. So I decided to be competitive."

She talked about how men and women tend to have different styles of management. But she said in the end the authority to make decisions lies with whomever is in power, regardless of gender.

Though women are often considered to be liberal-leaning, the forum was bipartisan. Wood, a Republican, said that despite "our partisan labels, our stories have a lot of common theme. Women tend to be more independent. We tend to be outsiders when elected to office."

Wood talked about her life-changing decision to be a "soccer mom," putting her busy law career on hold. "It was the hardest decision of my life, but it was the best thing I did," she said. "I got involved in local community politics and realized that even a few people can make a difference. It prompted me to run for the state legislature."

The group discussed abortion. Fischman, an alumna of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy, mentioned Bush's signing of a ban on partial-birth abortion procedure. "I find it both appropriate and ironic that, years after the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, we are discussing this, given the recent Bush legislation that was signed today," Fischman said. "This is an unconstitutional piece of legislation that gives no health exception to women in need of this procedure."

She discussed the implications of the new law, which she claims detracts from Roe and infringes upon the right to equal opportunity for women in the workplace. "If you ask any single career woman walking on the street what she thinks about this, you will find that she is pissed off."

When asked by a member of the audience how women should "package" themselves to be competitive in the work market, Brown responded: "First, watch your reputation and associations; second, be involved in politics; third, always be prepared—read, learn, ask questions—but be prepared."

Fischman added: "Insert yourself." She then told the audience about a friend who, desperately wanting to join Jesse Jackson's campaign team even though his staff would not give her the time of day, showed up everyday and started stuffing envelopes. "Pretty soon she got recognized—and got better work," Fischman said.

Paula Wolff, formerly policy director for Illinois Governor Jim Thompson and currently a lecturer at the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy, moderated the event. She noted, with a scan of the audience and a chuckle, that she could see most of her students in the audience and "they're all receiving As."

The audience was filled with student faces, most of them public policy devotees. Maryah Quereshi, a fourth-year in the College concentrating in public policy, spent her summer working and researching for the Chicago Park District's Budgetary Office. She expressed concern for the state of women in public policy. "Not many women [try to understand] how the state functions and how that plays out in determining their influence on policy-making," she said.

Roughly a third of attendees were male. Kyle Hodges, a third-year political science concentrator working with UCSC, came to gain insight on women's experiences in politics and policy. The forum, he said, "is a good way to hear first-hand what women in these positions have to say."