By Jade Perez
Westchester County kicked off International Women’s Day with its first #Women of Westchester (WOW) Conversations event last Friday at Purchase College Performing Arts Center.
#WOWConversations, which attracted about 700 people including many professional woman, was created to bring women across Westchester together from all walks of life through communication, community and commitment.
The event began with remarks from several elected officials and ended with a panel discussion highlighting some of the obstacles today’s women continue to face.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer acknowledged the achievements of women and noted how far they’ve come.
“I think of every woman who was ever told that she could be a teacher, nurse or even a secretary, but that she could not be a doctor, lawyer or scientist,” Latimer said. “I think of every little girl who asked why they didn’t have sports teams for girls in school, when the boys have all the sports teams that they could want and they could play and have competition.”
However, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul said that there is still a long road ahead to ensure equality. Despite the gains made through the #MeToo movement, according to Hochul, women still endure sexual harassment in the workplace and see their salaries lag.
Equal Pay Day is Apr. 2, which symbolizes how far each year women must work in order to make what men earned during the previous year. Hochul called the pay disparity “an injustice.”
Although Attorney General Letitia James noted there are continuous forces that seek to keep women down, she implored those in the crowd to remain engaged.
“So I don’t know about a glass ceiling…I want to remove all ceilings,” James said. “And I want all women and all young girls to fly and to reach the sky and to know that within them stands the power and the DNA to be anything that they want to be. All they have to do is dream it and achieve it.”
The ensuing panel discussion featured Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, chairwoman of the American Muslim Women’s Association; former state senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson; Kris Ruby, founder of Ruby Media Group; Laura Newman, senior director of institutional giving at Manhattanville College; and Jin Whang, a creative director and marketing and advertising specialist. Lisa Reyes of News 12 Westchester was the moderator.
They had a candid conversation on how women find it difficult to navigate the work-life balance and are sometimes forced to choose and how they each addressed that challenge. While Ruby said that work is a majority of a woman’s life, she said it shouldn’t feel like a separate entity if one enjoys what she’s doing.
“I’m not necessarily sure that I believe in the notion of work-life balance because if you’re doing something that you love, then it should come together as one rather than this idea of separation, which I think doesn’t necessarily exist,” Ruby said.
Newman countered that it’s unhealthy for women not to have a good balance, especially mothers. She said she made decisions in her career that allowed her more family time.
“I may have sacrificed some of my earning potential, but I got to spend more time with my child,” Newman said. “And someday when I’m on my deathbed I want to remember my time with my child, not that I earned a couple hundred dollars more.”
Hasaan added that it’s difficult for mothers to handle life and work, which is why she chose to never have children.
Others topics that were raised during the panel discussion included the need for support from other women and the dark side of social media.
Last Friday’s event concluded with a live rendition of Beyonce’s, “Run the World (Girls)” leaving attendees with a sense of inspiration and hope.