(Montpelier, VT) - The Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), state government’s independent non-partisan commission advancing rights and opportunities for Vermont women and girls, begins work this fall under a new leadership structure, broadening from one to three Chairs. Lisa Senecal was re-elected to the position and is joined by fellow Commissioners Kiah Morris and Kellie B. Campbell.
The change was supported by Commissioners as a way to share decision making and leadership responsibilities. “The need for our work on so many fronts, health and safety, economic security, racial and gender equity, leadership, public life and education, has only become more apparent and urgent over this last year,” said Senecal. “We’re excited, energized and ready to move forward in this new collaborative approach.”
Senecal was appointed by Governor Scott in 2017 and elected VCW Chair in 2019. She is a communications professional whose current energies are dedicated to pro-democracy, and gender and racial equity efforts. An experienced entrepreneur with a background in media relations and marketing, her successful ventures include an award-winning children's entertainment company and a digital media consultancy. She has provided crisis communications, media relations, and digital media strategy for dozens of companies and organizations, gubernatorial and U.S. Senatorial campaigns, and statewide policy initiatives. Senecal writes and speaks with an emphasis on issues of equity, equality, opportunity, and safety for women. Her perspectives and writing appear in a range of media, including as writer and co-host of Lincoln Project Television’s “We’re Speaking,” on NPR's Morning Edition and PBS News Hour, as well as in The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News, and USA Today. She also writes a monthly column for her local newspaper, the Stowe Reporter. In addition to serving as Chair of VCW and serving on the board of The Clarina Howard Nichols Center, Senecal works with businesses, investors, and campaigns to identify and remedy business and cultural practices that increase risk of sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination.
Morris was appointed to VCW by the Speaker of the House in 2020. She served in the general assembly as a State Representative from 2014-2016 and 2016-2018 and is the first African-American and person of color elected from Bennington County and the second African-American woman to be elected to the legislature in Vermont history. Her story of success and struggle has been covered internationally over four dozen media outlets including CNN, The Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Essence Magazine, Canadian Broadcasting Company, PBS, BBC Radio and Vice Media. Morris is an award-winning, in-demand trainer, speaker, and presenter, providing consultative services, workshops and presentations on issues of diversity, equity and leadership for organizations across the globe. Morris currently serves as the Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy Vermont, co-creating and building the movement-centered governing infrastructure that shifts power into the hands of the people — especially marginalized community members — at every level of government. She serves as Co-Chair of the Just Transitions Sub-Committee, part of the State of Vermont Climate Council. She is a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador for Oxfam America and is on the advisory councils for Emerge Vermont and Black Lives Matter Vermont. Morris also holds an accomplished artistic career as an actress of stage, film, and television, spoken word performance, and as a singer, dancer and arts manager. As an arts advocate with a passion for community-based art, she has produced numerous special events, concerts, and art exhibits during her career. Her work focuses on amplification of voices of the oppressed, issues of human rights and social justice. She is also the author of a recently published book of poetry, Life Lessons and Lyrical Translations of My Soul, and is filming a documentary on race in Vermont titled Colorlines in the Green Mountains with Long Shot Productions.
Campbell was appointed to VCW by the Senate Committee on Committees in 2018. She’s the Chief Information Officer for the Vermont State College system, transitioning to this role from having served as the Chief Technology Officer at Vermont Tech. She has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, a graduate degree in Business Management and Administration, and is a Doctor of Education, focused in Higher Education Administration. Campbell’s volunteer time reflects her commitment to advancing women. Campbell has served as chair of VCW’s Education and Human Development committee. She also serves on the Executive Board for Vermont Women in Higher Education, a statewide organization providing opportunities for professional development, engaging in an inclusive community of women, and recognizing the successes of women in higher education. She is also a recent member of The Boston Club, one of the largest communities of women executives and professional leaders in the Northeast and focused on the advancement of women to top leadership roles across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
The three co-chairs work together to plan and run monthly meetings of the full commission. They also establish subcommittees of the Commission to work on specific issues of interest. Commission meetings are open to the public, and more information is available at women.vermont.gov.
The Vermont Commission on Women (VCW) is an independent non-partisan state commission working to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls. Sixteen volunteer commissioners and representatives from organizations concerned with women's issues guide VCW's public education, coalition building, and advocacy efforts.
Vermonters – are you looking for a way to put your ideals of gender, racial, and economic justice into action? The Vermont Commission on Women has one opening for a new member, to start immediately.
We’re seeking people of all genders and backgrounds who are passionate about dismantling structural inequities; dedicated to improving economic, social, health, and legal conditions for women; and committed to a vision of Vermont that embraces all its citizens.
VCW is an independent, nonpartisan state agency dedicated to advancing rights and opportunities for women in Vermont. Commission members guide our work, set priorities and direction, and establish policy positions. Commissioners are volunteers, but are usually eligible for per diem compensation and mileage reimbursement.
Our work is best when a rich array of voices is included. People of color, people from working-class backgrounds, people with disabilities, men, young people, and LGBTQ+ people are encouraged to apply.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, Kadie was pregnant and finishing up her master’s degree. That summer, she was furloughed from her job in human resources. Her employer didn't provide a particular date for her to come back, and couldn’t guarantee that she could return to her job at all. However, they maintained her health insurance even though she wasn’t being paid, and committed to honor the maternity leave she’d earned as long as she didn’t get hired elsewhere. Kadie was faced with an impossible decision.
"They said we may call you, or not. The uncertainty and the added stress were the hardest in my case. If I'd found a new job I would have been making money for how many weeks before giving birth, and then what? It was a really hard decision. What's more important? Health insurance or pay?" She decided to stay.
Meanwhile, school started. Kadie was home with her children, trying to navigate online systems, making three meals a day, and doing her best to be present. Her oldest, Naomi, now lives in Costa Rica. Her son Dior and daughter Tianna were in middle school, and her youngest, Joy-annah, would be born that October. Kadie said it was extremely difficult to juggle it all. "A lot of us parents dropped that ball thinking the kids were doing the work, but found out two weeks later they weren't."
And she knew she wanted to support people who were also struggling. "I helped others look for jobs while I was furloughed – friends and community members – to get out of the same situation I was in. I said that it happened to me too. I asked, what do you want to do? Here are some resources. I did mock interviews, where I pretended I was the employer so they could prepare. I wanted to be useful during a challenging time, and I had an advantage because of my skills. It was a very grim time for a lot of people. And later, I had something to say about what I did during this time when employers asked. I utilized my knowledge to help others."
However, Kadie says that now is even more challenging than last year. As of February, she’s back working in her field. Her employer requires that she comes into the office twice a week, which makes it difficult to run pickup and drop off to the different schools her children attend. In fact, no busses are available in their town for Dior to get to St. Albans High School. Tianna can take the bus to middle school, but when she does after school activities like soccer, there isn’t a late bus option.
"I have flexibility most days to be able to pick them up, but what about hourly employees? And if you rely on public transportation – there's not consistent options."
Kadie would like to work with other parents to find a solution to all the driving, but she ran into another barrier. "I wanted to pay another parent $50/week to pick up my high schooler, but I couldn't write it off because deductions cut off at 13 years old. I can't pay a person pre-tax, because once my son turned 13, the IRS doesn't allow you to do that. The IRS could help, and take into consideration high schoolers.”
In addition to expanding pre-tax deductions for working families, there’s another thing Kadie would like to see to make work work for all of us: employers setting policy in advance to clearly state procedure in the case of downsizing. Will the organization keep people based on seniority? Experience? Performance? Kadie wants to see it spelled out.
HB Lozito, the Executive Director of Out in the Open and Representative Taylor Small, the Pride Center of Vermont’s Director of Health & Wellness speak with Vermont Commission on Women (VCW) Commissioner Sarah Mell in this third podcast in the Commission’s Equal Pay Day series.
Equal Pay Day is a symbolic day chosen to illustrate the point into the current year to which women must work to earn as much money as men made in the year before due to the gender wage gap. With these video podcast conversations, VCW hopes to raise awareness about pay equity, and the ways racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism intersect, creating much larger wage gaps for women of color, women living with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Another goal of the project is to listen to women about their experiences with pay inequity, how it impacts them, and what they think could help.
Introduced by VCW's executive director Cary Brown, this episode explores equity and the economic impacts of COVID-19 in our LGBTQ + community. It also considers additional impacts to those community members living with disabilities and BIPOC members. The conversation touched on rising costs, lack of internet access, and lack of transportation, concerns shared with so many Vermonters during this time. Solutions explored included wage transparency and workplaces that support self-care practices, and that uplift and value their employees, cultivating an environment of connection and trust.
Megan Foote’s 3-year-old daughter had just started full-time child care -- after years of cobbling together care and relying on family and friends in Rutland County -- when the program had to shut down due to COVID-19.
Megan had to quickly pivot to working from home while caring for a toddler. From March to July 2020, Megan juggled attending Zoom meetings and entertaining her energetic 3-year-old. She was also pregnant with her second child.
“I just felt flustered all of the time. It was hard to feel like I wasn't giving 100% to anything, not as an employee and not as a parent,” Megan shared.
If her employer hadn’t been flexible and supportive, Megan said she would have had to quit and her family would have lost access to the health care benefits they rely on through her job (her husband is self-employed).
Megan’s now 10-month-old and 4-year-old daughters are both in full-time child care at programs she feels great about. The cost of full-time child care for two children, however, is more than Megan’s take-home pay.
Megan loves her job and feels like her children greatly benefit from being around kids their own age during the day. She also sees how much they are thriving with support from early educators who understand early childhood development.
“I love my job and I need to work to support my family. But without stable child care it’s just not possible,” Megan said. “I feel fortunate to have found spots for both my kids at high-quality programs and at the same time it’s a major financial stress. It just seems like it shouldn’t be this hard.”