Women’s History Month Event Features Lewis George, Henderson and Pinto

Commemorating Women’s History Month, the D.C. mayor’s office held a teleconference on March 16 — as part of the weekly “Recovery Check-In” — featuring the “newest female Council members” on the women-majority District Council: Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), Christina Henderson (At-Large) and Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4).

The guests were asked by moderator John Falciccio, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, to speak about their inspirations, “career trajectories” and what it means to lead “courageously and legislatively during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Having served as an assistant attorney general for policy and legislative affairs for the District, with a background in tax law and the hospitality industry, Pinto emphasized her commitment to a “really targeted and practical approach to economic recovery” by battling the pandemic, while helping small businesses, protecting women and minority workers in the labor force and guarding tenants’ rights.

“We have seen a mass exodus of women from the workforce this year, where more than three million women have left since February 2020,” she said, “and equally concerning to me is that one-in-four women … are now considering leaving the workplace.” Providing better child care options is therefore critical, Pinto stressed, as well as ensuring improved “access to capital, particularly for minority- and women-owned businesses.”

“Businesses in the downtown core have really suffered, especially our hotels, tourism destinations, restaurants, shops, mass transit — all due to the effects of COVID-19,” Pinto said. To incentivize businesses to start up and thrive, Pinto would like to see government work flexibly to enforce safety guidelines, while easing regulatory burdens where possible.

“It’s really important to be nimble as a government as we move forward in these next couple of years,” she said. “There’s a big difference between providing safety standards for our employees and workers and patrons versus easing of permitting and licensing restrictions so that we can have a creative business environment that encourages entrepreneurship.”

Pinto highlighted her commitment to diversity in hiring and the need to always listen to the “quietest voice in the room” as motivations in her work.

Henderson cited her work with the city council of Greenville, South Carolina, to address the need for economic recovery during the last recession as a basis for her current efforts on the District Council. She most recently worked as a staffer in the U.S. Senate, helping to enact the nation’s first paid parental leave law for federal workers.

Henderson believes women on the D.C. Council will bring “unique perspectives” that will provide benefits to the District in “both the short term and the long term.” A key to economic recovery, Henderson asserted, is to focus on women’s health as their roles shift to greater leadership in the local economy.

“I believe that if you focus on working families, in particular, women in the District, where we have a lot of women who are heads of households, you can ‘lift all boats,’” she said. Henderson prioritizes women’s maternal health, including pre- and post-natal care, as a means to strengthen the economic viability of working families. “Most people don’t realize that one-half of the Black women in D.C. and one-third of the Hispanic women in the District don’t even receive prenatal care until their second or third trimesters,” she said.

Affordable child care is essential to ensuring that women return to the workforce, Henderson emphasized. “I always make the argument to the business community that child care is not just a care issue, but a workforce issue that’s critical to our economy,” Henderson said. “So this is an issue that business owners should care about. How do we stabilize the marketplace? Because, if you want your workers to come back to work, they need someplace safe for their children to go.”

Henderson said she is pleased to be working constructively and creatively with her female colleagues on the D.C. Council. “I feel like it’s an opportunity for us to be collaborative, to be innovative in our work, and also to think outside the box,” she said. “This is not just about providing grants and things like that to businesses … but [about] supporting women-owned businesses … to ensure we’re rebuilding toward a just and fair recovery.” For Henderson, the old “top-down” responses to economic crises should be reexamined with “bottom-up solutions.”

Henderson recalled an inspiring message from a college mentor: “Just remember, you’re in the room for a reason, so speak confidently and bring your voice to the table.”

Lewis George also expressed enthusiasm to be working collaboratively with her female colleagues. “I grew up with my mom as a postal worker and she raised me and my two older siblings,” she recalled. “My grandmother actually served as a lunch lady for D.C. public schools. And they really taught me the importance of hard work, education and, most importantly, the idea that we have to ‘lift as we climb’” — in other words, help others as we succeed. Her interest in the Council began when she was a high school student, serving as a representative on the D.C. Board of Education’s Youth Advisory Council.

“It’s such a great time to be a woman in the District right now,” Lewis George said. “When women lead, change happens. And things get done. So I look forward to all that we’re going to be able to do with a majority-women Council.”

Many of the businesses in Ward 4 are “women-owned, minority-owned, immigrant-owned small businesses,” Lewis George said, “and, for us, it’s just so important to make sure our businesses are able to recover and rebuild.” Her office has made access to resources for women-owned businesses a high priority for their small business development plan.

“When we talk about our small businesses and we talk about women in particular, some of the issues we face are the inability to be able to access capital, grants and loans. Some of the technical assistance that’s necessary for the growth of small business in our community has to be supported as well,” she added.

For Lewis George, boosting the economy is all about helping small businesses launch and stay in operation in Ward 4. “We do it by removing barriers that make it oftentimes difficult to run a small business in our community. We do it by continuing to allow more small businesses to open,” she said. Her office has also been working with her Main Street programs to support local restaurants and businesses. She expressed optimism that the Biden administration’s focus on green jobs and climate change can bring more employment opportunities to the District.

As a former tipped worker in the restaurant industry, Lewis George would like to see increases to the minimum wage. The wage gap in the child care sector, she said, particularly harms women in large sectors of the economy, as do lower wages in the education industry.

“Education is a woman-dominated industry, right? A majority of teachers are women. And a majority of our women teachers are also parents … So, they need the child care support we’ve been advocating for, as well as all the supports we’ve given our educators. Because, frequently, they are the ones on the front lines,” she said. Respect for all and treating everyone equally, “whether they’re a janitor or the president of the United States,” are bedrock principles that Lewis George said she learned from her mother and grandmother.


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