Panel of Powerful Women included local, state government officials
On Nov. 14, a group of three female government officials spoke on a panel moderated by the president of UC Davis’ California Women’s List chapter. The speakers were Mayoral Candidate Tracie Stafford, Board Chair Catherina Nou and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.
The UC Davis chapter of the California Women’s List strives to bolster the Women’s List Political Action Committee by supporting endorsed candidates through lobbying, fundraising and campaigning. Currently, women make up 17 percent of the state legislature. The chapter invited Stafford, Nou and Aguiar-Curry — three women in local and state governmental positions — to speak at the panel event.
Tracie Stafford is a mayoral candidate for the City of Elk Grove, a delegate for the Democratic Party and president of the Women Democrats of Sacramento County. She also chairs boards including the California Small Business board and The National Association of Women Business Owners. She talked about her unconventional and tumultuous path toward a career in government, sharing how she rose through the ranks in her career.
“My path wasn’t […] normal,” Stafford said. “I grew up in the East Bay and I was raised in poverty, and didn’t expect to go to college. I ended up working my way through school, and I worked my way up from data entry operator to senior management in high tech — I was working with Silicon Valley for many years. I had a job where I was making six figures and raising three children, and I lost my job in the dot-com bust.”
According to Stafford, racial and gender stereotypes can act as workplace obstacles.
“Being African American, there are certain assumptions people have about us,” Stafford said. “That we’re lazy and, especially as black women, that we’re difficult and angry. There’s things that I can’t say that women of other ethnicities can. If a man says it, he’s just assertive. If a woman says it, she’s out of control, or hysterical.”
Stafford talked about how the same women erased from policy making are often already providing community labor and advocacy.
“I got to a place where I got tired of begging legislature to understand my plight, and realized I actually needed to be at the table,” Stafford said. “For most women, their transition to politics is organic. There’s [a] need, you’re already fulfilling it in someway, and you decide, ‘I need to take it to the next level.’”
In running for mayor of Elk Grove, Stafford has faced verbal abuse in the form of racism and misogyny.
“I was told that an ‘n’ ‘b’ will ‘never be my mayor,’” Stafford said. “You know what the ‘n’ word is, and you know what the ‘b’ word is. There’s never been an African American women elected to anything in the history of Elk Grove.”
The second panel member, Catherina “Cat” Nou, serves as the chief consultant for the Asian Pacific Islander State Caucus. She is also the chair of the board of directors for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. Nou has received recognition for her humanitarian work with Cambodian women from the Courage and Leadership Award by the Devata Giving Circle.
Nou spoke of how her ethnicity impacted her upbringing.
“My path is very much grounded in community,” Nou said. “I grew up in Modesto. I moved here and went to school at UC Davis. My very first class here was an Asian American studies class. Up until then, I had never recognized I never had a non-white teacher — K-12, all white teachers.”
She explained the importance of politics in the creation of gender equality, specifically through establishing help for marginalized communities.
“I’ve seen how clearly policy impacts communities,” Nou said. “It could tear apart families, it could take away healthcare — it has [a] tremendous impact, and if we are not able to help provide our perspectives or help to form the debate, we’re risking our lives and our communities’ lives. That’s why I came into the realm of policy.”
The third panel member was Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a California assemblywoman representing California’s 4th District.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be sitting and telling you that I’m an assemblywoman,” Aguiar-Curry said. “I just introduced 24 bills —14 […] went in front of the governor. I had no vetoes.”
Aguiar-Curry spoke about how important sectors of America are gendered, in both technology and government. Her experiences of not being afforded the same raises and promotions that men received were shared by Stafford.
“I learned to be tough as nails,” Aguiar-Curry said. “Many of the roles I’ve been taking on are generally male-dominated. I didn’t get the raises that I should have and I didn’t get the bump-ups in different position because not only was I a women, I [also] had children. That was really frustrating. I have a figure here that says women lose $39 billion in income because of unequal pay.”
Sexual harassment, an issue getting higher exposure in the entertainment and political sphere, was addressed by Aguiar-Curry at the end of the student Q&A portion. She mentioned witnessing examples of sexual harassment in California state government.
“When you go into the workforce, you’re required to take some sexual harrasment classes,” Aguiar-Curry said. “Make sure you take those seriously. Because I have sat in a meeting of the legislature where they did not take it seriously, and now they’re being hung out to dry for not being kind to women and [engaging in] some very inappropriate behavior. We need to protect all the victims, whether they’re lobbyists or staffers.”
Before being elected to the State Assembly, Aguiar-Curry had government experience at the local level as mayor of Winters.
At the local level, she began to notice an erasure of women’s visibility and voice within policy and city planning. She didn’t see any women included in the city-planning boards she was joining.
“I jumped in with two feet, did planning commission for a couple years and then realized there wasn’t one woman on any commission in Winters — not one,” Aguiar-Curry said. “They’re men and mainly conservative. I thought our voice was not being heard. The only way your voice can be heard is if you’re at the table. If there’s anything you take away today — and I want to honor the men here too — get to the table. If you’re not there, you’re left behind.”
Kimia Akbari, a third-year cognitive science major and the UC Davis California Women’s List chapter president, said in an email interview that she appreciated the campus reaction to the visit from the women in government.
“I was personally so blown away by the accomplishments of these women and how relatable their stories were about finding their path,” Akbari said. ”In planning this event, we hoped that students and womxn who are dealing with similar situations would hear the right advice that would help them on their way to find their path.”
Akbari talked about her experience of watching UC Davis students get excited about gender equality advocation.
“I had a number of students approach me at the end to thank us for organizing the event and mentioned how inspired they were and it just made all the time and effort we put into planning really worthwhile and rewarding,” Akbari said. “I hope to plan similar events through California Women’s List that will continue to empower and inspire womxn and folx of all gender identities.”
Written by: Aaron Liss — firstname.lastname@example.org