Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Melissa DeRosa, the first woman appointed as Secretary to New York Governor, tell Moneyish why this is important
New York wants more powerful women.
When Kathy Hochul was in her 30s, she had already served as a key aide to Sen. Daniel Moynihan and as a lawyer in a big D.C. law firm. But despite her time behind the scenes, she still felt ill equipped to enter the frontlines. It was only when she saw a man fresh out of college, unemployed and living with his parents run for town board, that Hochul decided to put her name forward. “That was a defining moment,” Hochul, now the lieutenant governor of New York, tells Moneyish. “That young man wasn’t wrong about his capabilities,” she adds, but she wants more young women to have the same confidence.
That experience has shaped not just the 58-year-old politico’s career, but also a new initiative from Hochul and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Launched today, the New York State Council on Women and Girls formalizes a structure in which all Empire State senior bureaucrats are required to consider how policy affects the women of New York. Chaired by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and modeled on a similarly named Obama administration panel, the Council will work alongside a steering committee comprised of non-governmental leaders like the CEO of Planned Parenthood New York, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff.
New York’s effort is “important on a symbolic level,” especially after Trump consigliere Hope Hicks called the Obama Council “redundant,” says DeRosa, the first woman to hold a position that’s been likened to the “hand of the king.” “But practically it [also forces] those in important roles to consider how this affects women and girls,” she says. Since he took office, Cuomo has promoted a series of women-friendly policies such as paid parental leave and the gender pay gap in New York State is among the narrowest in America.
Despite the bitterness around gender politics at a federal level and Cuomo’s leftward shift since his 2014 reelection, the Council will be bipartisan, says Hochul. “Having women regardless of party can make a difference. There are very strong women in the GOP-controlled state senate who understand what it’s like to be there when a baby’s born,” says the Democrat. “It’s not a one-party issue at all. Every man should want his wife to earn what her coworkers earn or for his daughter not be sexually assaulted on campus.”
Although Ivanka Trump has been the target of fierce criticism from liberals for purportedly failing to moderate some of the more controversial policies of her father’s administration, Hochul is holding off for now. “She is in the perfect position because she can relate” to the issues many women face, Hochul says. “She can be a leader.” But just six months into the Trump presidency, she still thinks the family leave advocate should be given some time.
Both Hochul and DeRosa call Cuomo “enlightened” when it comes to empowering females in his administration, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced the microaggressions that come with being a woman in a position of power. “I often wonder if it had been my brother in this position, would people be saying he’s the son of or husband of” someone powerful, says the 34-year-old DeRosa, who comes from a family of lobbyists. “Or what people would think if I were 10 years older? Would it be relevant? It’s an ongoing challenge for young women in the workplace to prove we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
That’s especially so in what she calls the “boy’s club” of politics, though DeRosa is proof the barrier is permeable. “Being successful comes from substance and having the right instincts,” says one of the youngest holders of the Secretary post. “So long as you work hard and have substance behind you, you can be successful.”
The two politicos see hope in the millennial women who are beginning to establish themselves in the workplace. “It’s much improved,” says Hochul, who recalls being one of only a handful of women in her law school class at Catholic University. “Millennials are more confident in their ability. It doesn’t mean there are no institutional barriers, but I want to make sure we don’t go backward in our march to equality.”
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