Broad of the Month: Faith Winter

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Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

As a young woman lobbying on environmental issues at the Colorado State Legislature, Faith Winter would routinely interact with Joan Fitzgerald, the first woman president of the Colorado Senate. Fitzgerald became a mentor for Winter and it was Fitzgerald who encouraged Winter to run for office. At first taken aback by the suggestion, she shared the idea with some additional mentors who wholeheartedly agreed with Fitzgerald. Winter should run. And so, at 27, she did just that. Winter was elected to the Westminster city council in 2007, one of the youngest elected council members at the time. From there, Winter went on to run for the Colorado House of Representatives in 2014, representing Westminster. She was re-elected in 2016 and is now running for a state Senate seat in this year’s election. If she wins, it will mean the Democrats will hold a majority in the Senate, and this is no small shift. It could have immense implications for many of the bills she and her colleagues have been trying to pass for years.

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An Advocate for Working Families

One of the bills that could receive a boost if Winter is elected to the senate is her bill on paid family leave for Colorado working families. She has championed this bill for two previous years, and each time it has met partisan resistance. This year is attempt number three and she fears it will die in the Senate along party lines, even though it passed the House. Not one to shy away from the good fight, she believes fundamentally we can figure out how to better support families.

Several states have some kind of paid family leave and their economies are not in ruin, Winter argues. Obviously a refrain she has shared time and again. Further, the U.S. trails behind many countries in providing this type of support to families (check out my previous TBD piece on this a topic). As she talks about this issue and others, including workplace sexual harassment, her passion for social change and women’s rights is evident.

Culture Change

As I am sure many of you are aware, Winter was one of the victims who came forward about the sexual harassment she experienced at the state capitol by Rep. Steve Lebsock. In an historic vote, he was expelled from the House on March 2nd, 2018, in a vote of 52-9. Debate lasted all day--I listened to it all. I asked Winter what she felt were the larger implications of this vote and his expulsion. “It’s a big shift for the culture at the Capitol,” she said. “I think we let women know they will be heard and they will be believed. And that there are consequences.”

Often when faced with a toxic or hostile work environment, women simply leave. They don’t feel like their employer will effectively address the harassment, so it is easier to leave their position and go elsewhere. This has the effect of impeding women’s progress in the workplace. For Winter, the response from the legislature in expelling Lebsock has increased the likelihood women will stay once they are engaged in public service. “There were a lot of aides, and interns, and lobbyists who left because the environment was so toxic . . . . I hope we have changed the culture to the point where they are appreciated for their mind, their values, and their ideas and that we created a place that is safe to come to work every day.”

Winter hears generally about workplace issues from women beyond sexual harassment. It’s the whole gamut, she says, “There’s sexism in the workplace, there’s no paid family leave, there’s not equal pay, there’s not easy childcare, there’s not accessible childcare.” Creating healthy and supportive workplace cultures for women is a broad and deep conversation and one Winter is determined to keep on the legislative table until there is change.

Inviting Women In

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Winter talks passionately about the need for women to mentor other women. Prior to her time in the Colorado State Legislature, she worked for the Whitehouse Project (now closed) and was the founding executive director of Emerge Colorado. Both organizations were designed to encourage and train women to run for office. Winter is also the training coordinator with the newer Vote, Run, Lead, another organization dedicated to training women to run and win.

In talking with Winter about her efforts, she shared the number one reason women run is because they are invited to do so. Just like she was invited to run by Fitzgerald back in the mid 2000s, she is committed to paying this forward 100 times over. “We need to do a better job of validating women’s ambition. I think we need to make ambition for women a good word, and not a bad word” says Winter. It’s hard being the first, or the only, in a workplace or on an elected body, and this is why, according to Winter, mentors are so crucial to women’s success.

Mentoring isn’t hard, Winter says. “Don’t over complicate it. Just tell a woman why she’s talented. Ask her to go for that promotion or run for office. Ask her to get that next degree.” Chances are, according to Winter, she is already thinking about it and the act of asking, or nudging by a mentor, can make all the difference. “The first part is just the invitation. Let them know you are there.” Women are often afraid to fail, says Winter.

This comment reminded me of an interview with Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani. She echoed Winter’s sentiments. Girls are taught to be perfect and to be nice. They aren’t taught to take risks but rather, to avoid failure. Saujani calls this a “bravery deficit” :“Our economy, our society - we're just losing out because we're not raising our girls to be brave.” As mentors, Winter asserts, we should encourage ambition in girls and women. With ambition there can be failure or the need to traverse a different path. But with good mentorship, women can integrate these experiences and move forward rather than disengage completely. Mentors should be there to support and encourage this exploration, this bravery.

In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, some men have articulated a hesitancy to engage with or mentor women colleagues due to a concern they may be perceived as crossing or line. Winter responds: “mentor me in the same way you mentor a male colleague and you won’t have a problem . . . don’t underestimate my strengths, don’t underestimate my intelligence.”

More than Bandaids

Winter’s parents--a nurse and a teacher--taught her and her sister to get up and try to make a difference every day. In college, Winter wanted to save the world. She still does. Her early work assisting women experiencing homelessness showed her how broken the system was and lit a fire in her that is still burning. The system needs to change and needs much more than temporary fixes, she tells me.

For Winter, Denver, and broadly Colorado, is often ahead of the curve in addressing the systemic oppression of women. Colorado was the first state to elect women to the legislature and the first to give women the right to vote. Colorado is also routinely near the top in numbers of elected women. Winter looks at this foundation and sees opportunity. She sees momentum. “We need a woman governor, a woman mayor of Denver, and a women senator,” she says. She wants to see women connect across sectors, build relationships and support each other in leadership. Winter’s enthusiasm for Denver and Colorado doesn’t mean there aren’t still gaps for women. She is committed to filling those gaps and continually asking how all of us can be better. This is a rallying cry broads can get behind.