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Raimondo Restores the Rhode Island Commission on Women with Twelve New Appointees

PROVIDENCE, R.I.- Governor Gina M. Raimondo today named twelve appointments to revive the long-vacant Rhode Island Commission on Women. The members include:

• Betty Bernal

• Maribeth Calabro

• Adriana Dawson

• Betsy Dennigan

• Elizabeth Francis

• Stephanie Gonzalez

• Leah Williams Metts

• Josephine O'Connell

• Vimala Phongsavanh

• Tejal Tarro

• Rebecca Webber (Chair of the Commission)

• Barbara Wong

"We must stand behind our families and support one of our greatest and most underutilized resources - women," said Governor Raimondo. "This Women's History Month, I'm thrilled to take the opportunity to restore the Rhode Island Commission on Women. These new members will play an important role in promoting equity, strengthening our economy, and showing the leaders of tomorrow they can do anything they set their mind to."

The Governor also announced she is tasking the Commission with creating an Equal Pay Certification Status, which will be awarded to Rhode Island businesses that show a commitment to equal pay practices. This announcement builds off of last month's launch of the Pay Equity Tip Line, a telephone line allowing women and men to report employers who violate the Rhode Island law that bans gender-based wage discrimination. The Commission's first meeting will be in April.

"Ensuring paycheck fairness will boost our local businesses by putting money directly in the pockets of working families, whether it's to buy an extra bag of groceries or new school supplies," added Raimondo. "Not only will this inject more money into our economy, pay equity attracts first-rate employees and promotes a more productive workforce."

"I'm inspired by Governor Raimondo's proactive approach to ensuring gender equality, and it is an honor to be chosen chair of Rhode Island's Commission on Women," said Rebecca Webber, Chair. "As the first woman governor, and as a mom, Governor Raimondo is showing strong leadership on the need to continue to push for equity to improve individual opportunities, local communities, and the state's economy. I am excited to be a part of the Governor's efforts, beginning with closing the gender pay gap through Equal Pay Certification Status. I have full confidence that the Commission will take a hands-on, energetic, and productive approach to achieving our goals."

The Commission will spend the spring developing details and guidelines for implementing an equal pay certification status. In order to earn this certification, a business must show that it adheres to state and federal level equal pay laws, and has internal policies that forbid discrimination on the basis of sex, and procedures in place to remedy discrimination complaints.

The Rhode Island Commission on Women was established in 1970 to advocate, educate, and advise regarding issues impacting the status of women in Rhode Island. Joining the twelve members appointed by the Governor will be three appointees from the House, three appointees from the Senate, and eight members from the state agencies selected by the Commission.

The Rhode Island Commission on Women is not only intended to serve as an advisory commission to the state, it will also serve in the community. The Commission will focus on a broad range issues going forward, leading with a focus on pay equity.

Betty Bernal's is currently a Gloria Gemma Resource Center Foundation Consultant. She was previously the Parents Engagement Coordinator with the RI Nurses Institute, and also served as the coordinator for the Advanced C.N.A. Program at Bristol Community College-BCC, a workforce development-training grant that provides intensive nursing aide training to displaced individuals. Bernal also developed and implemented the Latina Initiative at the Gloria Gemma Resource Foundation providing ongoing education, awareness and access to services for Latinos breast cancer patients and their families. Bernal is a member of The Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee and The Achievement First Mayoral Academy. She is a graduate of Pedro Ruiz Gallo University, Peru.

Maribeth Calabro is currently an Evaluation Specialist/i3 Coordinator for Providence Schools, this fall she will be returning to her role as a Special Education teacher at the middle level. She is currently taking a course with the Institute for Labor Studies and Research and sits as the co-chair the Peer Assistance and Review Panel. Calabro was named one of RI Monthly's 30 most Powerful Woman in RI 2014-15. Last year, Calabro was elected as the President of the Providence Teachers Union, where she was formerly the Vice President at Large from 2001 through 2014. She also serves on the Joint Labor-Management Committee, is an Evaluation Master Coder, I3 Coordinator, and the co-chair Teacher Evaluation Committee. Calabro holds a BS of Education and M.Ed from Providence College.

Adriana Dawson is the Director of Employer Outreach & Engagement at Roger Williams University. Prior to her time at Roger Williams, she was the State Director of the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at Johnson & Wales University. Dawson is a board member of the Providence Economic Development Partnership, Latino Policy Institute and Women's Fund of Rhode Island. She is actively involved in statewide workforce and economic development efforts that supports social mobility for underserved communities. Dawson holds a BA in Communication Studies from Northeastern University and a MA in Communication Management from Emerson College.

Elizabeth Dennigan is an attorney and emergency nurse who currently serves as a Vice President at East Bay Community Health Centers and as Clinical Safety Officer at Miriam Hospital Emergency Department. Dennigan was the Executive Director of Poverello Wellness Center for ten years. She is a community advocate, the founder of Books Are Wings, Inc., an Advisor for Frequency Writers, Inc., a former State Legislator and US Congressional Candidate. Dennigan received her Juris Doctorate from New England Law-Boston and her RN from Saint Joseph School of Nursing.

Elizabeth Francis is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Previously, Francis was director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Brown University for 10 years. As a member of the RI Commerce Corporation Board in 2013-2014, Elizabeth co-authored a strategic plan to develop the creative and cultural economy. Francis currently serves as a member of the Advisory Council for the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University and is Vice Chair of the Community Advisory Board for Rhode Island PBS. She completed her bachelor's degree at Hampshire College and earned her doctorate in American Studies at Brown.

Stephanie Gonzalez is a Central Falls City Councilwoman and sits on the Central Falls School Board of Trustees. She is a member of the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy's external affairs team, the Sheila "Skip" Nowell Leadership Academy Board of Directors, the YWCA Rhode Island Board of Directors, and the Sophia Academy Board of Directors. She is also a Founder of the Central Falls Alumni Association. Gonzalez was born and raised in Central Falls and earned her undergraduate degree from Boston College.

Leah Williams Metts is the Director of Community Engagement, and Outreach for OIC of Rhode Island providing job training and placement. She works as consultant to The Billy Taylor House and serves as the 3rd Vice President of the NAACP Providence Branch. Metts co-chairs the alumni board at Davey Lopes Recreation Center, she is a member of the Providence Police Advisory Board. She serves on The SouthSide Elementary Charter School Board whom is a proud partner with The Amos House. Metts is also one of 10 woman to receive a 2014 YWCA's Women of Achievement Award in 2014. She holds a Degree from Empire Beauty School and attended Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island.

Josephine O'Connell, now retired, was a former Sister of Mercy. She spent many years dedicated to assisting the poor through her work founding the St. Francis Food Center in Providence and serving on the Board of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. O'Connell also spent many years working with children from pre-school at St. Williams Montessori School and the Wheeler School to teenage boys at St. Aloysius Home and Whitmarsh House. She also served as the truant officer in Central Falls for 11 years. Two years ago, she and her family advocated for the passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island, a hard fought victory. O'Connell is a lifelong resident of Rhode Island, and a graduate of Rhode Island College.

Vimala Phongsavanh is currently the Director of Programs for the Center for Southeast Asians. Prior to that, she served as chairwoman for the Woonsocket School Committee and as a Youth Program Coordinator for NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. Phongsavanh is the recipient of the YWCA Northern Rhode Island's 2011 Rising Star Recognition for Women Holding Office, and a Founding board member of New Leaders Council Rhode Island. She holds a BA in Political Science from Providence College and is currently a MPA candidate from the University of Rhode Island.

Tejal Tarro created Centered Change, an organization supporting women in leading authentically with grace in partnership with Donna Sams. Tarro spent the first half of her career in management consulting in large global strategy consulting firms working with retail and manufacturing companies on business process and technology improvement. The second half of her career was focused on leading large-scale organizational changes and leadership development in a Fortune 25 company. Tarro earned her undergraduate from the University of Michigan and her MBA from the University of Maryland.

Rebecca Webber is an Advisor, Rx Merchandising Strategy & Analytics for CVS/ Health. Before joining CVS/Health she was the research director for the Rhode Island Treasurer's office and a policy analyst for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. Webber holds a BA in Economics from Connecticut College and her MSc from The London School of Economics.

Barbara Wong has worked as the Executive Director of the Providence CityArts for Youth, Inc. for the past fifteen years. Prior to that, she was a Grants Program Officer at The Rhode Island Foundation. Wong was the Mayoral Appointee to Providence Public School Board from 2012-2015, among other boards and panels for the Arts. Wong holds her BFA from Cornell University, and her MA in Art Education from RISD with coursework from Parsons School of Design.


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