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September 24, 2018 FOCUS: Women in Business

At 25 years, CT Women's Hall of Fame seeks to leverage latest wave of female empowerment

Photos | Contributed Geena Clonan is co-founder of the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, which is celebrating 25 years of highlighting top women in myriad industries, including business and politics.
Sarah Lubarsky, Executive Director, Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

When Geena Clonan, former co-managing director of the Connecticut Forum, planned one of the organization's first-year panel discussions in 1992 — “American Women in Focus Breaking New Ground” — she expected a stimulating conversation; what she helped found, as a result, was much greater.

“We wanted to showcase Connecticut women through the Forum and we assumed, being a bedrock New England historical landscape, there would be information in the state about [historical] women,” said Clonan.

What she and Forum colleague Doris Sugarman discovered was a gap — and a need. In response, working with the professors from the then-Hartford College for Women, CPTV and the Connecticut Forum, the pair helped create the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame (CWHF), chronicling more than 300 years of female contributions to the state. The organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“We thought it would be a traveling exhibit,” Clonan confessed. But demand was high from educators who wanted biographies, stories and curriculum — often absent in standard history books — about the critical role women played throughout the state's history.

Twenty-five years later, Clonan said, teachers are still clamoring for these resources.

“It's very evident with this 'new' wave of feminism with younger generations, like Millennials with 'me too' and 'that's enough' movements,” Clonan said.

Sarah Lubarsky, the Hall of Fame's executive director, agrees.

“We've come a long way over the past quarter-century,” Lubarsky said, “but there are still subtle messages that women receive every day [in the workplace and media] that puts them on a lower realm than their male counterparts.”

She sees an opportunity through the Hall of Fame's community and education outreach to change that culture. She points to her organization's most popular programs, STEMfems, which connects girls in the state with women professionals in science, technology, engineering and math careers from partner companies, including Pfizer, Ensign-Bickford and Eversource.

“The Hall is about women as role models and it's great for young girls to hear about the experience of women who've gone into [career] fields largely dominated by men,” Lubarsky said.

And it's not just the workplace that the CWHF is looking to transform. Through its “Girls Day at the Capitol,” CWHF is also teaching young women self-advocacy and the importance of public policy.

“We want them to understand how important voting is and how, even if they're too young to vote now, they can advocate for themselves within their school or in their families to make their voices heard.”

That type of intergenerational empowerment is, in part, what drew Kristin Flyntz, director of customer marketing at The Hartford, to serve on the CWHF's board of trustees.

“Demonstrating that women, even against great odds, can and do achieve at the highest level of every field remains critically important — particularly for young girls whose sense of themselves and what's possible is still developing,” Flyntz said.

She said the Hall of Fame, as part of its 25th anniversary celebration, will be launching a social media campaign this fall — #letsrole — in which girls and women can share their female role models and why they are so important.

“The Hall has been preserving, honoring and sharing the value of women's voices and contributions in every facet of society, so it's excited to see the current momentum,” Flyntz said.

That momentum is reflected both in the number of exhibit views for the Hall's traveling exhibits, which have nearly tripled from 5,000 a few years ago to more than 13,000 last year, as well as great funding diversity for CWHF's operations.

According to Lubarsky, the organization's $450,000 annual budget, which three years ago was driven nearly 60 percent by corporate support, has expanded giving from foundations and individuals, including a new fundraising effort, launched last year, aimed at men.

The “A Few Good Men” campaign was championed by renowned Doonesbury comic strip cartoonist Gary Trudeau, after his wife, broadcast journalist Jane Pauley, who lives in Connecticut, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Not only has the campaign helped create a new revenue stream for the Hall, Lubarsky said, but also has served to educate men about women's accomplishments.

“It's really important that boys and men understand the contributions that women have made in the state and are able to pass that down to their children,” Lubarsky said.

On Nov. 5, three new accomplished women in the field of the arts — Anika Noni Rose, Tina Weymouth and Lucia Chase —will join the 118 already enshrined Hall of Fame members who hail from myriad fields including, sports, politics, business and entertainment. More than 800 people are expected to attend the event.

That success is a testament, Clonan says, to the active participation of Connecticut citizens across the board over the past 25 years.

While Clonan takes pride in the CWHF's history, she said she hopes for a day when the Hall won't be necessary.

“That would symbolize that women are being acknowledged everywhere and they [wouldn't] need their own Hall of Fame,” she said.

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