Seats At The Table: Why More Women Will Lead 117th Congress

The 117th Congress holds a lot of promise for women, in part, because it looks a lot more like us.

Even though last year was tough, the tough got going. Collectively, women took the step toward securing their seat at the table. They turned the presidential primaries in South Carolina and put a new tenant in the White House.

To give the new Administration the Senate along with the House of Representatives, women lead the way again with a sweep in Georgia’s runoff election in January. Now, in the case of a split vote, the deciding vote will be made by a woman – the nation’s first female vice president.

So the stage is set for Federally Employed Women (FEW) to advance its core legislative initiatives that advance working women. “With the first Vice President being a woman, a lot of issues that FEW supports could be addressed,” said Tonya Saunders, FEW’s legislative advocate. “We could see action on all of them.”

Karen M. Rainey, who serves as FEW’s President, expects more success in 2021: “I am honored to work for an organization that help the voices of women be heard and support legislation that support us.” During her tenure, FEW has advocated for legislation that have passed, including S.3749 – Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act (2018), H.R. 6147 – Appropriations Minibus [pay increase] (2018) and Federal Employee Paid leave (2019)

FEW’s legislative agenda includes topics that impact federally employed women directly, as well as women in general:


FEW supports the Equal Rights Amendment that would ensure federal resources would benefit men and women equally, providing all citizens with the opportunity to reach their full potential.

An ERA passage would put women on equal footing in the legal systems of all 50 states, particularly in areas where women have historically been treated as second-class citizens, including in cases of public education, divorce, child custody, domestic violence and sexual assault.

In early 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. This action means ERA has reached the minimum of 38 states required by Congress for ratification to the U.S. Constitution when the amendment was passed in 1972.

ERA has already been reintroduced in the 117th Congress, thanks to support from many including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).


The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was among the first federal laws in American history to address gender discrimination. Despite the program, women are paid an average approximately 77 cents for every dollar paid to men today, and the numbers are even worse for African American women and Latinas.

FEW acknowledges that much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity for women. FEW has advocated for paid parental leave for federal workers, equal pay, ERA and non-discriminatory bills for several congresses.

In 2020, FEW supported H.R. 2474 – Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which passed in February but was rejected by the Senate. The bill was the most important pro-worker labor law reform in more than 80 years, which would 1) provide tougher penalties when employers fire union supporters, 2) end employers’ ability to delay union elections,3) bar employers from holding “captive audience” anti-union meetings, 4) require greater disclosure when employers hire union-busting consultants, 5) implement binding arbitration, 6) ban permanent replacement of strikers and 7) allow unions to wage secondary boycotts and eliminates so called “right-to-work” law.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) leads the charge along with other elected officials.


FEW supports a zero-tolerance approach to protect the recipients against all forms of sexual harassment, violence and gender discrimination in the workplace.

FEW is seeking congressional action raising awareness, creating safe environments that encourage employees to speak out without fear of retaliation, and providing opportunities for federal agencies to review their policies. 


FEW supports paid leave for federal employees so we can care for our families.

FEW believes the U.S. government should be a model employer, and progress will allow our members to appropriately care for themselves or their families without worrying about job security.

In 2020, FEW supported H.R. 2694: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which passed in September. The bill would eliminate and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

Regarding COVID-19, FEW supported H.R. 6201 – Families First Coronavirus Response Act last March. The bill, which passed in the House and Senate, required the federal government to provide all its employees with paid sick leave and for employees who are covered under Title I of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with expanded family and medical leave for specific reasons related to COVID-19. The provisions ran from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.


FEW supports an efficient and effective government. However, FEW is opposed to a federal hiring freeze and/or reducing the federal workforce through attrition. As reported in an earlier General Accountability Office report, hiring freezes ultimately end up costing more money than they save.

FEW supports legislation that supports pay-raise fairness in the federal workforce. More than 900,000 federal employees make less than $60,000 per year. Modest pay increases are justified by the hardships federal employees have suffered in recent years due to federal government shutdowns.