In part two of Sandy Lish’s interview with City Council President Michelle Wu, Councilor Wu shares her priorities for the City.
SL: What are your top three priorities as City Council President?
MW: Three complicated issues that our country needs to address that will have a long-term impact on the next couple of generations are climate change, systematic racism and income inequality. Those are not just city issues, of course, but if you address the underlying cause through more effective municipal policies, like better transportation or universal Pre-K, it will help break down barriers and give people more opportunities. Locally, for example, we’re doing as much as we can from a zoning and purchasing perspective to help drive development of renewable energy market at the city level.
SL: Do you think it will be harder to achieve those things given the change in the national leadership?
MW: Boston has always had a history of standing up for residents from every background, something that I have seen affirmed time and time again during my tenure on the City Council. In 2014, for example, we passed the Boston Trust Act, which Councilor Zakim introduced to prohibit local law enforcement from detaining anyone based on immigration status unless they have a criminal warrant. Historically, we’ve also been the first city and state to stand up for a number of issues, including equal marriage and civil rights. I feel confident that Boston will continue to be a place that welcomes everyone and a place that thinks about instituting policies that increase opportunity rather than restrict it. Our work becomes more urgent now than ever before.
SL: What role can businesses, particularly small businesses, play in supporting your priorities and the need to ensure all Bostonians have access to opportunity?
MW: Small businesses truly drive our economy. They’re prolific job creators that make up a significant number of jobs here in Boston. These small businesses have an enormous impact on the local economy. They also recognize the day-to-day challenges that their employees face and tend to provide better work-life balance. What businesses can do is continue to expand, grow and invest in neighborhoods to keep things as local as possible from the beginning to the end of their supply chain. Working with other local business to source products, for example. The same thing goes for hiring – cast a wide net locally and reach out to different communities so that we can create a more tightly knit city. This will also make local businesses stronger.
There’s a real opportunity for small business owners to come together and lead not only commerce, but also policy change. It doesn’t have to be an issue that causes controversy, either. For example, if all of our small businesses in Boston wanted to help drive toward a more sustainable green economy by switching their energy over to renewable energy, that would make a huge difference. Or banding together with a group of local business owners to make sure that recycling is a joint effort. Or even coming together to provide English as a second language classes to employees.
SL: We’re a small business, so what you’re saying really resonates with us. But our client base also includes large corporations, and healthcare and higher education institutions. How can we help support what you’re doing in our role as a conduit between people in the power structure–both official and informal–and the businesses we work with who want to be supportive as well?
MW: There’s a role for larger organizations, particularly CEOs or decision makers, to dive in and address issues such as pay equity or diversity within their workforce. The problem is that they may not know how to do that or realize that the city offers many tools to help. For example, there are numerous opportunities to become involved with the Women’s Workforce Council or partner with local universities for research initiatives.
Sometimes just asking the right questions helps. “Are you doing everything that you could be doing to be the ideal employer? Are you providing on-site child care? Are you offering certain types of family leave for your employees?” are just three questions that come to mind. You’d be surprised how many large healthcare institutions– medical institutions that know the impact and health benefits of paid time off–do not offer paid parental leave for their employees that have had or adopted children.