'I Felt I Had An Obligation': New Chair Of Vermont Commission On Women And Her #MeToo Moment

Jun 25, 2019

Lisa Senecal of Stowe has been elected chair of the Vermont Commission on Women.

The Vermont Commission on Women is a non-partisan government board that works to advance rights for women within the state. Senecal takes over the position from Marcia Merrell, who is stepping down after serving as chair of the commission for the past decade.

Lisa Senecal spoke to VPR's Henry Epp. Listen to their conversation above.

Senecal, who was appointed to the commission by Governor Phil Scott in September 2017, was unanimously elected chair by her peers. She says she will continue the work the commission has done for the past 55 years.

Lisa Senecal was unanimously voted chair by her fellow commissioners on June 12.
Credit Lisa Senecal, Courtesy

“Primarily we're really looking to make sure that women at all different education levels throughout the state have equal economic opportunity to be able to support themselves and their families and really thrive in the state,” she said in an interview with VPR’s Henry Epp.

Senecal is also one of the founders of The Maren Group, a consultancy that works with businesses to address cultures of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last year, Senecal went public with an allegation of sexual harassment by a former Inntopia executive. Senecal broke a non-disclosure agreement to publish an account in The Daily Beast when she heard of another woman making similar allegations against the same man.

“Unfortunately we’re still in a situation where it generally takes more than one woman to be believed, and still sometimes when there’s more than one, women aren’t believed,” said Senecal. “She deserved to have all the support she could be given, and mine was a piece of that."

Senecal said that breaking a non-disclosure agreement is “an incredibly personal decision,” and that she would like there to be less stigma around harassment cases.

“I would like to see us reach a point in our country – and beyond – where there isn’t so much stigma and shame and potential retaliation against people who do come forward about sexual harassment, that non-disclosure agreements are no longer necessary,” she said.

Senecal said that in Vermont, despite the sweeping sexual harassment legislation that passed last summer, change is still slow.

“It’s very easy for us to believe that someone like Harvey Weinstein did what he did. In smaller communities, that’s more difficult. Lives are very intertwined. People have a sense that they know people in their community, so when people do come forward with an allegation like this, there are real challenges to being believed and having the issue addressed responsibly,” she said.

Senecal was elected chair of the Vermont Commission on Women at their June 12 meeting.

More information about reporting instances of sexual harassment in Vermont can be found here.