Maryland Retailers Association President Cailey Locklair said Wednesday that while employers have a responsibility to make sure that all of their employees feel safe in the workplace that a special emphasis should be placed on the protection and vocational advancement of women.

The interview focused on the state of women-owned businesses under COVID-19, whether employers should require their employees to be vaccinated, and how the ‘MeToo’ movement has impacted women in the workplace.

The movement is now back in the national spotlight as three women have accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Cuomo has denied the allegations.

Below is an excerpt of an edited interview Locklair did with MarylandReporter.com as the world celebrates International Women’s Month.

MarylandReporter.com: A recent study by the Center for American Progress said that during the first 1o months of the coronavirus pandemic about 5.4 million women lost their jobs, which is about 1 million more than were lost by men. What needs to be done to bring more women back into the workforce?  

Locklair: I think what is kind of fascinating is that we know from the last census that there are more women in the United States than men. So (the unemployment statistic) is concerning and there are definitely things that we need to do. Small business ownership has been growing over the years.

And there was a recent study done about women small business owners and it included details about how they felt about COVID-19 and the economy and their businesses and what drove them to go into business. And I think the fascinating part about some of those answers is that the number one reason was that women wanted to be their own boss.

So I think that the more that we can help women find positions in the workplace where they are able to advance and grow-it seems to me from that small business ownership study that women really want to be in leadership positions. And this is definitely an equity issue too.

Obviously, there is not one solution to the problem. But I think that all of us are hyper-sensitive and very aware of how important it is to have women in the workplace and in leadership positions.

MarylandReporter.com: Is the state doing enough to help women-owned businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic? Is there any specific legislation that you would like to see passed?

Locklair: I would not say that this is a gender-specific issue right now. Small businesses in general [are struggling]. I am not sure that there is enough money or grants out there for some of these guys to find their way out of this hole.

So as much as the legislature can do for those guys in the form of relaxing whatever fees or property tax forgiveness (there have been) so many ideas out there to try to alleviate some of the regular burdens of running a business. And on top of that, you have bills that have just stacked up for months. So I am not sure that it has been a gender-specific conversation.

MarylandReporter.com: Should businesses require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Locklair: What I would say there is that if you have an employee who is refusing immunization for personal reasons-not religious and not because of a disability-but for merely personal reasons-I am not sure that they should be entitled to some of these additional benefits for COVID when you are putting your life at risk and had an opportunity to mitigate the illness.

I do think that there are some loaded issues around there that really need to be talked about in-depth. If somebody for a personal reason is choosing not to be immunized and contracts COVID and gives it to other people and jeopardizes people in the workplace that’s a big concern.

(Locklair explained her answer within the context of legislation the General Assembly is considering called the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act, which would require employers to “take proactive steps to minimize the risk of transmission if a worker contracts an infectious disease.”)

MarylandReporter.com: Over the past five years the ‘MeToo’ movement has steadily gained momentum with more and more women coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Is enough being done at the state and federal level to protect women in the workplace? 

Locklair: These conversations are really important. We need to make sure that everyone feels safe in the workplace. But in particular, we need to help women succeed and feel safe. There are so many careers that have been male-dominated for years. And the world has changed.

The ‘MeToo’ movement I think really helped narrow our focus on this. But we do need to be doing everything in our power to ensure that people are safe in the workplace and have an opportunity to file those complaints. And I would say that a lot has been done around this.

Keeping employees safe and comfortable is top of mind to the majority of business owners. The majority of business owners are good actors and want to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

This article originally published on MarylandReporter.com on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.


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