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New group organizes to support policies for women, families

C.A. Webb has helped launch Suit Up, an organization to help promote policies that support women and families.
C.A. Webb has helped launch Suit Up, an organization to help promote policies that support women and families. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Despite the results of last week’s presidential election, women who backed Hillary Clinton aren’t quite ready to pack up their pantsuits.

Several women central to Boston’s startup community have launched Suit Up, an effort to promote policies that support women and families. The idea is to use technology to shape social movements. After launching the website last Thursday, they’ve garnered about 23,000 supporters nationwide, and plan to host events across the country next month to help set the organization’s agenda.

Suit Up’s goal to help people identify “products, policies, and programs” they need in their communities to help tackle issues such as paid family leave, equal pay, and the promotion of more women to positions of power within companies, including seats on corporate boards.

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“We realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t just sit and let this moment pass,” said Anna Palmer, a tech executive and the site’s founder. Palmer focused her efforts on social entrepreneurship while at Harvard Law School, and said Suit Up is encouraging its members to hold meetups on Jan. 9. She added that the website provides a framework for people to begin seeking actionable solutions to problems in their cities or towns.

“We needed to turn our angst into action,” she said. “Coming from women in tech, we’re used to building things, so for example, if someone says, ‘We need an app that shows you where all the women-owned businesses are in your neighborhood,’ we can build that.”

Palmer’s teammates on the project are C.A. Webb, a cofounder and principal of the _Underscore.VC venture capital firm, and Kate Castle, head of marketing at Flybridge Capital Partners, and several other volunteers from across the tech industry. But despite their tech bona fides, the women say they are hoping for, and are already seeing, engagement beyond their circles in the tech and entrepreneurship landscape.

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“If I’m being candid, Anna and I are both white privileged women and we’re not interested in this being an organization limited to white, college-educated women in the Northeast,” said Webb. “We’re interested in building a coalition willing to act on the fact that we didn’t break that glass ceiling, and start rising up to find solutions to create more gender equity.”

But Suit Up is also drawing from the ongoing debates within the technology industry over gender equity, and they see a model in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign, which has galvanized women around workplace issues. But they hope the organization will work parallel with those efforts and address policy issues directly.

“I just have the highest regard for what Sheryl Sandberg has accomplished for Lean In, and I consider myself a part of the Lean In movement,” said Webb. “At the same time I think that there is an opportunity and a necessity for an even bigger table to bring together women and men who are thinking about gender equity across class lines in ways that Lean In doesn’t always afford.”

Palmer said they’ve had nearly 280 people sign up to host events, and that they’ll have meetups in all 50 states next month. On Jan. 21, the day after president-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated in Washington, D.C., they plan to publish the ideas and action plans generated in these meetings. Their goal is to have a “100-day plan for women” they can launch alongside Trump’s first 100 days in office.

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“Our hope is that there are real solutions that come out of this to tangibly impact the lives of women and girls,” said Palmer. “There was a lot of divisiveness around this election and a lot of emotion. Our hope is to channel that emotion into building things.”


Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.