When Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot received the 2019 Woman of Vision Award on Thursday, it was not lost on her that the room where she accepted the honor is a space that once barred women.
The Stock Exchange Trading Room at the Art Institute of Chicago was built from preserved portions of the famous 1894 Adler & Sullivan-designed trading room demolished at 30 N. LaSalle St. in 1972.
On Thursday, Lightfoot noted that there are still places where women are not welcome, even if they are not expressly forbidden.
“We need to find those places, break down the door and demand our seat at the table,” Lightfoot said when accepting the award from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP.
The firm — known as Arnstein & Lehr until its 2017 merger — has presented the award through its and its Women’s Development Initiative for the past 13 years.
The award celebrates women who have made an impact in Chicago’s business community.
The luncheon event drew 153 people, according to the firm.
Lightfoot said she’s proud that the overwhelming majority of people on her team are women and women of color.
“I know why it’s so important to have women in seats of power, that we bring our prospective not only to governing but in business and in other places where we are affecting and shaping the quality of life of people all over the city,” she said. “Women have to have a seat at the table and our views and experience have to be represented.”
She cautioned the women in the audience from viewing other women only as competition.
“We need to figure out ways to strengthen ourselves by expanding opportunities for women,” she said.
Before she was elected mayor, Lightfoot was a senior equity partner at Mayer Brown LLP. She has also served as president of the Chicago Police Board, chair of the Police Accountability Task Force and as a federal prosecutor in Chicago.
As part of the award, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr makes a donation to a charity chosen by the award recipient. Lightfoot selected the National Immigrant Justice Center. The center received a $5,000 donation.
“One story that I want to make sure you know that doesn’t often get told is the role that young girls are playing in this fight,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said she’s spoken to daughters of immigrant parents as young as 11 and 12 years old who must take on the role of an adult because they may be the only English speaker in their family.
“At that tender age, understanding the magnitude of the potential harm that may be visited upon your family and then having to take that back to your parents and assume this adult role. If that is not the definition of trauma, I don’t know what is,” Lightfoot said.
“I want to make sure when we think about these issues and we think about the potential harm to families and communities and that we don’t forget about the young people, particularly those young girls, who take on an added responsibility and burden because of the role in their family.”
Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the NIJC, said Lightfoot has consistently been an advocate for immigrants and for human rights.
“And we appreciate her support today and over many years when these issues were not always at the forefront of the national news like they are today,” she said.