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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi believes the deluge of sexual harassment stories making daily headlines can be harnessed for reform in Congress and more broadly.

“Maybe this is the tipping point right now,” she said during an event at the University of Washington’s Computer Science school Friday. “All of the public exposure that is here tells us that there has to be zero tolerance for such behavior.”

Pelosi spoke with Washington Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and UW Computer Science Professor Ed Lazowska during a discussion about increasing women in STEM fields.

She said the thousands of women sharing stories of sexual misconduct on social media give weight to a new bill that her colleague, Rep. Jackie Speier, is introducing next week. The bill calls for a massive overhaul of Congress’s sexual harassment policies which Speier calls “toothless” and “a joke.”

“We want to make it easier for people to bring a complaint, review the climate in which something like this took place and what can you do about that, and facilitate the resolution of it … this may be our moment,” Pelosi said Friday.

Pelosi and DelBene agreed that reform in Congress is just one piece of the equation. In the wake of New York Times reporting on widespread sexual misconduct by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, women in Hollywood have been adding their voices to a chorus of stories that have emerged from the technology industry and beyond in recent weeks.

Pelosi and DelBene discuss sexual harassment in the workplace during an event in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

DelBene said Friday that getting more women in leadership positions is key to encouraging others to come forward with stories of abuse. It’s an important issue to DelBene, who studied biology and spent nearly a decade at Microsoft before entering public service. She is currently championing several programs to improve gender parity in STEM fields.

“People need to speak out,” she said. “They need to be able to support others. When we talk about management in businesses, having women in management, women on boards, is important to hopefully give more visibility to these issues.”

Pelosi believes we can make strides toward that goal if hiring managers just commit to interviewing women and minorities.

“If you don’t interview them, you’re never going to hire them…so let’s say, for any position that is open, that is of consequence, a higher position where you want people to move into the leadership, that you must interview women or minorities,” she said. “That one thing can make a difference because we know the talent is there.”

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