Women In Government: What Stands In The Way?

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When Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor for President Donald Trump, took the stage at the Ohio Republican Party State dinner the very first topic of discussion was on women in leadership and how to encourage more candidates to run for office.

Conway says encouragement is key.

“The number one impediment for many women not running for office is that nobody’s ever asked them to do it. Guys, I love you, but every morning you wake up and see a senator in the mirror. Women have to be asked, they have to be told,” says Conway.

Conway lists attributes that she believes make women ideal candidates in local, state and federal elections. She says, on the whole, women tend to be good negotiators and, because they’re new to politics, less susceptible to corruption. Conway says women have a lot to say on a host of public policy topics such as health care, education, and national security. But she says they might balk at the idea of running for office because they’re disenchanted by politics.

“But ladies you’re going to stay up anyway worried about the issues facing the world, and Ohio, and your counties in Ohio, so you might as well takes all those angst and those ideas and the action and go put it into greatness, go run yourselves,” Conway says.

Betty Montgomery is a former Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Auditor. The Republican politician was the state’s first woman AG. She recognizes the importance of putting more women in office and agrees that women tend to wait to be asked to run for leadership positions. In fact, she says she was one of them.

But Montgomery believes President Trump creates a problem in the GOP’s efforts to recruit more women candidates.

“I do think this president’s rhetoric has been damaging to encouraging women to run,” says Montgomery.

However, she says it’s important for prospective leaders to dig deeper and look at what the party stands for.

“That’s what I try to do when I talk to women. I say look ‘you’re in for the long run and there will be personalities that come and go that are offensive to you, that you disagree with, but at the end of the day what do you believe in, what are your core principles? And if they align with the party, then you should be a member of the party,” says Montgomery.

She has spent decades chairing a leadership Institute that helps develop young, women leaders. It’s named after the state’s first woman speaker of the Ohio House, fellow Republican Jo Ann Davidson.

Women make up 51% of the state’s population yet none of the five executive statewide officeholders and neither of the state’s two U.S. Senators are women. There are only three women members of Congress from Ohio, along with just 25% of the Ohio House and Senate. While Democratic lawmakers are close to an even split between men and women, the Republican caucus in the House and Senate combined is 85% male.

Mehek Cooke is trying to play a role in changing that. She’s running as a Republican candidate for House District 21 against a Democratic incumbent.

“I think more and more women need to think about how they can get to a race and be successful rather than all the barriers around them,” says Cooke.

One of the state’s top women leaders is House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron). She says, no matter the party affiliation, more women should be in office to reflect the state’s population.

“I think society needs to encourage and embrace women leadership, accept it, not push back on it, and allow women who want to engage in this process to be a part of this process the best way that they can,” says Sykes.

Conway, Montgomery, Cooke, and Sykes all agree that it takes a concerted effort to reach out to women and find ways to encourage them.

An example of that could be found with Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R-Ohio) administration, 62% of the cabinet leadership positions are filled by women.