Commentary

Men still have a tight grip on power in the Kansas City area

Updated: 2013-05-16T20:17:11Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

The Old Boys Club is back in charge of the most important political seats in the Kansas City area.

And don’t go looking for many women at the top ranks of local business circles either. They aren’t there.

Last week, for example, The Star published the most recent total compensation for 40 top companies’ chief executive officers. Not one was a woman. Men led all the banking, engineering, communications and other businesses on the list.

Here we are in 2013, time to renew a troublesome lament: Whatever happened to all the women holding political leadership positions in this region? And when are women ever going to get to call the shots at lots of local corporations?

Just nine years ago women held the top political offices in Jackson, Johnson, Wyandotte, Clay and Platte counties, plus three of the six largest city governments. The hard-nosed, change-agent leaders included mayors Kay Barnes in Kansas City and Carol Marinovich in Wyandotte County.

Today, though, men lead all nine local cities with more than 40,000 residents and all but one county government. Women make up a small number of Kansas City Council, Jackson County Legislature and Johnson County Commission members. The three local congressional representatives are men. Most of the legislative leaders pontificating on abortion, taxes and guns in Kansas and Missouri are men.

Over in the corporate world, men dominate the roster of the influential Civic Council of Greater Kansas City. Men hold the top staff positions at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Development Council, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association and — well — you get the testosterone-laden picture.

Round up the usual reasons/excuses.

In politics, men with money won’t adequately finance campaigns of women candidates. Men who overwhelmingly still control corporate boards won’t promote enough women to top positions.

Women may be less inclined to run for elected office, especially when it entails trying to get money from male donors while also getting called hateful names on social media blogs (run by men). Women don’t write large enough checks for their candidates. Women don’t have the political/business networks that men do. Women still feel the tug to raise families.

In 2011, when I last wrote about this situation, Rania Anderson — president of The Way Women Work — wrote a letter to the editor chiding me for not acknowledging some women of power in the area.

In an interview this week, however, Anderson said progress on the corporate side had “stalled,” despite all the mentoring and training programs aimed at women.

“Somehow we still have this belief that women are not as strong as leaders as men,” Anderson said, adding a challenge, “We need women who want to be CEOs.”

There is hopeful news.

CiCi Rojas, the Central Exchange CEO, is encouraged by young women becoming more involved in political and business issues. Yet she added, “Women have to understand the impact when they’re not engaged in the political process.”

Crystal Williams, Jackson County legislator and president of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, focused on the need to recruit and train women to run for elected office and to gain appointments to key corporate positions.

Anderson said the large number of women involved in entrepreneurship is a good sign, especially with backing from the Kauffman Foundation. She cautioned that this effort must to lead to companies that can become larger, women-run companies.

Then again, I’ve heard these and other positive statements before. So when are things really going to change?

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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