Kansas City takes on dearth of women in politics with board appointment

06/08/2014 6:30 PM

06/08/2014 7:06 PM

Society can coax women to “lean in” or whatever phrase is currently trending. Nothing is new in that arena.

Women tend to be less represented in higher business positions, as CEOs, as politicians and within the ranks of government in general. For that to change, we need to do more than diagnose the rationalizations that tend to block women from civic involvement.

Thanks to the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the impetus of Mayor Sly James, people are taking action.

On Monday the first woman who applied through an initiative announced this spring will be added to a City Hall board. Cecelia M. Carter will join the Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees.

That’s not a cupcake committee. It’s finance, investments and pension plans. Carter is well-suited for the role, with 20-plus years in the financial retirement work.

She applied through the Women’s Foundation’s Appointments Project.

Men tend to volunteer for such roles, being less self-critical about their qualifications. That’s often due to a sense of entitlement, aspirations nurtured by family and society from their youngest days.

Women, studies have found, tend to hesitate more before diving into public service. They are more apt to wait to be asked. And they volunteer or run for positions generally where they have a vested interest. That might land them on a school board, a nonprofit, a church committee. They may delve into politics, but primarily due to a specific issue that touches their family or community. Compared to men, they tend to meander toward higher civic calling.

It’s not that men are always better qualified; they just tend to raise their hands more readily and benefit from established networks with other men.

The less direct approach partly explains why females are less likely to wind up on boards and commissions, which often are a precursor to running for an elected office.

The Women’s Foundation’s effort is a step toward building a larger presence within significant public policy issues. The foundation will soon start a series of listening sessions around Missouri to determine which issues matter most to women. They will skip the culture wars, battles that are strictly partisan.

The foundation plans to become a lobbying force in Jefferson City around issues that affect the economics of women and their families.

And that is a great example of leaning in.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @msanchezcolumn.

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