Last week I was speaking with a local female resident that is not exactly Mayor Valerie Thomerson’s biggest fan. She was offering me her take on how she thought the mayor could do a better job but she ended the conversation by saying she does want the mayor to succeed, especially since she is the town’s first female mayor.
Opinions aside, Thomerson’s election last year was a milestone for Piedmont and represented a sign of progress for this town. That’s not to say Piedmont was an anti-female town before the April elections – I don’t think that was the case – but firsts in leadership always deserve recognition and last year’s mayoral race resulted in a pretty significant first for Piedmont.
However, while the town’s top official might be female that’s not necessarily indicative of the role of women in other positions of local government leadership. There are no women on the city council and none running for the office this April. The school board doubled its number of women with last week’s election but female board members are still outnumbered three to two.
There are plenty of women in leadership roles across the community, including at principal, city staff, business owner and a variety of other important positions. But when it comes to our government there is a lack of women in charge. Of course, Piedmont is not unique in this regard. The ratio of men to women in government across the nation is strongly in favor of men. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States ranks 70th in the world in terms of female political leaders and Oklahoma is one of the worst states when it comes to gender differences in government.
Karen Green is vice-president of the Piedmont school board and said being the only woman on the board is not something she has stopped to consider.
“I don’t think of myself as a female in local politics….I just figure I’m a concerned person who is fortunate enough to be able to serve in an area I am passionate about,” Green said in an email. “Being a man or woman doesn’t really enter into it for me. I would like to think I was elected because I was the best of the three candidates that applied for the job that year. I don’t ever feel like, either from my fellow board members or from my patrons, that I am treated a certain way because I am a woman.”
Green acknowledges that meetings with contractors, which is a regular occurrence for the board, is often dominated by men, but said she doesn’t feel like she is at a disadvantage. However, regardless of gender, Green believes it’s the quality of the candidate that matters most.
“We need people who will serve, not for themselves or to be re-elected, but for what is best for their city, or country, as the case may be,” Green said. “It could be that there is a lack of female participation because we are simply used to having male politicians.”
Misconceptions can be a challenge for female leaders as some voters might wrongly believe they are not capable of handling certain challenges, but Mayor Thomerson said wrong perceptions can be a challenge for any politician – male or female – to deal with.
“People whom I have never met or have barely conversed with believe they know me but they only have a ‘perception’ of who I am,” Thomerson said. “Whether their perceptions are right or wrong isn’t what is important to them.”
While Thomerson says politics can be a tough task for leaders of any gender, she does believe society could benefit from more female involvement.
“Women have not been as involved in the political process as long as men have been,” Thomerson said. “Look at our history, women weren’t even allowed to be involved until the adoption and subsequent ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920; whereas women in Europe have successfully held positions of great power for centuries. Women in the US have been working towards a significant presence in political arenas for years.
“I think we are already seeing this at the national and state levels and I believe we’ll be seeing women in leadership roles become more prevalent on local levels as well. However, what I think is more important than one’s gender is the person’s ability to set aside personal ego and focus on the big picture…what is best for Piedmont, not what is best for ‘me’ and that ability has nothing to do with gender.”
Both Thomerson and Green are right; it can be tough being a woman in politics, but at the end of the day it’s not a person’s gender that matters. However, that doesn’t mean our community – and world – couldn’t benefit from more women in government. There are some great female leaders and volunteers in the Piedmont community and it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see more of them run for political office in the near future.