Some of the women listed as among the mid-valley’s most powerful people say it’s become easier over the last quarter-century for women to rise into positions of power — even if the progress sometimes has been slow.
It was 25 years ago when the Corvallis Gazette-Times asked readers to name the most powerful people in Benton County. In that survey, women made up 28 percent of all the people named.
When the G-T updated and expanded that survey this month, asking people to name the most powerful people throughout Linn and Benton counties, the percentage had increased to 38 percent.
Some of the women named on the power list, in emails sent to the newspaper, acknowledged some progress, but also noted that much more needs to be done.
Wrote State Rep. Sara Gelser, who represents Corvallis and Philomath: “We still have a long way to go in terms of gender and racial equity in politics and business. To get more women and people of color to step into these roles, women and girls need to see more females acting in power positions. Marian Wright Edelman said: ’You can’t be what you can’t see.’“
Added Annette Mills, of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition: “Influence is not always earned, but is a result of being in a position of power. Women have made some progress in moving into positions of power, although at all levels — local, state, national, and international — I think women generally have to work a lot harder and be a lot smarter to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.“
The distinction between power and influence was an important one for some of the women.
Wrote Aleita Hass-Holcombe, who works with the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition: “If community influence is what we are really examining, I believe there has been great progress in both the number of significant issues in which women’s perspectives are being sought and the number of women’s voices that are surfacing. To me there is a difference in tone … power seems different than influence.“
Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning, who also works as vice president for development at Samaritan Health Services, saw another interesting distinction developing over the last 25 years.
Some of the women in the 2012 survey, Manning noted, are “volunteers whose influence results from their time and commitment to a cause rather than being in an employed position. I believe this is encouraging, as it indicates that the opportunity to play an influential role in the community is not strictly based on your role within a business or organization but is available to men and women who are willing to devote the necessary time and expertise to the effort and who understand how to effectively connect with other decision-makers and partners to make things happen.“
Manning also acknowledged differences between the leadership styles of men and women, but thought that effective leaders in the future will need to merge the best of both:
“I do see differences, but I also see more melding of styles that is shaped in part by new generations of people entering the work force. Effective leaders, men or women, are good listeners who are able to forge solutions among different stakeholders.“
That’s similar to advice Mills offered to young women starting careers: “Leave your ego behind. See yourself as a vehicle for something much bigger than yourself. Know your purpose, and act upon it. Take a genuine interest in everyone you meet by seeking points of connection. And be willing to work very hard.“
Dr. Paula Crone, executive associate dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific — Northwest, the medical school in Lebanon, noted that work remains to be done as women press forward: “Education needs to continue to emphasize equity. Girls need to be encouraged in the sciences and math, early in school. They also need to be encouraged in leadership roles early in their education processes.“
Added Gelser: “We need to actively encourage more women and girls to step into traditional power roles. We know that typically, a woman will wait to run for office until she is asked. They are also less likely than men to be asked. That is why when I meet with girls and young women, I always tell them to consider themselves ’asked.’”
In Their Own Words
The Gazette-Times sent email questions to the women who ranked highly on our list of the mid-valley’s most powerful people.
Here are the questions:
— Have women made progress in earning their fair share of influence in the last quarter-century? What remains to be done?
— In your view, do women in powerful positions tend to use that influence differently than men? What could men learn from the way women wield influence? And could women learn anything from men?
— What advice would you give a young woman just starting a career who wants to be become involved in her community in a leadership role? And what have you learned about striking the proper balance between work, personal and community obligations?
And here are the answers we received, in their words:
State Rep. Sara Gelser:
— We still have a long way to go in terms of gender and racial equity in politics and business. To get more women and people of color to step into these roles, women and girls need to see more females acting in power positions. Marian Wright Edelman said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Only 20 percent of the members of the U.S. Senate will be women, even after the historic gains of this election. Only 18 percent of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be women in the upcoming Congress. According to the White House Project, only 21 percent of news subjects, people interviewed or who the news is about are women.
We need to actively encourage more women and girls to step into traditional power roles. We know that typically, a woman will wait to run for office until she is asked. They are also less likely than men to be asked. That is why when I meet with girls and young women, I always tell them to consider themselves “asked.” Likewise, we need to do a better job encouraging girls and young women to pursue math, science, finance, business, and entrepreneurship. Fortunately, dedicated people like Donna Keim (at Corvallis High School) are working hard to connect young people with community, business and political leaders to they can have the mentors and relationships they need to find their own power. These kinds of personal connections are key to building leadership capacity.
The question of influence is a very different question than the question of traditional power. Women and people of color have significant influence, but aren’t always recognized for it. For instance, retired Dr. Norm Castillo influenced the health of hundreds and hundreds of families, and through his practice worked to extend equity in health care access to underserved families. Wilma Van Schelven of LOVE Inc. uses her twin talents of compassion and executive skill to marshal extraordinary resources to help those most in need. Mo Ruzek has been a special education teacher in Corvallis for more than 30 years. She’s changed the trajectory of hundreds of kids’ lives by setting high expectations, demonstrating respect for her students with developmental and intellectual disabilities by always insisting on their best work, and teaching kids to read and count when others told them they couldn’t. Her students will never forget her or all she gave them. These are just three people in our community who have genuinely changed the lives of individuals and families without a traditional power title.
— People certainly use power in different ways, but I don’t think it is usually based on gender. I always think it is important to seek out those with different leadership styles and temperament for guidance. We all have things to learn from each other.
— Advice for women: I would tell women they don’t have to wait. The primary reason that we have relatively few women in elected office is because many feel they need to wait until they’ve raised their children. If mothers want to run for office or start a company while their children are small, they should! Men do it all the time!
Families, friends and communities should be encouraging young women and mothers to step up. We need the voices of younger women and mothers of young children at the decision making table. I’m thrilled that two of my new colleagues will bring that perspective. Shemia Fagan is a first time mother with a three month old baby. Jessica Vega Pederson has two preschoolers and is the first Latina elected to the Oregon House. They will be great legislators, and will continue to be great moms. I hope they will be an inspiration to other young women and women of color wondering if they should jump in to lead.
In terms of balance, I have yet to meet any man or woman who has that figured out. I don’t think it exists until you accept that it is impossible to do all the things you think you should be doing — and then forgive yourself for it. I try to prioritize the things that matter most — activities with my kids, key work priorities, and remaining connected with family and close friends. That means letting go of the things that matter least. Things like dusting rarely migrate from my “to do” list to my “done” list. When the day comes to a close, I’d much rather spend that extra 15 minutes listening to my teenager tell me what is on her mind than looking at a clean bookshelf!
Julie Manning, mayor of Corvallis, vice president, Samaritan Health Services:
— I was interested to note that, in reviewing your initial e-mail contact list of women, some are volunteers whose influence results from their time and commitment to a cause rather than being in an employed position. I believe this is encouraging, as it indicates that the opportunity to play an influential role in the community is not strictly based on your role within a business or organization but is available to men and women who are willing to devote the necessary time and expertise to the effort and who understand how to effectively connect with other decision-makers and partners to make things happen.
— Leadership and management style differences between men and women have been much-studied in recent years. I do see differences, but I also see more melding of styles that is shaped in part by new generations of people entering the workforce. Effective leaders, men or women, are good listeners who are able to forge solutions among different stakeholders. I believe we can accomplish much more by working together than separately. Collaboration takes time and patience, but it often results in more innovative solutions and can be very rewarding.
— Activate the power of a network. Talk with people who are doing things that interest you, and ask them how they reached their particular role as a volunteer or employed leader. Ask what you can do to get more involved or learn more about a career field or organization. When you do get involved, follow through on your commitments and be mindful of opportunities to expand your role if that is your goal. And when you are in a position of leadership, be willing to be part of the network for someone else who is just getting started.
(As for achieving a balance), I believe this is a challenge for both men and women in today’s world. Family considerations are important in deciding whether to assume more volunteer or community responsibilities, because your family time will be impacted and family roles will be affected. Although there are some activities that can include family members and provide great examples for involving the next generation, these are typically the exceptions. Other considerations toward finding a good balance include: how effective you are at time/project management, how well organized you are, and whether you are able to say “no” and/or delegate when indicated.
Annette Mills, facilitator, Corvallis Sustainability Coalition:
— Influence is not always earned, but is a result of being in a position of power. Women have made some progress in moving into positions of power, although at all levels — local, state, national, and international — I think women generally have to work a lot harder and be a lot smarter to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.
What remains to be done? The social component of sustainability, the need for fairness and equity, is too often overlooked. The Sustainability Coalition’s Community Inclusion Action Team has identified three long-term goals for the community related to just treatment, connection to the community, and representation. For women and others to be fully included, we’ll need to continue to foster conversations and raise awareness about inequities. But we’ll also need to follow talk with action — enforcing laws that ensure just treatment, strengthening the role of advocates, and providing women and others with the resources they need to move into positions of influence.
— We’re living in a world in which the primary paradigm is still one of dominance — dominance of the “haves” over the “have-nots,” dominance of humans over the natural world. So we all — women, as well as men — tend to operate within that paradigm. In reality, everything is interconnected. My well-being is dependent upon your well-being and the earth’s well-being. There are more and more people, both women and men, who recognize our interconnection and interdependence. In practical terms, those influential women and men who understand interdependence are good listeners, are able to understand another’s perspective, and are actively seeking points of connection. Women have an edge over men in that regard, but I see more and more men with those qualities. What women might learn from men is to have more confidence — to know that their voices and perspectives matter a great deal.
— Advice to a young woman: Leave your ego behind. See yourself as a vehicle for something much bigger than yourself. Know your purpose, and act upon it. Take a genuine interest in everyone you meet by seeking points of connection. And be willing to work very hard.
As for balance, I’m still striving to create a balance between self-care and what I see as my life’s work. They only way I seem to make enough time for myself, my family and friends is by blocking out time on my calendar and making sure I stick to it.
Aleita Hass-Holcombe, Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition, Witness for Peace:
— As a past physical educator, the adjective “powerful” somehow conjures up visions of athletes in sports like football and weight lifting…traditionally men’s sports. So creating a list of “most powerful” and finding it to be predominantly still names of men does not surprise me. If community influence is what we are really examining, I believe there has been great progress in both the number of significant issues in which women’s perspectives are being sought and the number of women’s voices that are surfacing.
To me there is a difference in tone … power seems different than influence. There is often a need to speak “truth to power” and perhaps that is where women’s “influence” can and will play a lead role. In my current roles, as a peace advocate and a voice for people who are poor and/or homeless, there is a lot more work to be done … but the voices of influential women in our communities are making and will continue to make positive change happen.
— There is a saying that “power corrupts“. I don’t think that gender can shield one from the negative potential that power can have on humans. I would like to believe that because women in the past have been in the wings and observed harmful uses of power they have learned to use influence in more positive ways. But I am not sure …
In a perfect world, leaders would ally together to build strong systems of support to accomplish nurturing communities. Perhaps women have had more experience building supportive alliances because that was how cracks in their needed social services were filled. There are lots of cracks still to be filled today.
Leaders, both men and women, who demonstrate the ability to create nurturing alliances will learn from each other. Some skills for developing supportive alliances include patience, listening, sharing, flexibility, creativity and compromise.
— Advice: Examine your motives. Choose respected mentors. Value diversity. As for balance, ask for help and support. Accept help. Refuel (recognize what and who refuels your passion). Avoid other’s definitions of balance, but be sensitive to the needs that significant others may have for your time.
Dr. Paula Crone, executive associate dean, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific — Northwest:
— Women have certainly made progress in many areas. In my profession, when my grandmother went to medical school, she represented 2 percent of her class (one of two women). When I went to medical school, women made up 30 percent of my class. Today the average is 50 percent. At my University, on Jan 1, four of the nine college deans will be women — including the college of medicine. That would certainly have been unheard of in earlier eras.
Do we have room for improvement? Absolutely! We still have had only one female governor in Oregon!
What remains to be done? Education needs to continue to emphasize equity. Girls need to be encouraged in the sciences and math, early in school. They also need to be encouraged in leadership roles early in their education processes. Continue to work for salary equity for women as they compete for positions of leadership.
— I think many women do wield power in different manners. We may have an identical agenda as our male counterparts, but approach the execution of it differently — or be perceived as if we do. We both can and do learn from each other, ultimately seeking the best way to be effective in the roles we are in.
— I would give the same advice I was given: Take your education seriously, setting your expectations and standards as high as possible. Work hard. Serve your community. Seek opportunities for leadership. Don’t be afraid to fail and try again.
Shelly Garrett, executive director, Lebanon Chamber of Commerce:
— I know this sounds corny, but I really don’t consider and think about the difference between men and women very often. In the business world that I live in, there are as many men as women. Of course women and men do things differently. At 59 I have grown accustomed to understanding men and the way they communicate as well as women and how they communicate-it may be worth mentioning that it took me just as long to understand women as it did men — maybe more!
Women are much more prominent in the business world. In my first job (secretary at Southern California Edison Co.) the women were secretaries and teachers. Men dominated the working world. Men wore suits and the ladies dressed traditionally (including gloves) in skirts. I was fortunate in going to work for a major utility. They paid men and women equally. It was the beginning of the phrase “nontraditional” in the job world. I can honestly say it seems like the changes in equality were very speedy in my experience.
— From my viewpoint, woman have always had the ability to influence. I also believe that every woman knows that. The ability to influence is a woman’s strength.
I’m really quite uncomfortable with the ’power’ reference. If you are in a position to influence and make a difference than you should take advantage of this advantage and empower (I like that better) others. Again-I don’t think of men and women in opposing roles. I believe it is less about a person’s gender and more about a person’s character and their level of integrity. A bad person, woman or man, will use power or influence for their own agenda.
— What I enjoy most is the opportunity I have to connect people. That is the secret to any success I have experienced. Putting people and needs together is extremely rewarding. By being involved in the community there are plenty of opportunities to see things that need to be done and help make it happen. I keep my ears and eyes open. There so many needs in our community; it’s impossible to ignore. It’s amazing how often someone will come in or call to ask about something they have or are looking for, etc., and I’ll remember that such-and-such is looking for that exact thing! It works with people as well! One of my favorite things is when I am able to make employers aware of someone who would be perfect for their organization! So lesson one: Listen as hard as you can so that you can help when you can.
Leadership isn’t as important as showing up. There are so many needs-everywhere you look! Make yourself available and give whatever talent you have to help! You lead by example. Be the kind of person you admire in others.
Balance: It’s about priorities. People who achieve a lot are very organized. I love my family very much. I also love my job and the friends I have (I am very blessed with friends that are not afraid to tell me when I am taking the wrong road or are full of myself). I sometimes become anal about being organized, but it helps me maintain control over my life.
I love Lebanon very much. Something I’ve learned in the past 10 years is that I also love Linn County and the Willamette Valley. It’s like a big extended family. What happens in Linn and Benton counties benefits us all. I celebrate Albany, Sweet Home and Brownsville’s successes as much as our own. I also embrace and care about Benton County, very much a part of our Willamette Valley. Being elected to the Linn Benton Community College Board of Education has allowed me to understand and see the great things Benton County offers. I see that the people in Corvallis love Corvallis just like we love Lebanon. I also have learned to recognize that by working together with all of these communities, our valley will be nurtured and grow in a diverse, healthy way!
So power isn’t something I want or need. The opportunity to empower people is really cool. Connecting people is my great joy. I am honored to be considered with such great leaders!