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Last week I attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale (WCS). This 20-year-old non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership program works to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe. Several of the speakers repeated the same line all week, “Women are 53 percent of the population…stop acting like we are in the minority.”
Arlington’s own Allida Black, (Eleanor Roosevelt Scholar and co-founder of Ready for Hillary), spoke at WCS about her journey as a child of the civil rights movement to creating a social movement for Secretary Clinton’s candidacy: “Politics is equal part dream, courage, and sheer grit. WCS is essential training for any woman, especially women in Arlington, who want to run for office. It shows in very real ways what decisions you must make in order to fortify yourself, concretize your dream, build your community, and give you the confidence to introduce your vision for an effective community-based party.”
My WCS classmate from Arlington, Natalie Trisilla (program manager for a DC-based nonprofit) concurred. We intend to rely on our vision, courage and grit to use what we learned at WCS to make a difference in Arlington.
Fortunately, Arlington has been a leader in women’s empowerment issues in both the political and business contexts.
For example, The Leadership Foundry, in conjunction with Northern Virginia-based Women in Technology, prepares women to serve on corporate boards. The Leadership Foundry is co-chaired by the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women’s (CSW) Vice Chair Marguerete Luter.
Marguerete has also been a key part of local Congressman Don Beyer’s efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment. In May, Congressman Beyer introduced the Gender Diversity Investment Act, which would provide federal employees the freedom and flexibility to invest their retirement savings in companies that demonstrate a strong commitment to gender diversity and women’s economic empowerment.
The progress of women leaders in Arlington was the focus of CSW’s Women of Vision reception on June 11, honoring women who have made an impact in Arlington in the government, nonprofit and business sectors.
CSW awarded its government award to Karen Darner, who served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. Delegate Darner set an example that continues today. Our County Board is chaired this year by a woman, Mary Hynes. In November, the ballot will reflect continued engagement by women leaders. Incumbents on the ballot will include Barbara Favola (State Senate), Ingrid Morroy (Commissioner of the Revenue), Carla de la Pava (Treasurer), and Theo Stamos (Commonwealth’s Attorney). Among other women running for office will be CSW member Katie Cristol (County Board candidate).
Notwithstanding Arlington’s successes and programs like WCS and the Leadership Foundry, women still continue to lag behind in political and corporate leadership, both nationally and throughout Virginia. Women represent only about 19 percent of the U.S. Congress. In Virginia, about 20 percent of our state senators, and 25 percent of our state delegates are female. Recent research shows that women hold only about 17 percent of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies, and about 15 percent of senior executive positions.
There is much discussion about the women’s vote, but not as much recognition of the key role of African American women in electoral politics. As Jessica Byrd, formerly of Emily’s List, has noted, since 2008, Black women voters have the highest turnout percentage in electoral politics.
Although Arlington has never elected an African American woman to the County Board, we have elected African American women to the School Board, and African American women are active in other positions of leadership. CSW gave its nonprofit award this year to Sarah Summerville, long-time community leader and cofounder and president of the African American Leadership Council of Arlington.
CSW awarded its business award to Mary-Claire Burick, President of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID). Among other women serving as President of leading business groups in Arlington are Kate Roche (Arlington Chamber of Commerce) Angela Fox (Crystal City BID) and Tina Leone (Ballston BID).
I am proud to say that in Arlington, we generally don’t act as though women are in the minority. Our progressive values have led us to elect and promote women to the highest levels of leadership. Hopefully, Arlington’s leadership can help our state and our nation to put even more cracks in our glass ceilings.
Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute, former chair of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, and a member of both the Leadership Foundry and the Junior League of Northern Virginia.