Minnesota boasts that it is in the forefront of women’s leadership, but one need only look at county boards to find evidence that the state still has a long way to go.
Only one in seven Minnesota county commissioners is a woman, and more than half of the state’s county boards have no female representatives at all. We need all of the best minds at the table to address issues facing Greater Minnesota — and we are missing the voices of women and women of color.
Every all-male county board is located in Greater Minnesota, and while other elective bodies have disparities, none is as glaring. According to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, 72 percent of the state’s city council members are men, with one in four city councils having no women at all. Only five percent of city council seats are held by women of color.
We want to share ideas for how to advance women leaders regardless of the status of women on your county commission. First, we want you to start inviting great women you know to take leadership. There’s even a fun and easy way to do it through the nonpartisan organization VoteRunLead, whose #InvitationNation campaign asks men and women nationwide to nominate three women to run for office. Whether it’s a soil and water conservation board, an electric co-op board, a county commission or the state Senate, you can participate with a few simple clicks from a phone or a desktop.
Together, we can expand the positive trend of women’s leadership from our cities to the borders of our state. We can encourage and reach women online like never before and get them connected to real resources. With organizations like the Rural and American Indian Leadership Project (RAIL) in Virginia, Minn., we can connect women to great support systems in all corners of the state.
Women like Lorrie Janatopoulos, from the Iron Range, have taken the challenge. Janatopoulos, a founding member of RAIL, ran for a county board seat in 2010. Although she didn’t win, she says that running for office was one of the best things she has done in her life, adding, “I realized that I shouldn’t be asking ‘Why me?’ — I should be asking “Why not me?’ ” She is now using her experience and her wallet to sponsor women from northeastern Minnesota to attend the national Go Run gathering in Minneapolis in November.
We need you to pinpoint the talented women in your lives and encourage them to run. Keep in mind that research shows that women want to be invited to run for office and that when a current officeholder taps them, the invitation packs a real punch. Amy Klobuchar, are you listening? Mark Dayton, are you listening?
Together we can fill the pipeline to political leadership with the names of women we know want to make a change in their communities. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask three women you know to run for office — and make sure two of them are from Greater Minnesota. Tell them about resources like VoteRunLead, where women can acquire skills and inspiration that support their work from now until the day they take office.
We want to see one woman from every Minnesota county at Go Run. The gathering is happening in your own back yard Nov. 21-23. Visit VoteRunLead.org to learn more.
Liz Johnson is director of operations and community at VoteRunLead. Nevada Littlewolf runs the Rural and American Indian Leadership Project and is a City Council member in Virginia, Minn.