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Tulsa World: Opinion: Oklahoma must inspire and encourage more women into elected office

Lisa Billy and Lee Denney were elected in 2004 as Republicans to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Billy was the first woman, first Native American and first Republican elected to District 42. Denny was the former mayor of Cushing and went on to serve District 33 and as Speaker Pro Tem of the State House. In 2004, our freshman class represented the largest number of Republican women elected in a single cycle to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives. Five of us were sworn in together, ready to change the course of history and lead a new era in the public square.

Fifteen years later, Oklahoma still ranks 40th in the nation for the number of female members in its state Legislature, and of the 33 women in today’s elected body, 52% are Republicans. The figures do not get any better for Oklahoma when assessing female representation among mayors, county commissioners, district attorneys or Congress. We must do better, and it starts with one simple launching pad: inspiring and encouraging more women to run for office. When more women run, more women will win. And when women win, their records demonstrate they are often the most effective leaders, both in times of crisis and in times of progress, as noted in a study published by the University of Chicago last year.

A great example is seen in the most recent election cycle.

The largest number of women ran for Congress in our nation’s history. In that movement was Oklahoma’s own Congresswoman Stephanie Bice. On Election Day, she became only the fourth woman elected to Congress by Oklahomans. Her timely election immediately propelled her into a national leadership role when her peers elected Bice as freshman class president. Often the greatest barrier to entry is overcoming an established network working to protect various sets of interests. This is why we joined a group of fellow Republican women to form POWhER PAC, where our only interest is the future of elected Republican women in Oklahoma. National PACs supporting Republican women, such as Winning for Women and VIEW PAC, show that early financial support encourages women to throw their hat in the ring. Furthermore, building prominence of women in politics often inspires other women to run. POWhER PAC was formed among a handful of our colleagues who have served in elected roles and is charged with the simple mission of providing financial support and a like-minded network to help more conservative women build the confidence to run and win. When we spur women to lead as elected officials, we also believe this can be the fracture that further breaks the glass ceiling in C-suite positions across government agencies and the private sector. Of elected officials in Congress, 26% are women, a historic high, yet only 6.2% of C-suite leaders in S&P 500 companies are women.

Today in Oklahoma, in a Republican-led executive branch, we have more women than ever before serving in senior roles in state agencies and on the governor’s Cabinet. But progress is fragile and slow, and we cannot stop there.

We need more talented women running major municipalities, serving in statewide elected seats, and leading at the top of our courts, state agencies, colleges and universities. By growing the representation of talented female leadership in the public sector, our hope is it will also inspire progress in Oklahoma’s private sector that follows the abysmal national trends in C-suite leadership. This change is only possible with the support of both men and women, which is why POWhER PAC is fueled through membership dues from everyday Oklahomans.

Join us in helping the next talented powerhouse raise her hand and elevating the future of conservative Oklahoma women: powherpac.org.


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