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A matter of mentoring

Generation of female leaders sets trailblazing path


Every March since 1987, the United States has celebrated Women’s History Month. The month is an important opportunity to laud the tremendous strides women have made in our society, teach our young women about some important role models and reflect on how we can increase opportunities for our next generation of female leaders.

I have been so fortunate to have strong women in my life and that influence, of course, started at home. When I was growing up, my mom was a bookkeeper for our local public schools. She not only taught me the importance of a great education but also offered me one example of how women can manage a career and family.

In 1984, Judge Sarah Evans Barker was the first woman appointed to be a federal district court judge in Indiana. She was also a speaker at my law school commencement in 1985 and has been an influential mentor throughout my own career. From her, I learned there are no shortcuts to success, especially for women, and that mentoring is one of the best ways women can give back to other women. Cecil Harden, the first female Republican member of Congress from Indiana, who served from 1949 to 1959, was an inspiration as I began my first run for public office.

In Indiana, Hoosiers have countless examples of female success stories to draw from. In addition to the individuals above, we look to other role models:

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman: Both women have provided tremendous leadership serving as second in command of our state government.

Former Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly: She led a Fortune 500 company and continues making valuable contributions to our state’s economic development efforts.

Tamika Catchings: A world-class athlete for the Indiana Fever and U.S. Olympic team who supports our students through her Catch the Stars Foundation.

Martha Hoover: In 1989, she opened her first Indianapolis Café Patachou and after growing to 10 locations, her famous omelettes will now be enjoyed in a national expansion with Simon Property Group.

While it’s important to celebrate the strides and successes so many women have enjoyed, there is more work to do. Right now, women only make up 23 of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and only 17 percent of the seat holders on corporate boards. In the U.S. House, where I serve, women hold just 82 of 435 seats even though we’re 53 percent of the electorate.

This is why Women’s History Month should also serve as a forceful reminder that we must continually refocus and refine our efforts to empower women trying to succeed in school, the boardroom or anywhere else.

That’s why I’m proud to serve as congressional co-chair of the Women’s High Tech Coalition, a group that brings together female policy makers and business leaders to support women looking to succeed in male-dominated high-tech fields.

It’s also why I’ve introduced the Computer Science Education Act, which will increase access to computer science curriculum and Advanced Placement tests for all of our students. Right now, only 21 percent of AP computer science test takers are girls. Yet, there will be 1.4 million computing jobs in this nation by 2020.

My bill tries to ensure a new generation of students are ready to fill these exciting new positions.

We hope more of these students will be girls!

Let’s celebrate the women in our lives who’ve contributed to our success. Let’s focus on supporting organizations – like the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., the National Association of Women Business Owners and so many others – that do so much to mentor young women and help women thrive.

Let’s celebrate the success we’ve had while not losing track of the progress that can and must be made.

Let’s work even harder to build a world that embraces women of influence and gives them every chance to succeed. Let’s pledge to make sure our daughters and granddaughters enjoy more opportunities than any generation of women before them.

Susan W. Brooks, a Fort Wayne native, represents the 5th District of Indiana in the U.S. House. She wrote this for Indiana newspapers.