Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Portrait of President Jo Switzer and Dave McFadden taken at Manchester University in North Manchester, Indiana on Monday, December 2, 2013. Photo by Lucas Carter / Manchester University.

Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:00 am

Opening argument

Writers open eyes to expanded opportunities for women

Jo Young Switzer

Jo Young Switzer is the retired president of Manchester University.

In the past several weeks, two contrasting points of view have appeared in these pages about whether a sufficient number of women are included in leadership and planning for the future of northeast Indiana.

The first column was quite critical about the absence of women's names on a ballot for a board. The response to that article was thorough and informative.

I know and have great respect for both writers. Each of them is firmly committed to gender respect and equity in northeast Indiana. They each seek citizen input and listen to it carefully.

Both articles focused specifically on the number of women represented on groups working to strengthen northeast Indiana. These unnecessarily low numbers are real and troublesome.

In reality, we also don't have enough women on city and county councils, either. We don't have enough women on zoning boards. We don't have enough women heading insurance companies and leading manufacturing firms and technology businesses. We have some women in these leadership positions, but not enough.

We should not forget that when Indiana was first settled, all civic leaders were men. In the 1950s and 1960s, city leaders were still nearly all men.

When Vision 20/20 began in 2010, 100 percent of the county economic development officials were men. All the mayors in the 11-county area were men except one. All the people leading county licensure and inspection offices were men.

Particularly in the area of economic development, we lack a healthy number of women in leadership.

We can do better.

The barriers to women's participation stem in large part from their low numbers in the occupations related to economic growth. The key jobs there are stereotypically “male” fields, e.g., transportation, industry, construction and permitting. This makes it more difficult to increase the numbers of suitably prepared and experienced women on boards related to economic growth.

The time is past when only women become teachers and nurses and only men become contractors, zoning board members and real estate developers. Men and women can be successful in all these fields. We all benefit when they are.

Northeast Indiana economic development efforts should be led by both men and women. It is not easy to achieve this, however, when insufficient numbers of women work in the fields related most directly to economic growth.

When young women seek career advice, we can help them explore meaningful work in many different fields, including construction, transportation, licensing, county and city leadership. These kinds of careers make a positive difference in our communities. Increased participation by women can enhance diversity, inclusion, and representativeness.

At Ivy Tech Community College, faculty advisers regularly speak with women students about entering fields like construction, economic development and research. We should not expect Ivy Tech advisers, however, to be the only people having these conversations.

We all need to talk to young people about career options that build on their strengths as young professionals and also support our region's growth.

When personnel committees of nonprofit boards recruit new board members, they need to include sufficient numbers of women on their lists. And when they recruit those women, they need to assign them to facilities and finance committees, not just to human resources and public relations.

When our daughters and nieces don't know what they want to be when they grow up, we should let them know about exciting challenges and job possibilities in economic development, construction, technology, architecture and business development, as well as education, health sciences, religion and the arts.

Two opinion pieces cannot solve a problem that took centuries to develop. Two talented and principled writers cannot solve centuries of exclusion of women from certain occupations.

All of us who want to strengthen northeast Indiana need to do that.

This is a particularly important time for residents of northeast Indiana to mentor women. Voice by voice and person by person, each of us can – and should – talk with girls and young women about their options. They need to understand the importance of good planning, zoning and budgeting to strengthen a community and a region. We should talk with them about the importance of ethical planning and equitable zoning and strategic budgeting to help a community become strong.

We should do the same for young men.

Hundreds of women and men have brought energy, growth and optimism to northeast Indiana through their different views, cooperation, persistence and hard work.

As citizens, we all have the responsibility to keep the momentum strong. We can do better.