YWCA Leader Luncheon 2015

Not for the first time, I asked this question March 2: Why are these women – powerful, experienced, wise – virtually invisible in Rockford and Winnebago County political and organizational leadership?

The YWCA Leader Luncheon brings almost 700 professionals, a majority women, together in a single room for a single day and proves annually – at least for me – that there’s a disconnect between the power and expertise in that room and the “way things are done” in the Rock River Valley.

And, not for the first time, I will ruffle feathers again by pointing out that disconnect. Over my 20 years as executive editor of the Rockford Register Star, my columns asking why women and other minorities were shut out of the mainstream decision-making irritated, to put it mildly, the entrenched power structure.

There are exceptions, of course, and the judiciary is foremost at the moment. Rockford women have long shaped the community – as suffragettes who told their husbands they were simply going to Chicago for a shopping trip, as advocates and allies of those most at risk, as state and local legislators, as judges and executive directors, as teachers, lawyers, as mothers and care givers.

There is no shortage of women who get the jobs done. That packed, March 2 room proves it. But, as I shook hands and shared hugs with dozens of women that day, I asked once again: Why are these women not the mayors, the council and board members, the legislators, the CEOs and the executive directors of the most influential organizations?

In part, it’s inertia. Women work behind the scenes; men at stage center. In part, it’s money. Money translates into political power and women don’t have access to either.  In part, it’s time. It takes time to build and wield serious and visible political clout, and who has time for that when there are kids to be reared, homes to be kept and partners to be comforted – after wrestling spreadsheets and office politics all day?

Could I “put myself out there” yet one more time, knowing full well there would be a flood of hate mail, phone calls and tongue-wagging simply because I, the “girl in the News Tower” dared to question the status quo?

In part, though, it’s fear. Justifiable, not baseless, fear. I sit here this morning, a thousand miles and a lifetime away from Rockford, and I feel that same fear I felt everyday for 20 years in the News Tower. Could I “put myself out there” yet one more time, knowing full well there would be a flood of hate mail, phone calls and tongue-wagging simply because I, the “girl in the News Tower” dared question the status quo?

The answer is as simple as it is difficult. Yes. Dare. Dare do it. Take the inspiration from March 2, empower, surround and support those women who will sacrifice to step to center stage. Elect them. And, change the world.