As senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center, I’ll spend 2020 launching a statewide pilot project that examines women’s roles in Wyoming: how women drive the economy, access services and participate in leadership — as well as the places where women are left out or overlooked. What I learn in the process, I’ll share in this column, Equity State.

I’ll be writing about the ways that data about men and women can help improve the impact and efficiency of programs. Or places where smart policy decisions didn’t include women, like in Wyoming’s Bootcamp Program in the criminal justice system. I’ll explore the barriers that women face accessing services (in contexts that often aren’t built for them) and the benefits accrued to all Wyoming residents when we change this.

And, because this is about making things better for everyone, I’ll offer suggestions for possible improvements.

I want to start with the new RepresentWomen’s 2019 Gender Parity Index. That nonpartisan national review of all 50 states gives Wyoming a grade of D for women’s representation in elected office.

But there are some bright spots. For example, Wyoming’s lone congressional district has been represented by a woman since 1995.

The three women we’ve sent recently mark a new epoch in Wyoming’s history of representation. Congresswoman Barbara Cubin’s election was the exception; collectively, Congresswomen Cubin, Cynthia Lummis and Liz Cheney have turned it into the rule.

Unfortunately, the report also notes that “the state has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate.”

If Cheney runs for Senate against Lummis — virtually guaranteeing that Wyoming will send its first woman to the U.S. Senate — there is the opportunity for women to step forward and run for the open U.S. House seat. Two birds, one stone.

When we shift over to the executive branch, historically only a small fraction of the Big Five — governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, auditor, treasurer — have been women, though it is good news that currently two out of five of those electeds are women.

But the relative scarcity and recent decline of women in elected office at the state levels cannot be overlooked or its importance overstated. Women make up less than 16% of our state legislators.

When you look at states with greater gender parity in their legislatures, the number of women in elected office has been shown to have a positive impact on issues that affect women. Those are policies that also benefit families and communities, including health care, child care, safety and education. They also tend to be policies that have positive economic impact, something I’ll discuss in a later column.

Equal representation isn’t a lot better at the local level in Wyoming. The report focuses on mayors of Wyoming’s largest cities. We can celebrate that the mayors of Gillette and Cheyenne are women.

Meanwhile, only 16 of 93 county commissioners are women. Teton County’s own Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker is the first woman ever recognized as Commissioner of the Year by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

What isn’t readily available is data on other local elected officials like sheriff, assessor, county attorney and clerk. Locally, the assessor and the clerk are positions to which our community has long elected women. Teton County elected its first female county attorney in 2018. Meanwhile, the sheriff has only ever been a man, a situation that is true across Wyoming.

So what can we do?

There are some free and easy ways to start to change the complexion of leadership in Wyoming.

One simple way is to increase the number of women on appointed boards and commissions. Seats on local boards are appointed by the county commissioners and on statewide boards by the governor. They offer an excellent way to become involved with pressing community or state issues. They can also act as a great springboard for public service and elected office.

Right now, on average, only about 1 in 3 of these statewide appointments are women. Two notable examples from other states show how Wyoming might achieve parity on appointed boards: The state of Iowa passed legislation requiring parity. In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti issued an executive order and achieved parity in five years, which has, in turn, led to more women running for office.

These boards are a great way for private citizens to engage with public service. It is a simple and effective way to change the landscape.

Here are a few other things we can all do to make a difference:

• Attend and participate in public meetings.

• Vote in every election.

• Notice and talk about the roles women play in our community — and where women are (and sometimes are not) represented.

And, last but not least:

• Read this column on the first Wednesday of every month in 2020. Take part in the conversation.

As a community and a state we can’t change what we don’t talk about. Together, we can change the conversation. When we do, everyone in the Equality State stands to benefit.

Jennifer M. Simon founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group dedicated to advancing the economic security, health and representation of women in Wyoming. She is a senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center and holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She can be reached via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

(4) comments

Ken Chison

Yes Meg. I am totally aware of the author and her online degree that she received from a school back east. One thing I can almost guarantee, is that the online classes did not teach Wyoming history. Wyoming has championed for women's rights since its beginning. Being a female does not automatically qualify you as a better candidate. It may in some people's minds as well as it may not be the belief in others. The author is slightly chauvinistic in believing that a female is better for the job. I champion for equity and believe more Irish should be in political office. Does that mean that's my beliefs are better than the next person's? Does that mean anybody Irish should automatically receive an elected position regardless of what the electorate believe? Gender bias has no place in today's modern world. If a person is a better candidate, they will get elected to an office, regardless of their gender, nationality, height, weight, color or religious beliefs. I don't need preached to and told how backwards or bigoted people of Wyoming are because of their election choices.

Ken Chison

Since when should the electorate start voting on gender only? That's as crazy as voting for someone on the color of their skin or religious beliefs. Political affiliation would be a good thing to leave out as well. If people would vote for the candidate they believe is best suited for the job, it would be so much easier. A person's gender does not make them a better or more qualified candidate. Their ideas do. Plus I cannot figure out the author's name for this new column. Equity State, as written in the first paragraph? A more appropriate title would be Equality State, if referring to Wyoming. That is, after all, what our great state is known for. This would be a great place for the author to start at. The history of Wyoming and all the great firsts offered to the women of our state.

Meg Daly

Dear Ken, I'm not sure how you missed Jen M. Simon's name, as it is featured prominently in the by-line and with her photo. As you may have overlooked, Jen is the senior policy advisor to the Equality State Policy Center, meaning she knows a thing or two about the importance of gender parity in politics. Electing more women is not the same thing as "voting on gender only." Did you, in fact, read Simon's column? In it, she observes that Wyoming political offices are predominantly filled by men - and thus do not live up to our state's "equality" moniker. There is not equal representation in our state and the only way to achieve that is to vote more women into office. Pretty simple, obvious concept.

Also, it's important to remember that equity is needed to achieve equality. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equity is indeed the proper name for this column - not only because it's the title this female author chose and she has a right to her own mind! - but because she sees the importance of achieving not only equal representation but also equity, where women have the chance to be successful too.

I'm one woman who is thrilled to read this new column from Jen Simon and I will look forward to it each month.

- Meg Daly

Christopher Clabuesch

First, equity in the financial sense pertains to ownership. It's called word play. ie. women deserve an equity stake in the equality state. Second, women comprise approximately half of the voting population of the state of Wyoming, and with out bothering to research I'd wager my home that they don't comprise the same representation in our local or state governments. So, voting for women would give us a more representative and thus better government. And finally, laughably, given your many writing samples on this website, it's clear Jen is not in need of a critique from you.

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