Carine M. Feyten: We need more women leaders in public office

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017
By Carine M Feyten,  Denton Record-Chronicle

For more than a century, Texas Woman’s University has proudly grown up in Denton, becoming the country’s largest university primarily for women.

Today, at 116 years young, we have achieved national recognition for our leadership and academic excellence in the fields of education, nutrition, the arts and sciences, and, especially, in the nursing and health care professions.

But Texas Woman’s University’s work is not yet done. We have a crucial role to play in encouraging more women to aspire to leadership roles, especially in the political arena.

Texas has always been known for its strong women leaders, from elected officials like U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, Gov. Ann Richards and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, to Ellen Ochoa, director of the NASA Johnson Space Center, to leaders in business like Mary Kay Ash and Ebby Halliday, as well as countless other women who do Texas proud.

Locally, Denton is ahead of the pack in having women hold elected office.

The Denton City Council is nearly one-third women.

A woman — County Judge Mary Horn — holds the highest elected position in the county. There are many more women in various leadership roles throughout Denton County, and I am honored to be among them.

We need more women leaders, especially at the state and national level.

For context: Between the first woman’s election in the 38th Legislature through the 63rd session, elected women in state government numbered between three and five.

The number of women in the state Legislature gradually began to increase, reaching 31 in the 73rd legislative session and leveling off at the 74th session in 1995. In fact the number of women legislators this year — 37 — is the same as in 1995.

Today, women hold only 20 percent of the seats in the Texas Legislature.

One of the most notable is Sen. Jane Nelson, a very good friend to TWU and North Texas.

And we are proud to have a TWU alumna in the Texas Legislature, Sen. Sylvia Garcia from Houston, who also has the distinction of being the first woman and first Hispanic elected as a county commissioner for Harris County.

So what role does Texas Woman’s University play then in the milieu of encouraging women to consider careers in public office?

While preparing women for careers in public service may not be our primary mission, we are purposefully creating ways for students to lead, to question, to answer questions by engaging in research and to hone critical-thinking skills.

Our Leadership Institute, led by the indomitable retired Maj. Gen. Mary Saunders, a distinguished TWU alumna and at one time the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. Air Force, is a prime example.

Our distinctive national position as a primarily women’s institution also helps.

It’s worth noting that women who earned degrees at women’s colleges hold a disproportionate share of the U.S. congressional seats held by women and also make up a disproportionate share of women in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies.

Women’s colleges and universities like Texas Woman’s University foster an environment that creates opportunities for women to gain leadership skills in business, health care, education and public policy.

We must continue to encourage our students to become the next generation of female leaders if we are going to have more gender parity in political office.

And Texas Woman’s University is the right institution for the job, as we already have many resources focused on the historical contributions and accomplishments of women leaders in Texas and the nation.

The Woman’s Collection in our library is second to none, and home to the national archives of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the Whirly Girls, the First Ladies Inaugural Gown collection and the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

From our archives to our alumni, Texas Woman’s University continues to leverage our resources in a focused effort to ensure our graduates are among the leaders of tomorrow.

Because, as we like to say around here, “Educate a woman, empower the world.”

Thank you, Denton, for being a great partner and supporter of Texas Woman’s University.

We look forward to a strong future together.

CARINE M. FEYTEN is the chancellor and president of Texas Woman’s University.

Follow this link to read more.