New program to equip women for public office, workforce

The goal to get more women elected in public office is on the mind of some faculty and students.

Plans are underway for a new Women’s Civic Institute on campus that will take the form of a spring event series.

While this is the first year the university will host the institute, Roudy Hildreth, associate professor in political science and institute co-director alongside Mythili Rundblad, the coordinator of student development, said the directors hope to do it every year with support from several campus organizations including the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, the SIU women, gender, and sexuality studies department and the SIU University Women’s Professional Advancement office.

Hildreth said the institute aims to encourage women’s interest to run for public office. He said the goal is to give women the necessary information and tools to be leaders in areas such as politics by incorporating programs that would include workshops, networking events, seminars and visits from other women who hold a public office.

Hildreth said women seem less interested in public office than men.

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

“If you take a look at the number of women in public office, it is low and that needs to change,” Hildreth said.

Cynthia Sims, an associate professor in workforce education and development, will kick off the series of events by teaching a leadership workshop in early February.

“Leadership development is taught the best by being placed in situations where you have to use it,” Hildreth said.

Hildreth said the institute’s inspiration came after the university conducted the Civic and Democratic Learning Initiative, which is a national effort to enhance service-learning, volunteerism and civic engagement, according to university information. SIU was among 50 colleges and universities selected to participate in the initiative.

“I think SIU was chosen because in the last three years, SIU has made a push for service learning and involvement,” Hildreth said.

Emily Burke, a researcher at the public policy institute, said the initial idea was to create a place where female students could practice leadership and political skills. Then, she said, Rundblad brought up detailed plans for the institute.

“It was perfect that people initiated this institute for this cause,” she said.

Burke said she hopes the institute will inspire change.

“I think we will see better interest in females in political science,” she said. “I anticipate that a new group of women will become comfortable in the world of politics and controversial subjects through leadership roles.”

Burke said while the program will not be able to cover a comprehensive amount of skills needed in all workforce leadership jobs, she thinks it will still be a great help.

“I think every little bit helps,” Burke said.

She said she was involved in the institute’s planning because it will be valuable for women who seek jobs, and it will equip them with necessary workforce skills.

“I hope soon people won’t think twice about hiring a woman into a position of public office,” Burke said. “I think women will be able to learn so much through this institute and will give them a guideline for the outside world.”

Burke said the institute aims to bring diversity by hosting a variety of successful female leaders.

“We are also bringing women in the private sector as well as the public sector,” she said.

Burke said institute participants will end the program by participating in service projects, which they will decide on and lead based on their own interests.

Melinda Yeomans, coordinator of SIU’s University Women’s Professional Advancement, said the institute would benefit women because they can hear from successful female leaders.

“Research shows that mentoring support, direct leadership experience and the provision of effective role models can foster the successful development of a woman’s identity as a leader,” she said.

Yeomans said organizers are still planning events for the institute.

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