Notes from the Field

A Tribute to Women in Government

by / October 31, 1998
Cathilea Robinett
Chief of Staff

"A woman's leadership style is more in tune
with the Information Age." -- John Naisbitt

A Tribute to Women in Government
Since the first female presidential cabinet secretary was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, women have slowly but steadily become a force in government. In 1925, two governors died in office and their wives were elected to serve out the remainder of their husbands' terms, but it wasn't until 1974 that a woman -- Ella Grasso of Connecticut -- was elected governor on her own merits.

Women holding statewide elective office have grown from 10 percent in 1983 to 25
percent today. And today, women hold 36 percent of all elective and appointed state
government positions. The list includes governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general, state treasurers, cabinet secretaries, regulatory commissioners, agency directors and CIOs. But there is more to do. Since Grasso took office, only 10 others have been elected governor.

Recently, Government Technology Publisher Don Pearson and I had the pleasure of co-hosting the first Technology Institute for the 15th annual conference of Women Executives in State Government (WESG), held in Mystic, Conn.

This lively and impressive group -- composed of elected and appointed executive branch officials -- was founded in 1983 by a small group of forward-thinking women. Their goal was to create a peer organization for the exchange of practical information and successful strategies for running their statewide operations.

As women have become more influential in government, so too have they made their mark on information technology. The National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) reports a 100 percent increase in women CIOs -- from five in 1995 to 10 in 1998.

Over the years, Government Technology has covered many pioneering women who have contributed to the growth in information technology as a strategic tool for managing modern government.

Among those women are such outstanding leaders as Kathleen O'Toole, former Massachusetts secretary of public safety; Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell; Sharon Dawes, SUNY's director of the Center for Technology in Government, and North Carolina's Jane Smith Patterson, who helped her state become a technology leader.

At a press conference in September, the 1998 Digital States award went to the state
of Washington. Accepting this prestigious honor with state CIO Steve Kolodney was Department of Information Services Deputy Director Clare Donahue, whose vision and determination helped Washington earn this acclaim.

Nebraska's impressive IT initiatives have gained support and momentum from the prominent leadership of Lt. Gov. Kim Robak and the governor's senior policy advisor on technology, Yvonne Norton Leung. Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham was the first to provide electronic voting, and California Public Defender Fern Laethem has built one of the most technologically advanced and effective public defender's offices in the nation.

These are only a few examples of women, who -- at all levels of government, in all regions of the United States -- are leading government into the Information Age. I was inspired in Mystic and wanted to take this opportunity to applaud and acknowledge women of the public sector who have made tremendous strides as leaders, visionaries and prominent role models for future generations. Letters to the Editor may be faxed to Dennis McKenna at 916/932-1470 or sent via e-mail. Please list your telephone number for confirmation. Publication is solely at the discretion of the editors. "Government Technology" reserves the right to edit submissions for length.

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