‘Get in the game’ — Kansas leaders urge more women to enter public service

By: - August 25, 2020 5:37 pm

(Left to right): DeAngela Burns-Wallace, Kenya Cox and Junetta Everett urged women to take a leap of faith and get involved in public service roles. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas set a record this year with women running in each of the state’s U.S. House and Senate races, but that’s not nearly enough to reflect the state’s population.

Women currently hold fewer than a quarter of the seats in Congress. In the Kansas Legislature, they hold only 26% of the seats.

“It’s frustrating that we still have these ‘firsts’ in 2020. So having a seat at the table is important not just to be the first, but also so we won’t be the last either,” said DeAngela Burns-Wallace. 

This year, Burns-Wallace was the first woman of color appointed to be secretary of administration for the state of Kansas. She said it was both an honor and a reminder of the milestones women have yet to reach in leadership roles. 

Burns-Wallace, along with a handful of other women civic leaders from Kansas, reflected Tuesday on the importance of women’s voices in decision-making positions during a panel discussion hosted by the University of Kansas.

The panel is part of The Appointments Project and Ready to Run Kansas Women’s Leadership Series, a collaboration between the KU Institute for Leadership Studies and the Women’s Foundation, intending to elevate women’s voices in civic spaces.

“Women in leadership positions seek more input. They are inclusive and make sure to bring the right voices, the voices that are affected, to the table,” Burns-Wallace said. “In putting people at the forefront, we leverage that intentionality and vision in a collaborative decision.”

Mary Banwart, director of the KU Institute for Leadership Studies, said research shows women bring meaningful perspectives to decision making on issues such as health care, child care and the economy.

The pandemic only magnified the need for more women leaders, Banwart said.

“Countries with women leaders seem to be doing better in their responses to COVID-19, and yet women are still not being invited or recruited (into leadership roles) at the same rates as men,” Banwart said.

Kenya Cox, executive director of Kansas African American Affairs Commission, urged women to take a leap of faith and get involved.

“Stop prepping and get in the game,” said Cox. “More than anything, women need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to be disruptors.” 

For those unsure of how to get involved, Burns-Wallace suggested considering applying for one of more than 1,000 spots Gov. Laura Kelly fills on state boards and commissions each year. She said they are actively seeking civic-minded Kansans each year.

Cox added that local school boards and commissions are often great entry points as well.

“Consider what sort of board or organization you may be a fit for. Where can you be the most impactful?” said Junetta Everett, chair of the board of directors for the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. “If you aren’t sure, you can volunteer.”

The panelists acknowledged the increased scrutiny that comes with being a woman in these roles. They encouraged women interested or already involved in civic leadership roles to network and support each other’s careers.

“I think the biggest challenge we face is becoming comfortable in our own shoes as women in leadership roles,” said Cox. “Being confident enough that when we are put in these positions to say, ‘I am going to lead and fight fearlessly.’”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.