CHEYENNE -- Only a dozen women serve in the Wyoming Legislature, and there is a group in town that wants to boost that number.
The annual Leap into Leadership conference was held Thursday and Friday in Cheyenne to help women network and learn leadership skills.
The conference, which began in 2008, is put on by the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus and the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
The hope, conference participants said, is to place more women in positions of power in state and local government.
“For women, one of the first things that we say when someone suggests we run for office is that we don’t have the qualifications or we don’t know the process or what to do,” Natalia Macker said. “And so I think programs like (Leap into Leadership) help to demystify the process and give you a group of people who have shared experiences.”
Macker recently ran for the House District 22 seat and plans to run again in the future.
“One of the steps toward getting more women to run for office is knowing that there are resources available and you aren’t on your own,” she said.
The opportunity to meet and share ideas with women in leadership positions is a key component of the conference.
“You can come and network and meet a lot of people who you might not otherwise have an opportunity to come in contact with,” Sheridan City Councilwoman Kristin Kelly said. “I’ve met people in nonprofits, people in business, and we have all been able to exchange ideas.”
The conference allows women “to talk about issues and things that are particular to just us (women) as a minority in the legislative arena and the leadership area.”
Carbon County Commissioner Lindy Glode said, “It gives you strength and more courage to hear stories from other women who have run for election. You start realizing what you have to offer and your own strength.
“We all have something to offer. (Women) just need to claim our right to leadership.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, one of the state’s highest-ranking female elected officials and a former Leap into Leadership participant, relayed her experiences to the conference Friday.
She shared anecdotes about being a mom and an elected official. She said she had accidentally, yet unapologetically, shown up at meetings with her child’s spit-up on the shoulder of her jacket.
But the theme of her speech was the importance of instilling in women the sense that “it is OK to be smart.”
“In school, I was involved in all of the programs for the smart kids,” she said. “But I kind of hid it … because I wasn’t sure if it was OK to be smart.”
Balow urged the 40 or so women in attendance, particularly the young women, to have the confidence to be smart, to achieve and to take on leadership roles.