Lynda Schlegel Culver didn't feel she had anything to prove once she first won the election in 2010 as Pa. House Representative for the 108th District.
Culver had to fill some pretty big shoes, taking the seat previously held by local political icon Merle Phillips.
"I worked with Merle for 21 years," she said. "He encouraged me to run. He thought I could do this. I don't know if he thought of me specifically as a woman so much as someone who could do the job."
A century after earning the right to vote, females hold key leadership roles in the Valley. They've won elections and climbed the corporate ladder, four Valley women who have achieved success in their chosen fields — in politics, state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, county commissioners Kymberley Best (Northumberland) and Stacy Richards (Union) — and in health care, Evangelical Community Hospital President and CEO Kendra Aucker.
And while the path to their success are different, there are similarities — perseverance, a will to win, intelligence, and self-confidence, and understanding of how to balance home and career.
In a man's world
It has been difficult working in Harrisburg, she said. "I've always worked in sort of a man's world. It was a little more nerve-wracking to come from rural Pennsylvania and being thrown in with representatives from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, people who had numerous years of experience. That was a little daunting. But I can say that the majority of people welcomed new members, learned about where we were from, and how together we could do what was good for Pennsylvania."
Early on, while working for Phillips, Culver thought about quitting after having a child. "I didn't want to go back to work full-time with a small child," she said.
They eventually reached an agreement where she worked part of the week at home. Culver said she's never felt any kind of discrimination in Harrisburg.
"I don't know what it was like there early on because at one point there wasn't even a female bathroom up on the House floor," she said laughing. "They had to change one over as women started coming in. We (women) recognized that the women who came before us probably had to advocate for change. We have a great deal of respect for the women who came before us. Some were legislators when it wasn't even popular for women to be in the workforce."
One thing Culver realized about women in politics and government is that "most of us were asked to run for public office, as opposed to us thinking we want to do that. We are trying to work on that with younger women within some of the organizations that develop future leaders. We are saying, 'you don't have to be asked to run for office. You should feel free, if this is what you want, to go after it.'"
Every year more women are entering politics, Culver said. "Someday I expect my grandchildren will say...do you remember that first female governor? We are getting there. The sky is the limit. And we're seeing with every generation, women are making progress.
"We still have work to do," Culver said. "If you look back in history, it took us a long time to get to that 19th Amendment. Some things don't happen overnight. Women still feel that pull of trying to feel a balance between home life and work life. The best advice I can give any woman is to find that balance where you feel happy and feel like you are being rewarded in all areas of your life. And where you are not feeling pulled apart. It is difficult to find that balance but it is important that you find that balance."
One thing Culver wanted to stress to women about voting: "You often hear people say that their vote doesn't make a difference," she said. "There were a lot of women who fought for the vote for a very long time. They did marches, speeches on street corners, meetings, conventions, they went to court, they were imprisoned. They fought for us to be able to vote. It is important that every woman exercise their right and get out there and vote. "
Aucker has had a long career at Evangelical, advancing through the organization to become president and CEO in 2015.
It wasn't easy getting into that office, she said. "There certainly was a time where I was twice passed over for a meaningful promotion — twice passed over to men," he said. "Those men did not last long in those positions and I was eventually placed in that role and began to move into the role that I am now, after a couple of years."
Aucker said she was raised by a father who said she could do anything.
"I tend to be tenacious," she said. "OK, I got passed over. What do I need to do to be the candidate? And eventually, I got where I wanted to go. I'm not a person who looks at why things happen or don't happen as being just because of the sole reason of my sex."
Women drive consumption of health care, they are the decision-maker and the predominant workforce, Aucker noted. The workforce in health care is 80 percent women and Evangelical reflects that completely, she said.
"I don't know that I have felt any additional pressure being a woman CEO," said Aucker. "I've just felt pressure recognizing the magnitude of the responsibility that I was taking on. I don't think it had anything to do with being a woman. I don't know what it would feel like as a man, but I don't imagine a man would feel any less pressure."
First female Commissioner
Now in her second term as Northumberland County Commissioner, Kymberly Best is the first elected female commissioner in the county. She's used to "firsts," she said.
"I am an attorney and I've been practicing since 2003 in Northumberland County," Best explained. "My first experience there was as an attorney rather than as an elected official. The bar at the time was predominantly male, and there were no female judges in Northumberland County at the time. So I had an early introduction into the so-called gentleman's club of Northumberland politics."
Because there were so few women it did take some time to feel like an equal, she said. "I don't think there was a bias — that they didn't want me in — it was just the newness of it. When relationships were established it was not so much a gender issue so much as being confronted with something that is different. "
Best believes that women, whether it is being an attorney or being an elected official, approach issues differently than their male counterparts.
"We bring something different and nuanced to the table," she said. "When you are an elected official you bring things to the table from a female perspective. You understand your female constituency a little bit better, what women are looking for in their community. What is important to them. It is different from what might be important to a male."
Best has found that to be an advantage rather than a bias.
"I think having more female attorneys, females in politics, is a good thing," she said. "It strengthens our county."
Upon attaining office, she never felt that she had something to prove. "When you are elected, that is something you've proven to yourself. It's not really to others. It's a goal. An objective you have and maybe it is a step up in your career. But I never thought I was proving anything to anyone other than to myself."
Best sees more women getting involved in politics, and in business.
"One reason is that there is access to affordable childcare," she said. "When I had my first child I was 24. I started going to Bucknell, to pursue a college degree. In my community...meaning other mothers, I felt guilted that I was a stay at home mother.
"Our progress," she added, "does sometimes feel 'glacial,' which is why I felt so proud that I was the first female county solicitor, and the first female elected county commissioner [Elinor Kuhns was appointed when there was a gap]. I was proud to stand next to Northumberland County's first female elected judge Paige Rosini."
Although she has worked on political campaigns for 50 years at the federal, state, and local level, winning a seat as Union County Commission was the first elective office Stacy Richards has held.
"I never felt I had anything to prove, as a female candidate," she said. "The challenge of the campaign to have voters decide who was the most qualified candidate. I never felt at a disadvantage because I knew that I had the qualifications and experience to become a county commissioner."
Richards said she has been treated well by the staff, the other commissioners.
"In our culture men, are afforded the luxury of assuming their perspectives are valid," she said "Women still have that extra proof of proving that theirs are. It's not the job. It's the culture. I have been received and been able to be effective way beyond what our culture generally allows."
What is important about the 19th Amendment, she said, "is that when women won the right to vote in local, state, and national elections they won the right to have a say in the laws that dictate our culture. And that was only 100 years ago. And since 1920, we've had a hundred years of laws and supreme court decisions that changed thousands of existing laws they denied women things in hundreds of ways. Denied women equal status with men. The reason we aren't seeing more women in high office is because of the slow cultural change required when laws change."