COLUMBUS – Events in Germany and the United States have shown Julie Ehemann that women in politics have a lot of room for growth and face a lot of the same issues in both countries.
Ehemann, a Shelby County commissioner and president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, was one of the featured leaders last week when women from Germany and the United States gathered in Columbus for a women’s leadership symposium. While the attendees came from diverse backgrounds, they found they had a lot in common.
“Even though we’re separated by so many miles, so many of our questions and issues are the same,” Ehemann said. “Even when you compare our stats on how many women are currently engaged in politics, we’re pretty close.”
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio hosted the symposium on May 1 in partnership with EAF Berlin, a group focused on women in politics and business in Germany. The event was part of Germany’s Wunderbar Together campaign, which highlights the importance of relations between Germany and the United States with more than 1,000 events in all 50 states between October 2018 and the end of 2019.
Ehemann visited Berlin for a leadership exchange in November along with Shannon Jones, a Warren County commissioner; Debbie Lieberman, a Montgomery County commissioner; Vicki Giambrone a former mayor of Beavercreek who works for CBD Advisors; and Cynthia Hess, an associate director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Then this month they hosted German leaders along with women from throughout Ohio for the women’s leadership symposium in Columbus.
During the symposium, Ehemann was the moderator for a panel about the American perspective of women in politics. Hess and Lieberman were on the panel along with Lydia Mihalik, a former mayor of Findlay and the current director of Ohio’s Development Services Agency.
Ehemann asked the panelists about topics such as their biggest challenge as women in politics, why they became interested in politics, what they’ve found to be their greatest strength and what advice they had for women entering the political field.
“I thought it went really well,” Ehemann said. “We got a lot of great feedback from the women that came.”
The day also featured perspectives from German women, and a presentation from EAF Berlin Director Manuela Möller on why politics need different perspectives.
“She was really good about getting women to think about themselves and any preconceived notions they may have,” Ehemann said of Möller’s presentation.
Issues highlighted during the symposium included health care, child care, housing and dealing with being the only woman in a male dominated political landscape.
During her trip to Berlin, which coincided with a celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage in Germany, Ehemann heard a speech from German Chancellor Angela Merkel about how appropriate child care is needed to open more opportunities for women to enter the business and political fields and allow more growth in both Germany and the United States.
“She was pretty adamant about how some things needed to change,” Ehemann said.
Women interested in politics were invited to the symposium in Columbus, which drew at least a dozen county commissioners along with mayors, accountants and various government employees. The goal was to work on bolstering leadership skills and opening doors to get women engaged in politics.
“The room was pretty diverse in what they brought to the table,” Ehemann said. “Just getting everyone’s different perspectives was wonderful.”
Even though the United States has more women in Congress than ever and Germany has its first female chancellor in Merkel, Ehemann said there’s still a lot of room for growth. One issue for women getting more representation has been convincing them that they should run for elected office, she said.
“The attitudes that you see between men and women are very different,” Ehemann, the first woman to be mayor of Anna and the first woman to be a Shelby County commissioner, said.
As women take on more leadership roles, Ehemann expects the United States to follow Germany’s example and one day elect a woman as president.
“I think we’ll get there,” Ehemann said. “We just haven’t had the right candidate yet.”
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