State of Maine: Women deserve a seat at the table 

Mount Desert Island Hospital is holding its annual meeting next week. There are sure to be the usual reports, updates and expressions of pride in a competent staff, but MDIH has something special to celebrate this year. Chief Operating Officer Chrissi Maguire is taking the reins as CEO from retiring president Art Blank and Patricia Hand will be chairman of the Board of Trustees.  

Why is this such a big deal? Because women are still underrepresented at the top levels of our civic, political and business enterprises. This deprives us of opportunities to explore and potentially benefit from different styles of leadership. Women tend to be more collegial and less confrontational, more collaborative and less competitive than their male counterparts. 

Studies have shown that female leadership can improve both productivity and equity in an organization. That’s good reason why women should not adopt male leadership styles as they rise to the top. They have skills to offer that are sorely needed in business and government. 

Women won the right to vote 100 years ago, but having won that right, mostly who they get to vote for is men. Getting into a top position in government or in business doesn’t start at the top. It starts with the prep school or college you attend, the jobs you hold, the promotions you get, the mentors you find and the golf club you join.  

These informal relationships are essential to making progress through the ranks of the powerful. That is why alarm bells sounded when Mike Pence revealed his policy never to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. A lot happens during those working lunches or dinners. Work is done, yes, but of equal or greater importance, relationships are built.  

Preliminary social chat gives co-workers insight into each other’s families and background. They get to know about a colleague’s or a competitor’s likes and dislikes, how they interact with people outside the office, how they treat a waiter or a maître d’. A “men only” policy when it comes to the working lunch means only men are getting those advantages. Denying women these on-ramps to success furthers gender disparity. 

There has never been a woman president, nor a vice-president. Only one woman ever has been the presidential candidate for a major political party, and just three have been vice-presidential nominees. In case you haven’t heard, one of those is current nominee Kamala Harris. The massive media eruption that followed her nomination is a testament to the rarity of the event. 

Three women have served in the U.S. House: the legendary Margaret Chase Smith, Susan Collins and current Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. Smith and Collins went on to the U.S. Senate, where Olympia Snowe also served, making the total there three as well. 

In 200 years of statehood, just three women have been president of the Maine Senate and three have been Speakers of the Maine House, including current Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon. 

In 2020, there are nine women governors in the 50 states of the U.S., nine being the most there have ever been at one time. In the entire history of the country, there have been just 44. Eleven of those became governor by succession; three replaced their husbands in the job. Twenty states have never had a woman governor. 

Sitting Governor Janet Mills is Maine’s first female chief executive. Wicked. But that’s not all. As her administration undertook the transition to governing and Cabinet appointments came out it was woman after woman, making it “the most gender-diverse administration in state history” as one source put it, with 8 of 15 appointees female. 

At the municipal level, the variety of forms of government make it a bit harder to determine how many women have served. Some city or town councils have a mayor, some have a chairman. In small towns, the very title for community leaders, “selectmen,” suggests that it was a male occupation until relatively recent times. 

In Portland, Maine’s largest city, in over 233 yearsthere have been just nine women mayors. Current mayor Kate Snyder is the first to have been elected by city-wide vote. Other Maine cities and towns have had a smattering of women leaders over time. 

On the administrative side, Kathleen Billings has been Stonington’s Town Manager for 11 years, possibly a record in Hancock County. Winter Harbor and Sullivan list women managerswhile Blue Hill has a woman “administrator.”  

Women may have gotten the vote 100 years ago, but we are still less than equal partners in society. Is MDI Hospital a trend-setter or an aberration? Seeing women stepping up to these roles makes it more likely that others will do so. It’s about time.  

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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