News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

August 30, 2013

Indiana Lt. Gov. Ellspermann tells of her fight for equality

TERRE HAUTE — Thursday was a great day to be a woman, Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann told a roomful of women and men at the Women’s Equality Day luncheon.

Ellspermann was in Terre Haute to promote positive opportunities for women and girls in recognition of the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The program was supported by Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, which hosts the annual event along with the sponsorship of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

“The women of this generation are the most blessed,” said the state’s 50th lieutenant governor, uplifting the women of past generations who challenged sexism and pushed for the right to vote, as well as for job and educational opportunities.

But today’s women have the best of both worlds, she said, because they also have the opportunities to work and get an eduction while still raising a family.

She credits her own parents with supporting her educationally. She worked her way through Purdue University, graduating as an industrial engineer and working for large corporations such as General Motors, Michelin and Frito-Lay. She experienced sexism in the workplace, she said, and endured treatment that today would qualify as sexual harassment.

But she went on to found a consulting business, being able to work out of her home while she raised a family and continued her education.

As the mother of four daughters, Ellspermann said she supports her own children in their chosen careers. One daughter is working on a doctorate degree in biomedical engineering. The other three have also earned college degrees. One has chosen to be a stay-at-home mother for now.

“The thirst to learn is one of the greatest gifts we can leave behind,” Ellspermann said of the challenge for women to inspire others.

Areas where women have too often stayed on the sidelines – often willingly –  are government and politics.

“Men will get up and look in the mirror and say, ‘I think I’ll run for president,’” she said. “But women must be asked to run for office.”

That was the case for herself as well. She encouraged those at the luncheon to ask other women to run for public office and to be a part of government and politics where they can affect positive change for the future.

Ellspermann said she considers it a high honor to represent Hoosiers. She was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 2010, and was sworn in as lieutenant governor this past January.

In considering why women are hesitant to get into politics, she said she thinks that women see issues as problems to be solved. They value all points of view, and will then try to figure out a solution. Men, however, are in it to win it, and that often occurs for them along  political party lines.

She said that when she decided to run for office, she vowed to do no mud-slinging against her opponent. She ran against a six-term incumbent, and she felt pressure from her own party to change her strategy when it appeared she was behind in the polls.

Ellspermann said she went into election day feeling she would not be elected, but proud of how she ran a race of integrity and honor that focused on her ideas about economic development, education and sanctity of life, and not on negativity.

“It’s not all about winning,” she said. “It’s about giving constituents a choice.”

She has received a lot of praise from people for focusing on issues in her campaigns.

Since being elected, she has promoted STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and she hopes that Indiana expands the job openings in STEM fields by 100,000 in coming years.

During her own college career, about one in 10 engineering students were women. Now, women account for about 20 percent of all STEM bachelor degrees, she said.

About 74 percent of teenage girls are interested in STEM careers, she said, and if that is true, they need to be encouraged at a young age to study science, math, engineering and technology. Eighty-eight percent of girls want to make a difference in the world, according to a recent Girl Scout survey, and 90 percent want to help other people. Those opportunities are available in STEM careers.

“The challenge is to get more young women interested in STEM through mentoring,” she said. “Girls are more likely to choose a career that they have seen before.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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