If one had to pick a role model for female leadership, Madeleine Kunin would be a fitting choice.
She's served as the first female governor of Vermont, lieutenant governor of •Vermont, state legislator, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, and U.S. deputy secretary of education in the Clinton Administration. She's written three books, founded a nongovernmental organization, worked with environmental organizations, and is a distinguished visiting professor at colleges in Vermont.
Today, Ms. Kunin will bring her leadership experience and insights to Toledo for the ninth annual meeting of the United Way Women's Initiative. The event will be in the Dana Conference Center on the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Reached by phone at her home in Vermont, Ms. Kunin said she plans to speak about the important role women play as leaders in their communities, and discuss ways to confront the obstacles that frequently stand in their way.
Ms. Kunin lamented that, despite the many advances women have made, they are still greatly outnumbered by men in the top political and corporate spheres.
"Women often underestimate their own talents and capacity to lead," she said. "And there are issues with family and work. In the U.S., we don't give people much help in maneuvering that with good child care or paid family leave."
That's something Ms. Kunin believes can change if more women take leadership roles. She said women's expanding participation in public life has brought issues such as domestic violence and the need for breast cancer research into the spotlight. "Women bring different experiences into the conversation," Ms. Kunin said.
Encouraging female leadership and involvement is precisely the mission of the United Way Women's Initiative, said Linda Liber, the meeting's chair. Founded in 2001 by around three dozen local women, the group now has more than 200 members and has given more than $1 million to nonprofits in the area that help women and children. Members also volunteer locally.
Ms. Liber said she hopes today's event will inspire still more women to join the initiative. She said motivating people to find time to volunteer or donate money is difficult given today's busy work schedules and the struggling economy.
But a big drop in membership fees over the last few years has helped draw more members, she said. When the group started the membership fee was $1,000. Now it's $100.
In addition to Ms. Kunin's speech today, Women's Initiative partners will give presentations about their work.
The program begins at 6 p.m. Tickets at the door are $35, or $15 with a student ID. A portion of the proceeds will support Women's Initiative grant recipients.
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