Bird’s-I-View: Women in Politics
Written by Catrina Petersen on April 1, 2020
Bloomington-Normal women are making a difference in a variety of ways. Women in local government and politics are the voices and leaders of the Normal, Bloomington and McLean County communities. But what is it truly like for these women?
Being a woman can completely change the nature of politics and local government. However, City Manager Pamela Reece believes Normal is much farther ahead than many other communities.
“Each time a strong woman in leadership is offered a platform to represent her ability to manage a successful career, lead an organization, be active in the community and engaged with her friends, family and peers, she serves as a role model for others,” said Reece.
Reece says it’s not only general government administration that is male-dominated field but in her experience, matters relating to economic development have traditionally been very male gender-focused.
“I think Normal, Bloomington and McLean County have made great strides in recent years to have a more balanced view of economic development strategies, bringing more women to the table,” said Reece.
Throughout her career, Reece has channeled her frustrations and improved the situations where she has been unheard.
“The feeling of marginalization or not being heard can occur with any person and in any career or any life situation. It is my style to simply soak it up; I try to be like a sponge and make a mental note of how I can improve the situation or privately address the issue with the individual,” said Reece.
Being that Reece is the first woman to hold the position as CEO of the City Council, she will go down in history as one of Normal’s most influential women.
But who inspired and influenced Reece to become the woman she is today?
“My mom has been the most influential woman in my life, having taught me the value of a smile, laughter and a good hug as stress relief,” said Reece. “In my career, many of my mentors have been men, where I learned many of the fundamental municipal operations in the early years of my career.”
Overall, the women who’ve inspired her the most have been those that are “relatable, thoughtful and genuine – truly interested in the well being of the organizations they represent but also working to develop others professionally, creating strong, effective future leaders,” said Reece.
Women like Reece hold strong positions and work every day to create a better community. However, women know no limits. Another influential woman in our community is McLean County Republican Chair Connie Beard.
“Strong women are not found only in positions of authority or power but can be found in all walks of life,” said Beard. “It can be a mistake to attribute success and accomplishment to only the public figures.”
To give more context to what kind of woman Beard is, you have to know who she is and what she does outside of her position as well.
Beard is a wife of almost 42 years, mother of three, grandmother of three. In fact, at age 42, she had her third child, whom she home schooled from kindergarten through high school. Beard is also a licensed Realtor, an active member at Vale Church and serves on the prayer team. Beard has been a public-school teacher, a radio DJ and an owner of an advertising company. She has a degree in Theater and Communications, and for many years led a drama ministry in her church and continued to be involved in educational theater. Six years ago, she even founded Crossroads Area Student Theater, a nonprofit, serving students ages 7 to 19 and their families here in central Illinois. This is just some of who she is, of course she has also played her role in community politics by serving the local Republican Party for 12 years.
Currently the county Republican party has three of the four leadership roles filled by women so Beard believes the assumption that men always dominate the party is not true.
“I have never felt my voice, ideas or offers to serve were ever greeted with anything but due consideration. In fact, just the opposite as my voice as a woman has been continually sought after,” said Beard.
So, what does this assumption mean for the party?
“Due to the stereotypical view of Republicans being old white men, I have found that other women at first don’t understand how I can be a Republican,” said Beard. “Not only women’s involvement in the party is growing but minority women are finding a vibrant home in the GOP,” said Beard.
According to Beard, women of the Republican Party are spending little time worrying about out of date images that others want to cling to.
“There is too much work to be done and changes happening to be hampered by old school thought. I am not so blinded to know that there are still “old school” holdovers in the state Republican party but they are fading in influence and I suspect are also present in the Democrat party as well. Their time is ending,” said Beard.
So, what kind of change does the county need to see regarding women’s rights? Beard believes the only change needed to impact women’s rights in our county is the view held by women themselves.
“We need to cast off the idea of how our “rights” are exercised. Successful, strong women are found in a myriad of arenas in our society,” said Beard. “Too often as women we restrict ourselves, by saying, we can only be truly successful if we reach a certain level or spot in society. We can waste years of our lives striving for that ‘spot’ when all along we can be making a difference and impacting lives right where we are.”
Beard’s involvement with the McLean County Republicans has provided her a tool to impact the social discourse and political movement of our county.
“I realized long ago that I could not sit on the ‘sidelines’ and complain about decisions being made on various government levels if I did not get involved,” said Beard.
Being involved in volunteer work with the GOP has allowed her the privilege of working with women like Erika Harold.
Beard was part of Harold’s Congressional campaign as well as helped with her most recent campaign for State Attorney.
Beard is also inspired by women like Glenda Jackson. Jackson is retired and now serves as a school crossing guard here in Bloomington, but she is also an elected Republican Precinct Committeewoman.
“She is a strong Christian woman, an African American, raised in a Democratic home in Chicago but sees her principles now reflected in the Republican party. Her honest journey and her commitment to serving her community is inspiring to me,” said Beard.
Being a woman means being honest with yourself and overcoming your own self-doubt. Women like Connie Beard and Pamela Reece have pushed through government and politics and have excelled in their positions. Inspiration is everywhere, but these women will go down in our community’s history as the female voices.
Make sure to keep an eye out on Friday to see how women are impacting the media.