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Strong Women Focus Groups - Women Supporting Other Women in Leadership


Today we looked back at a Focus Group we held on June 10th of 2019 at the KAXE Studios in Grand Rapids. 

About 13 women were in attendance including hosts and facilitator Heidi Holtan and  Laura Connelly. 

Laura recently read an interesting article in The Atlantic magazine.  It said that the best hope for improving the lot of all women is to close the leadership gap by doing the following: 

  • elect a female president
  • elect 50 women senators
  • women equally represented in the ranks of corporate execs and judicial leaders

Accomplishing these things, the article argued, would advance us to a society that works for everyone. Would it? And why hasn’t it ever happened in the USA?
How are women represented globally, nationally, in Minnesota?

The current state of global women leaders of national governments currently in office as either the head of their nation's government or the head of state:


Date term began Title of office Name Germany 2005 Chancellor Angela Merkel Bangladesh 2001 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Lithuania 2009 President Dalia Grybauskaitė Norway 2013 Prime Minister Erna Solberg Malta 2014 President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca Croatia 2015 President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović Namibia 2015 Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa Mauritius 2015 President Ameenah Gurib Nepal 2015 President Bidhya Bhandari Myanmar 2016 State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi Taiwan 2016 President Tsai Ing-wen Marshall Islds Jan 2016 President Hilda Heine UK 2016 Prime Minister Theresa May Estonia 2016 President Kersti Kaljulaid Serbia 2017 Prime Minister Ana Brnabić Singapore 2017 President Halimah Yacob Peru 2017 Prime Minister Mercedes Aráoz New Zealand 2017 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Iceland 2017 Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir Romania 2018 Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă Ethiopia 2018 President Sahle-Work Zewde

100 US Senate Seats:

25 women

75 men

56 women have ever served in the Senate, including 36 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

441 House Seats:

106 women

335 men

When it comes to MN’s representation on the federal level currently we have 5 women serving – in the House it’s Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar and Angie Craig.  In our podcast only Strong Women conversation we’re going to be talking about Coya Knutson who served in the MN Legislature but also in Congress.  She was elected in 1954 and served 2 terms until media and her husband foiled her reelection campaign.  It wasn’t until Betty McCollum was elected in 2001 that MN had it’s 2nd female congressperson.

MN is served by 2 women senators – Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

 MN’s numbers are surprising federally when it comes to women.  For instance:

-The only other woman to serve as Senator to Congress from MN was Muriel Humphrey when she took over her husband’s seat when he passed away. 

-that means Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are only 2nd and 3rd to server as MN Senators

-don’t forget – women got the right to vote in 1920.  Almost 100 years ago. 


When it comes to MN government and women in political power/leadership – we have never had a woman Governor.  We currently have a female Lt. Governor – she is the highest ranking native American elected official in the NATION.  She is the 9th woman in MN to be lieutenant governor – since 1983 there have only been women in that role.

MN has never had a female Governor.

Right now in 2019 women represent 32% of legislators – that number has been decreasing slightly since 2009 when 70 women were in the MN Legislature – now it is 64.

We currently have a female speaker of the House – Melissa Hortman – she is the 3rd woman in history to serve in that role in our state.

Let’s be clear that our conversation here is solely based on gender and political leadership.  There’s definitely lots of work to do when it comes to inclusion of people of color – male and female.

 STRONG WOMEN  - tune into the conversation on the top of this page for the analysis of the latest focus group we held at KAXE – where we focused on women in political leadership positions.

The value placed on women and their ability to lead and participate fully in the world is a matter of justice. Social justice is really quite simple, but it is intentionally made complex in order to maintain the status quo. Social justice is actually in and of itself not a matter of left-right political spectrum, even though that is what we have come to believe. In the same way that is not the natural order of human beings to be hierarchically organized with some people appearing to be superior to others – these are socially constructed concept. There is a saying in design thinking that says everything is designed to get what it gets.  Social justice is much more logical and nuanced than some would have us believe. The bare bones of social justice are:

humans live in a society; society makes rules and develops institutions that allow it to function; there rules and institutions have consequences on the individuals and sub-groups that make up society; sometimes these rules and institutions have to be changed and improved so society can function more “justly” for all its members.

One step in making a society operate more justly is to make sure the people who are in postitions of power and are making decisions that impact other people’s lives are representative of the very people they are deciding for/with. This very thing is based on how the system is designed. What are the rules, policies, etc? These things – rules, policies, etc are a manifestation of the value we place on people and the earth.

This is why very important to continue to analyze with women the cultural and social ways in which our lives are being shaped because if we don’t the only analysis will be about the personal psychology of women. Psychologizing the social and cultural manifestation in women’s lives places the solution for change on the individual – this moves us away from seeing, naming and ultimately changing the very structures that gave rise to the injustices we see and ultimately keep us down. This is why we see so many women getting lost in a maze of self-improvement groups. We have to be very conscious of the tremendous pressure to view women’s oppression as a “sickness” or individual mental health problem rather than as a political, social, and cultural condition.

What does the lack of representation of women in leadership roles mean to women’s everyday lives? How does it impact women when they haven’t actually ever seen themselves reflected in the leadership of their government?

What do you think?  Send us your thoughts email

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.