The two-day leadership forum (on Friday and Saturday at the downtown Sheraton Hotel) was organized by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. It will be a series of panel discussions involving more than 1,000 women leaders from the state's political, social, military, religious and economic spheres. Hoda Kotb, formerly of WWL-TV and now with Dateline NBC, will moderate the larger discussions.
The conference goes far beyond the old "hear me roar" rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s women's movement. Frankly, women don't need to roar anymore. They're already exercising leadership on many fronts, so the question is not whether they have power, but rather how effectively will they wield it -- and to what ends?
These are important questions.
"Sen. Landrieu and I felt the time was right to gather women leaders from all walks of life and geographic areas of the state to reflect on our accomplishments and look to the future to determine how best to continue to be a positive force in state government, in our corporate and business lives, in our communities and with our families," Blanco said. "This forum will offer a rare opportunity to share our professional and personal experiences and learn from our successes and disappointments."
The timing of the conference is significant because Blanco is still in the honeymoon phase of her administration. She has been criticized for not aiming high enough in her initial legislative session. Most of her male predecessors read from the same political script -- ask for everything that's really important right away (particularly taxes), get it, and then spend the next three years apologizing and running for re-election. A big part of that formula involved getting enough new taxes to "reward" loyal legislative supporters with projects and programs.
It may be partly a matter of style and partly a matter of political reality, but Blanco is not following that script. She is taking what former Gov. Buddy Roemer used to call "little bitty baby steps." Whether that's the prudent political and fiscal approach cannot be known yet, but she has won all or substantially all of her battles so far, and in doing so she has changed the way things are done in Baton Rouge.
When women first come into spheres of power formerly held exclusively by males, it's more than a mild change of institutional or political culture. Many changes occur even when a man succeeds a man. The changes appear more pronounced -- and more closely scrutinized -- when power shifts from a man to a woman, however. That's not fair, but it's reality.
Both Landrieu and Blanco no doubt recognized this long ago, and both have adopted exceeding well to the rules of the Men's Club -- so much so that it's no longer the Men's Club at all. That's the true measure of their success.
"As more women take their places on city councils, in the state Capitol and in boardrooms, everyone benefits from the considerable talents and resources they bring to the table," Landrieu said. "Our state and our nation are stronger when people of every race and gender are fully engaged." For more information on the conference, visit Blanco's Web site at www.gov.state.la.us.