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Women in Policy panel talks challenges in careers, role of social media


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Chris Chinn makes it a point to wear pants every day. For the Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, it’s more than a preference for pants, it’s a way of proving herself in a man’s world.

“I put my pants on the same way they do and I am going to show them that,” Chinn said during that roundtable discussion during a Women in Policy talk.

The first time she realized she was going to have a “more difficult time proving myself to men, especially in the agriculture organizations,” was after serving a year-term on a national board. A gentleman she truly respected — and still does — patted her the shoulder and said: “You did a great job this year, now go back home and take care of your babies.”

“I just smiled at him and said ‘My babies have been in great hand. Their daddy’s been taking care of them,’” recalled Chinn.

All the woman on the panel — Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary Rhodes Russell, Rep. Karla May, Sen. Ron Richard’s Chief of Staff Heidi Kolkmeyer, and Tricia Workman, GibbonsWorkman — all had stories of challenges relating to their gender and stories of being discounted for being a woman.

None of the women have let that stop them.

“You overcome them just by you have to be more prepared. Is it fair? Not always, but you have to be more prepared, you have to be more strategic, you have to be smarter. As I tell my son, women can do everything men can do and we can have babies, which they can’t,” said Workman.

She says they have a responsibility to give back and make this a place they want their daughters to work and a place to be proud of.

The amount of woman dealing with policy issues and working as Chief of Staffs for legislators has grown exponentially since Kolkmeyer first started working in the building. Though is noted that the number of women Representatives and Senators hasn’t really changed.  

“Generations are changing things, where women are being seen more as equals,” Workman said.

The discussion, mediated by Kellie Ann Coats from the Missouri Women’s Council, also touched on how social media has shaped their positions.

Chinn calls it the “first line of defense” in preventing a problem and misconceptions about the family farm. She uses it to tell the story of farmers and ranchers.

May called it a tool in which she uses to stay engaged with her constituents.

“It is here and now, literally anything that hits the news, everyone knows it that moment,” said Kolkmeyer. “Your response times are quicker and you have to be deliberate in what you say. What you say in 140-characters can be the headline the next day.”