Women have overcome, still face hurdles

By Greg Gelpi

When she first took the helm of the Clayton County school system, she walked into a meeting of school officials and immediately recognized that she was the only woman in the meeting.

Barbara Pulliam, the first female superintendent in Clayton County, is one of only 40 female superintendents in the state and has worked her way through a world in which men are typically tapped to be in leadership positions, she recounted at Fort Gillem's Women's History Month Luncheon Wednesday.

North Clayton High School's Ashley Reese, who introduced Pulliam before her talk, asked the superintendent why she chose to take the job to which Pulliam replied that she was looking for a new challenge, words which persuaded Reese to consider a similar career.

Pulliam challenged Reese to rise to the position of superintendent quicker than she did.

"Maybe you'll break ground there," Pulliam said. "Women have accomplished things through a variety of roles."

Speaking to a room full of soldiers, she told of her aunt, a veteran herself, who joined the military when men and women were segregated and was in the army when women first allowed to be in the army alongside men.

"Indeed, the opportunity for women to have an impact on our armed forces is unlimited," Pulliam said.

Brigadier General Carrie Nero of U.S. Army Third MEDCOM said that she climbed the ranks of the military by letting her work speaking for itself.

"The difficulty is making yourself known in an environment of willingness," Nero said.

She explained that focused on the challenges associated with her job and in so doing overcame the challenges of being a woman.

It's important to know where your strength comes from, Nero said. That along with an "inner strength" enabled her to surpass the hurdles of being a woman in a world of mostly men.

She is also the first African American to achieve the rank of general in the Army Nurses Corps Reserve Component.

"We keep looking forward to doors being opened, so we don't have to say 'first' any more," Nero said.

The next frontier is for women to claim their position as elected officials, Georgia League of Women Voters Executive Director Meg Smothers said.

"Atlanta is a good example of where you see women in power," Smothers said, pointing to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Karen Handel, the chairwoman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

Still, progress must be made, she said. A little more than 20 percent of all state offices are held by women, including only two statewide offices.

"Women outnumber men in the electorate and voter turnout," Smothers said. "When women are on the ballot, women tend to vote for women."

Those women who do seek office in the state tend to do so at the peak of their careers, Smothers said. The challenge is to get women running for office at a younger age.

It's been a "long and arduous road" since women received the right to vote 85 years ago, she said.