CASPER – Whether you know it or not, you have a superpower.
“I have a superpower, and that superpower makes people feel 10 feet tall. It makes them feel important, and it makes them feel confident, powerful and like anything in this life is possible,” Brook Kaufman, CEO of Visit Casper, said to a crowd of about 350 on Thursday night at the Women of Influence banquet, which honors women across Wyoming each year.
“Here is the cool part. You have the same superpower that I have,” she said. “It is this ability to inspire and empower the people around you.”
The banquet recognized 110 women who were nominated in 13 categories, 15 of whom were selected by a panel of past honorees as “Women of Influence.” The seventh annual dinner was held at the Casper Event Center as a kick-off event for the annual Wyoming Women’s Expo. This is the first year the Women of Influence banquet was combined with the Wyoming Women’s Expo, which continues today and Saturday.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, documentary filmmaker Geoff O’Gara premiered a trailer for his new film, “State of Equality.”
O’Gara said that during this Year of Wyoming Women, as declared by former Gov. Matt Mead, the most interesting conversations are happening when women talk to each other. In fact, a conversation like that was the impetus for O’Gara’s documentary, he said. When the nation began gearing up for a 2020 centennial celebration of women’s suffrage in Washington, D.C., Diana Enzi decided Wyoming needed to get on the ball.
“I think there was some gentle prodding from the Wyoming delegation that we needed to tell the story of women’s suffrage in Wyoming,” O’Gara said. “Diana Enzi got to work.”
It is the story of the first woman voter, Louisa Swain, and the Dec. 10, 1869, landmark decision by the Wyoming Territorial Legislature to recognize women’s right to vote and hold public office – more than 50 years before the U.S. ratification of the 19th Amendment, as told in O’Gara’s documentary, which will be released Dec. 10.
In addition, Enzi ensured that Wyoming will be included in exhibits about the 19th Amendment in 2020 in Washington, D.C., through work she did with Dr. Carla Hayden, the first female librarian of Congress, O’Gara said. Coming full-circle, Hayden makes an appearance in O’Gara’s documentary.
It is in these kinds of relationships – and they don’t have to take place at the Library of Congress – that women can empower each other at every level, and across the state.
“Why should we empower each other?” Kaufman asked. A third of American women today struggle with anxiety, and 12 million have serious depression. Will inspiring each other solve this? No, Kaufman said, but it can help.
It is also an economic issue, she continued. Women make 75 cents for every dollar made by men. That is a national statistic – and the wage gap in the Equality State is one of the worst, she said.
“We are on track to close that wage gap in 2059,” she said. “But when women succeed economically, their families succeed, their communities succeed. … We talk about the legacy industries in Wyoming like tourism and agriculture. What if we give women the opportunity to help diversify our economy? Would we close that wage gap sooner? I sure hope so.”
Part of doing this, she said, means creating opportunities for women to succeed. That means supporting each other in tangible ways, asking each other what our goals are and creating pathways to achieve them.
It also means recognizing the accomplishments of Wyoming women publicly. It took Kaufman three years to nominate a peer as a Woman of Influence. You don’t need to nominate a woman for an award, she said, but honor her publicly. Make it known that her hard work matters.
“Make it a priority,” Kaufman said. “Until we really make this a priority, we are not going to see great change. Get real interested, and real intentional.”
2019 Women of Influence Honorees
Arts: Lindsey Reynolds, Executive Director, Cheyenne Symphony
Banking: Judy Lane, Senior Vice President, Wyoming Bank & Trust
Education: Lynette St. Clair, Native American Education Coordinator, Fort Washakie School District 21, Lander
Energy: Brenda Morgan, Training Director, Wyoming Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee
Entrepreneur: Caroline Shanor, Owner and Founder, The Shanor Group LLC
Government: Erin Campbell, Wyoming State Geologist, Wyoming State Geological Survey
Health care: Mary Burman, Professor, University of Wyoming
Hospitality: Diane Shober, Executive Director, Wyoming Office of Tourism
Law: Megan Overmann Goetz, Member/Owner of Pence and MacMillan LLC
Manufacturing: Sara Spann, Machine Tool Technology Instructor, Sheridan College
Media: Melissa Cassutt, Deputy Editor, JH News & Guide
Nonprofit: Kate Wright, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County, Inc.
Real Estate: Lindsey Norman, Project Manager, Merrill, Inc.
Best Mentor: Kristy Nielson, Chief Nursing Officer, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, Rock Springs
Lifetime Achievement: Elizabeth “Betty” Kail, 9th Judicial District Court, Wyoming (posthumous)