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Knocking Down Barriers McSally-Style

GOP Working Group on Women in the 21st Century Workforce launches Thursday

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said that breaking down barriers is "just a passion of mine." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said that breaking down barriers is "just a passion of mine." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As a woman who broke barriers herself, Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally wants to make sure other women can do the same.  

The first woman to fly a fighter jet in combat is launching the GOP Working Group on Women in the 21st Century Workforce on Thursday to examine the root causes of the barriers and challenges women face.  

“I grew up in a family where I was told I could be anything I wanted to be and it wasn’t until I joined the military that I realized there were barriers for me as a girl and as a woman,” McSally said.  

“I’ve certainly put my career on the line to fight against discrimination and broke down barriers myself. So it’s just a passion of mine,” the former Air Force vet said in an interview.  

Although she said she wanted to roll it out a while ago, the timing of the initiative ahead of the Republican nominating convention next week in Cleveland is significant. McSally’s got star-power in the GOP, and her effort here fits a narrative that Republicans must do more to appeal to women voters, especially younger ones.  

The working group will be part of the Republican Policy Committee and there are plans to hold hearings once Congress returns in September. Until then, McSally wants members to take the seven weeks away from the Capitol to listen to women in the workforce and staffers in D.C. to meet with think-tank experts.  

According to data she presented in a recent op-ed column , women are significantly underrepresented in major professional fields.  

For instance, they make up only 14 percent of senior executives in S&P 500 companies and only 7 percent of the top ranks in the military. Women represent a quarter of computer and mathematical scientists and only 13 percent of engineers, despite comprising nearly half of the workforce.  

“If we want to unleash every woman’s full potential, we need to empower them to succeed. We need to identify opportunities for women to open more small businesses, hold more board positions, sit at the table as one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and much more,” she said in the opinion piece.  

In June, her office hosted a program aimed at helping young women build leadership skills and inspire them to achieve more in their careers and education. The program introduces high schoolers to women from southern Arizona who have successful careers in government, business, medicine and other professions.  

While Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is supportive and already convenes get-togethers with the women in the GOP conference, other congresswomen like Reps. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., are lining up with McSally, too.  

And some male members are notably interested in working with her.  

“I’m definitely aware that when you have something that addresses impacts or barriers around women and all you have are women around the table talking about it, that’s not going to be the ultimate solution,” she said.  

“You gotta get the men,” she said.  

While McSally’s background is unique , she hopes to have a unique group of backgrounds participating.  

“Mark, as a former pastor and just seeing the faith community addressing issues of women in poverty,” she said of North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, with whom she said she spoke about the group. “So people are coming with different experiences and different district experiences.”  

When McSally informed Speaker Paul D. Ryan of her vision, she said he related it to what he started a few years ago on poverty.  

“Sometimes we have some Republicans who think there’s not a problem and just because of our conservative mindset … maybe not identifying barriers that are hard to even diagnose,” McSally said.  

“And oftentimes, on the other side, we have top-down solutions that aren’t necessarily going to help out women.”

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