INDIANAPOLIS -- A new statewide leadership training program for women took another step forward this week as more than 200 supporters gathered to celebrate as donations passed the $120,000 mark.
"We want this to be sort of a networking training ground for women who want to contribute back to the state in some way," said one of the organizers, State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.
The program, Hoosier Women Forward, is aimed at increasing the number of Democratic women in elected and appointed government positions, as well as in areas of community and business influence.
Organizers hope the program becomes a Democratic version of the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, a 28-year-old Republican leadership program for women that recently had its 500th graduate.
The Hoosier Women Forward meeting Thursday followed an Institute for Women's Policy Research report that ranked Indiana in the bottom third of the country for the economic status of women.
"Status of Women in the States" examined six areas: employment and earnings; political participation; poverty and opportunity; reproductive rights; health and well-being; and work and family.
Indiana received an overall grade of D for the third consecutive year. The state ranked last in the country for work and family, with an F grade. The state's highest grade was a C-minus, for political participation.
"Women hold more degrees than men in this state. They have more managerial and professional positions, yet they're still making 72 cents on the dollar," Austin said.
"By launching organizations like this, helping to educate women about things like the wage gap and what it means economically, we hope that it's one more avenue to begin to address it. It's not going to solve it, but it's going to help."
The Hoosier Women Forward program could help build the momentum created by an increase in women running in Indiana's May primary. About 75 women are on the ballot; more than 50 of those are Democrats.
"We often focus on the importance of getting more women to run for office, and that is clearly a desired end of evenings like this evening. But it's not the end-all-to-be-all," said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who attended the Hoosier Women Forward reception at the Indiana Landmarks Center.
"Certainly, it's about encouraging more women to directly participate in electoral politics, but not just as candidates," he added.
Applications for the nine-month program will be released in early June through Hoosierwomenforward.org. The program is open to women throughout Indiana.
"They can help make their voices heard in a way that I think is beneficial to the country, but especially to Indiana," said Marya Rose, a program founder and chief administrative officer for Cummins Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Columbus.
"The need now for people who embody Democratic principles -- diversity, fairness and equal opportunity -- I think that's real important," Rose said. "There's a discussion now about the influence that women can have on the environment in which we're operating today, by that I mean a divisive political discourse, and I think women can tone that down."