A Women's Leadership Conference held in Medford in late February raised a question that cut to the chase: Where are all the women leaders?

A Women's Leadership Conference held in Medford in late February raised a question that cut to the chase: Where are all the women leaders?

There are notable advances in equality of the sexes, including in leadership roles. A woman is considered the front runner to be the next president of the United States, and it's her politics rather than her gender that's under the microscope. The two most recent appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court are women and, again, it's what they think rather than what gender they are that was the focus of confirmation.

And yet, there is so far to go in so many places before there is anything remotely approaching gender equality in leadership ranks. Look around Southern Oregon:

There is one state legislator from south of Eugene, Rep. Gail Whitsett of Klamath Falls. There have been two female Jackson County commissioners in the past 32 years. The eight-person Medford City Council has one female member; the Ashland council has two.

There's somewhat more balance at the state level, but hardly reason to cheer. Thirty percent — 27 of 90 — state legislators are women, as are Oregon's secretary of state and attorney general.

With roughly 50 percent of the population female, there's something more than just random happenstance in those numbers. There are institutional and cultural forces at work that prompt men to take on leadership roles that are eschewed by their female counterparts.

The days of "a woman's place is in the home" are behind us, and there seems to be little evident — or at least obvious — bias against female leaders.

There are many strong women leaders in business and organizations across Jackson County, Southern Oregon and the state. And yet, a 30 percent representation in the state Legislature is hailed as better than most?

The answer is not in changing social norms through legislation or finger-wagging, but rather by changing them one position at a time, one leader at a time. The women who so capably lead businesses and organizations should be recruited to do the same in the political world. If women are reluctant to step forward, others should actively recruit them and then actively support their campaigns.

There's one tongue-in-cheek thought that maybe women are just smarter than men and have figured out that politics is a nasty, brutish business, best left to someone else to deal with.

There's truth in the nasty, brutish part of that statement, but perhaps politics have become that in part because so many good people have avoided it.

We need the skills and wisdom of all citizens of our region, state and country to take on the formidable challenges that society faces. Using half our populace, half our brainpower, will not get the job done.