West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland, the first woman to hold executive office in West Virginia, can’t help but notice she’s alone at the State Capitol — and that women still haven’t achieved equality in government and business.
“There are still places I can’t go,” she said. “There are still glass ceilings we haven’t cracked.”
Ireland said it is no longer a matter of women being prohibited from running for elected office or participating in a business meeting. It is just that sometimes a woman still feels uncomfortable in that environment if she is the only female present.
“There are places you just don’t feel welcome — especially if you are the only businesswoman in a room full of men,” she said. “There is this feeling of being the one who is not like the others.
“It’s not a feeling that I can’t go there. It’s a feeling of not being welcomed.”
Ireland started out as a teacher prior to taking a job with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance.
She is believed to be the first person in West Virginia to be designated a “certified pension consultant” by the American Society of Pension Actuaries.
She went on to own a pension consulting firm and to preside over the Trust Department of the Charleston National Bank of Commerce. After becoming a pension consultant with Jackson Kelly PLLC, Ireland went on to become the executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board in August 1998. She later returned to Jackson Kelly in 2002 to head its ancillary business endeavors as president and chief executive of Jackson Kelly Solutions LLC.
She said what she found during these years was that there really weren’t many women running businesses in West Virginia.
Ireland said she began making calls around the state to find other women with top jobs — those who were presidents or chief executive officers of businesses, banks or colleges. At that time, she only found 14 other women running their businesses.
Ireland said women need mentors, and she encouraged those women in positions of power to be role models to the young females entering the work force.
“If you’re going somewhere, bring a girl with you,” she said.
Ireland added that this year she was successful in lobbying the West Virginia Legislature to pass a bill allowing victims of domestic violence to use a post office box as their address when registering to vote. She focused her effort on the female members of the Legislature — 17 of 100 members in the House of Delegates and two of 34 in the Senate.
“It took 144 years to put a woman on the state Board of Public Works,” she said. “I wonder how long it will be before women hold 50 percent of higher offices in West Virginia and are 50 percent of the chief executive officers in West Virginia.”