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WomanOf the Month 5-06: Nancy Lee Hurlbert

After more than 30 years in a non-traditional women’s career—engineering—Nancy Lee Hurlbert is devoting her energies to another arena sorely lacking in female representation: politics. As National Chair for the Pipeline to the Presidency, an Initiative of the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC), Hurlbert will strategize to place more women in political office with the goal of holding 33% of U.S. Congressional seats by 2008. It’s a lofty goal, considering that at present women hold only 14% of the seats. Through awareness, recruitment, and training, however, the initiative hopes to more closely match representation with the 51% of women in the U.S. population, or in its own words, “To radically increase the level of influence women have in politics and the political system.”

Hurlbert grew up in Cincinnati and attended the University of Cincinnati, where she was the only woman in her engineering classes. She ended her career as one of seven partners in an engineering firm in South Florida with six offices by gaining experience in the public and private sectors. She notes that the most important skill when working in a non-traditional field is to develop an individual strength. “Find a niche in that non-traditional area—some talent that makes you invaluable. There’s an old saying about engineers, that they are too focused on the details and can’t see the big picture. My partners didn’t enjoy doing the presentations to the public sector to get contracts—they didn’t like standing at the podium, speaking, etc. But I did. I’m personable; I like to use my hands. So I took courses in public speaking, and I went to the partners and told them I would like to be the designee to do the presentations. At that time you did the presentation in your own area of expertise, but eventually I was doing all the presentations and they were glad to have me do it. I found an area where I could shine and it got me attention.”

The group that nurtured Hurlbert’s growth as a speaker and in other areas was Business and Professional Women/USA. She attended one of their meetings and in 1982 began attending some of their Individual Development courses on public speaking and other topics. In 1990 she was offered a partnership at her firm. “I learned at BPW that women need to know how to negotiate and advocate for themselves. They need to be aware of issues,” she says. She eventually served as state president in Florida for BPW/USA; then as national legislative chair in 2000-2003; then President-Elect USA in 2003-2004 and President in 2004-2005. “I went to both the Democratic and Republican Presidential conventions in 2004,” she notes. “It was a wonderful experience. How many times do you get that opportunity?”

The Pipeline to the Presidency Initiative will focus many efforts on helping women become governors, because history shows it’s as governors that candidates emerge in the Presidential race. The USWCC site offers an array of ways for visitors to engage in political support of candidates: they can click on names of women governors, lieutenant governors, and Congresswomen to provide financial assistance, volunteer, or read about them. “You can make it whatever you want it to be,” says Hurlbert. “There are 200 women candidates.”

The USWCC also plans virtual meetings featuring panels of candidates; pollsters; and/or analysts. There will also be plenty of information available for women who may be contemplating a run for office.

“Incumbency and money are the biggest obstacles for women,” notes Hurlbert. “We have opportunities with open seats where women don’t have to tackle incumbents and where money will not be as great an issue. But women need to learn how to ask every single person for money, because someone who has given is also someone who is more likely to vote for you.”

At her grassroots level in Florida, Hurlbert is the public policy chair for BPW Florida and is working on the campaigns of Congressman Jim Davis (D) for Governor, and for the reelection of Catherine Hanson ( R ) for County Commissioner.

She may consider running for office some day. “I’ve seen the difference politicians can make and how they can change things for the better,apostrophe she notes. “Politics is like life. It’s work. There are certain negative people. You have to treat a campaign like your job. Anyone who walks in and thinks it’s going to be clean and without negative issues is going to find out differently. You have to have honestly addressed what might come up in your own mind and heart and be ready to respond. I actually think women do this better.apostrophe

For more info about the Pipeline to the Presidency Initiative, go to http://www.uswomenschamber.com