What's it like to be a woman in Malverne and West Hempstead politics?

Women in office are juggling jobs, families and politics


More and more women are becoming local leaders and elected officials — and many of them are doing so in Malverne and West Hempstead.

“What I see as a woman in politics is that it’s really kind of changing now,” Lori Lang, a Malverne village trustee, said. “Women are seeing that, OK, you can do this.”

“I think we should have a balance of men and women,” State Sen. Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said. “I think things are moving in the right direction.”

In the 102 years the Village of Malverne has existed, only seven women have sat on its board. Just three women have run for mayor. The absence of women in leadership roles is seen at every level of government across the country, according to the Center for American Women and Politics and the Pew Research Center. Women make up 30 percent of the New York state legislature, only a quarter of all mayors are women, and women comprise 29 percent of Congress — actually a record high.

The relative lack of women in politics may be a major reason why not many young women consider politics a viable career. That lack of representation is compounded for women of color.

“I took AP U.S. Government, and I just didn’t connect with the class,” Assemblywoman Taylor Darling, who represents Lakeview, recalled, “because there was no one in the books that looked like me. It just seemed so unattainable and exhausting, and it seemed expensive. It didn’t seem like an avenue for me.”

“It’s a matter of seeing,” Darling added. “Seeing is believing.”

Now, she said, she tells every little girl to consider a job in government. Lang does as well. Watching her mother, Cathy Hunt, become Malverne’s first female mayor in 1987 made a major impact on her, and showed Lang that it was possible for women to get involved in local politics.

“I think because it’s a field that’s been so predominantly men, I think it’s important for young girls to see women do this,” Lang said. “It’s important to show young girls that you can get up, you can speak in public, you can give back to the community and you can have an expertise in something that complements the board.”

Laura Ryder — who represents parts of Malverne, Lynbrook and Rockville Centre on the Hempstead Town Board after serving as a Lynbrook village trustee — found that politics makes it possible to be more supportive of charitable efforts, and to ensure that neighbors’ thoughts and concerns are truly being heard.

“The concept behind politics is really just to serve your community, to listen to your constituents,” Ryder said. “If I can help those people and fix their problems and make things better, I get a great sense of personal satisfaction out of that.”

But it’s difficult for women to find their political niches when they must overcome additional hurdles. The obstacle most universally faced by women, it seems, is the balancing act they must perform between their jobs and their families.

“Women multitask on multiple levels,” Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve got my law practice going, I’ve got my kids, I’m a senator, I’m a friend, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister. There’s a million different hats that I wear, and there’s a lot of things that go on, and it is tough to juggle them all.”

Many male politicians are parents, too — but the split in domestic labor isn’t quite the same, which is another barrier for women entering politics, according to a report by American University.

“Generally speaking, women are the ones that manage the home, and manage a schedule, and take care of the kids, and run the house,” Ryder said. “Generally, that’s on the woman. And women who work, and women who are in politics, it adds another layer onto the responsibilities of women.”

Interestingly, women are apparently doing that vital, low-profile work not only at home, but also in the workforce.

“The reality is women do so much of the busy, behind-the-scenes work in every organization you look at,” Lang said. “Whether it be Village Hall — you can go in there and see almost the entire staff is female — whether it be a local parish, almost the entire staff is female. But the pastor is a male. I think women should be encouraged to be the face of an organization, the face of a board.”

And when women step into those visible roles, they show the next generation what’s possible.

“I do really think women have a different perspective than men,” Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said. “And I think it’s great to have both perspectives in government.”

“I love the ability to voice my concerns, make suggestions, and having a voice in the process,” she added.

“Diversity is excellence,” Darling said, “because it means that there are voices, and we’re considering a lot of different perspectives. And I think that we can look at it almost like a stew — the more layers you have in a stew, the richer and the more robust the experience.”

Young women who are interested in learning more about local government, or even coordinating an internship, can contact Lori Lang at LLang@MalverneVillage.org.