Olympia Ireland, right, and Natalie Giese with Wyoming Roots set up a booth in vendor space at the Wyoming Women’s Expo at the Casper Events Center on Sept. 20, 2019. Wyoming Roots was designed for anyone with a love of all things Wyoming, and the women sell their apparel online and at events and popup shows throughout the year. Carrie Haderlie photo

Women from around the state gathered in Casper in mid-September to celebrate each other’s successes and the Year of Wyoming Women.

This year marked the 15th anniversary of the Wyoming Women’s Expo, and also the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming. In keeping with suffrage celebrations across the state, the Expo organizational committee chose the theme “Celebrating Women’s Suffrage: Women Leading the Way” for the two-day event. For the first time this year, the Expo joined forces with the annual APG Media Women of Influence Banquet, where 110 women from across the state were honored by their peers Sept. 19.

The events during the Expo’s professional development day included a discussion on women’s suffrage with PBS documentary filmmaker Geoffrey O’Gara, whose latest production, “State of Equality,” will be released on Dec. 10, 150 years to the day that the Wyoming Territorial Legislature recognized women’s right to vote; a panel discussion on civil leadership; a keynote address by Wyoming’s first female state Supreme Court justice, Marilyn Kite; and a panel discussion on health and mental and emotional wellness.

The Women’s Expo is also a two-day trade show, with shopping at around 150 vendor booths offering everything from home décor to auto sales and service to beauty, health and wellness and more. Saturday’s events were family-friendly, with a kids’ area, farmers’ market, free and reduced-rate health screenings, and educational seminars ranging in topic from cybersecurity to how to make the most of Instagram.

“We had a really great turnout last year,” said Amanda Wadsworth with the oral and maxillofacial surgery practice WYOMS, hanging purple, gold and white balloons at her booth Friday morning. The colors were significant: Along with a show theme, organizers have historically designated a show color. This year, the committee chose purple, gold and white, the official colors of the suffrage movement.

During the Expo’s professional development day, Michele Chulick, president and CEO of Wyoming Medical Center, said women must focus on their own wellness, because sometimes the world does not.

“You all have the privilege of being surrounded by many incredible women today,” Chulick said, adding that women can find camaraderie in each other in the workplace. She has always worked – even immediately after the birth of her children, she said.

“After I had my first child, I literally went back to work a week later. Why did I go back to work a week later? At the time, I worked for a company that had no maternity leave,” Chulick said. “Two years later, I had a daughter and went back to work two weeks later because I had two children at the time.”

She has nonetheless always promoted working women, because not only is her work a part of who she is, but women everywhere give back to their communities through their professional lives, she said.

Today, 47.6% of the American workforce is women, totaling nearly 76 million women.

“We are all doing really important work,” she said.

Eighty-two percent of elementary and middle school teachers are women, and 69% of psychologists are women. The health-care industry is powered by women – nationally, 77% of hospital employees are women. At Wyoming Medical Center, women make up 80.6% of the workforce.

“In actuality, we have more women than the national average at 77%,” Chulick said. “They make up many different roles, including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, human resources, dieticians, housekeepers and so much more.”

Nationwide, the share of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high in 2017, but they still only made up 6.5% of their peer group. That percentage fell to 4.8% in 2018, but that is much higher than the zero women who were Fortune 500 CEOs in 1995.

Chulick said she was surprised to learn that Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote when she moved here several years ago.

“Wyoming celebrates many historic firsts,” she said. “Wyoming women have been active in civil leadership for many, many years.”

Nonetheless, growth in representation by women in government has been slow, though women in Wyoming have a tradition of leadership.

Many women are mothers, and 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18 participate in the workplace, according to the Department of Labor. Forty percent of households with children under 18 are supported by women as the primary or sole earner, and women are also daughters, sisters and friends.

“We, the women in this room, are much more likely to be the primary caretakers not only of our children, but also our parents, and are more likely to give up personal time to care for the ones that we love,” Chulick said. “That impacts us.”

Wyoming women work hard, play hard and often forget to take care of themselves.

“Give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done,” Chulick said. “Being here today shows your commitment to yourself, your family and your career. And it is all important, as each and every one of you are.”

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