Women’s History Month 2022

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl (3rd District) and Kathryn Barger (5th District) – two of our LAEDC members and long-standing supporters– about their experiences as leaders and being part of Los Angeles County first ever all-women Board of Supervisors.  

Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society and has been observed annually in the month of March in the United States since 1987. LAEDC is proud to have the support of groundbreaking women who continually work to improve their peer and communities. 

LAEDC also works hard to support women-led and owned business in Los Angeles County. Since July 2021, three LAEDC programs – Business Assistance Program (BAP), Together for LA, and Together for South LA – have assisted more than 280 women-owned businesses throughout Los Angeles County. The work of these programs provided technical assistance and lay-off aversion assistance, preventing the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs throughout the County. 

In 2020, Five Thirty Eight published data that indicated that more women are running for office and winning their primaries. What inspired you to run for office? 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

I had spent much of the ten years preceding my first run working on issues of domestic violence and family law affecting women. I saw that being a member of the State Assembly was a powerful way to use my law degree and my experience to improve those laws and bring focus and fairness into the system to change lives for the better. 

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

My inspiration comes from my desire to help as many people as possible through public policy at the county level of government. I realized early on that the county is an important entity that touches many peoples’ lives – it’s a safety net so that basic needs can be met. I started working for the county 35 years ago. I started as an intern in the County’s Fifth District and steadily rose through the ranks to become chief of staff. I then ran for public office and was elected to serve as the Supervisor for L.A. County’s Fifth District in 2016. It’s been an amazing journey!

During your time in office, including COVID-19, what surprised you about the challenges that women in Los Angeles County experience? 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

I wish I could say that I was surprised by the realities facing women in LA County before and during the pandemic, but I wasn’t. I already knew that 20% of women live below the federal poverty level, which is very low; that it’s women who are far more likely to be poor in old age; and that women are a rapidly growing percentage of our unhoused population. Those statistics were among the reasons why we established the County’s Women & Girls Initiative. What did surprise me, and horrified me, were the misogynistic attitudes openly and regularly expressed by our Sheriff. He has regularly referred to the Supervisors using misogynistic language, has threatened County female leaders, and denigrated the Supervisors and our staff, specifically because we are women. That’s been shocking.  

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

Women face a lot of challenges, especially during a time of crisis. Researchers have found that during disasters, single heads of household struggle the most, but it’s surprising how gender is never talked about in that context. The vast majority are women! So, gender is indeed a factor and should be a part of the economic solutions that policy makers should support. As Chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors during the first year of the pandemic, I was very vocal about doing everything possible to help re-open the economy quickly. My definition of the economy was a global one – I wasn’t just referring to jobs, but also to all the support systems that enable women with children to work. Reopening and supporting schools and childcare sites were part of the conversation and will continue to be.  

What initiatives and projects are you most proud to have worked on? 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

I am very proud of policies I’ve championed that particularly help women. Not all of these policies are routinely labeled as “women’s issues,” but when you build more affordable housing, raise the minimum wage, expand access to domestic violence services, establish the County’s first-ever Women & Girls Initiative, and move pregnant women from the jail to more appropriate community-based settings, you are helping women and their families.  I am also proud of the environmental initiatives my staff and I have led: Measure W to capture and recycle stormwater, founding the Clean Power Alliance, working to get plastic out of our “just throw it away” dining take-outs, establishing the Chief Sustainability Officer position. And, finally, participating in justice reform. Establishing Care First, Jail Last as our approach, struggling to reform the juvenile justice system, and so many other things. 

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

There’s many that come to mind, but I’ll focus on two current examples. I’m extremely proud to have spearheaded the development of the Economic Resiliency Task Force for Los Angeles County in 2020, when we were first faced with the economic fall out created by COVID-19. Its members generated rapid re-employment solutions and goals that will help us build a new normal than what existed before the pandemic. I’m also very proud to have initiated the Blue Ribbon Committee on Homelessness in 2021, along with my colleague Supervisor Hilda Solis.  This committee is taking a hard look at the systems that are supposed to help lift people out of homelessness. It is working on identifying ways to revamp these systems so that we see better results. Systems change can be complex and take time, but when it comes to addressing homelessness, it needs to be done and someone needs to lead that charge. I’m proud to be part of that effort!

Growing up, was there someone in your life that inspired you to become who you are today? Who was it and why?

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

Luke Fishburn, the head of UCLA’s Unicamp.  He embodied compassion, patience, practicality, and teaching. More than anyone, he inspired me to fully be myself, care about others and do something about the things I thought were wrong in the world.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

My mother has been one of the most influential people in my life. She was intelligent, witty and had a dry sense of humor. She influenced my work ethic and modeled the importance of staying humble. I’ve modeled my public service approach with her in mind. During Women’s Month, the influential role that women as mothers play in everyone’s life should also be recognized and celebrated.

What is something you wish you would have known early in your career? What advice would you give to other women and girls today?

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

I wish I could have known what a joy it would be to work for the greater good and earn a living even if it wasn’t millions. But even without knowing that, I did it anyway!  Advice: follow your heart. If you’re not happy in a job or a relationship—quite.  

Believe in your ability to make change in the world. The world needs your voice. Change isn’t easy.  It’s not quick. It takes courage and perseverance. But you can change the world.  And it’s fun! 

Supervisor Kathryn Barger

My advice is simple: don’t give up. You’ll hear “no” and “that’s not possible” during your career trajectory. Don’t let that stop you. If I had to name one of the most important elements that has helped me get to where I am today, I would say it’s tenacity. If you’ve developed a clear sense of what you’re good at, in what environments you thrive and what brings you joy, you’ll be equipped to set your career goals. Go forth and conquer – and don’t take “no” for an answer.


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