Women’s voices create representation in the changing needs of communities

Small Towns

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More and more women are paving the way forward in their communities by taking on leadership roles. School boards, city councils, and other local government positions are being filled by women in rural America who offer their experience, passion, and heart to better their hometowns.

Kat Lopez, of Columbus, Nebraska, serves her community in numerous ways, personally and professionally.

As the communications director for Centro Hispano, a nonprofit organization that provides services in immigration, education, and business, Kat feels she is fortunate to have many opportunities for growth in her role.

“Our director is an incredible leader who is always looking for ways for the team to develop and learn new skills to use in the workspace,” said Kat. “With these opportunities, it has opened the doors to join new boards, councils, conversations, and more.”

One such opportunity has been working with the Center for Rural Affairs, a close partner, to deliver business workshops and entrepreneur training in the Columbus area on site at Centro Hispano.

She also takes on leadership roles in her hometown of Columbus and the surrounding areas by being part of LeadDIVERSITY, a leadership class through Inclusive Communities out of Omaha.

“I have been humbled to, and continue to be, a part of local leadership roles,” she said. “I’ve taken part in amazing opportunities that have made me grow and utilize new skill sets in my work, and I actively look for ways to volunteer.”

Kat recently graduated from a Leadership Columbus class, and has served on the local library board. She’s also running for City Council.

She believes it’s important for women to take on these roles, not only for themselves, but also to show others they can make a difference.

“Having women in these roles allows for a spectrum of experiences and voices to be heard,” she said. “It generates roles for us to have career development and growth, equity, and a diverse workforce.”

Hearing the voices of women in rural America is especially important to Kat, as she believes they are key to development.

“They are catalysts in the community in areas that are always evolving, such as economics and social justice,” she said. “This creates representation in the changing needs of the community.”

Women in these positions do face barriers, however. Limited network opportunities, less leadership development, and even unconscious bias all affect these women, but Kat believes society can help them feel empowered to continue leading the way.

“Even with the strides we take toward equitable treatment and inclusivity toward women, there are some challenges,” said Kat. “But there can be strategies to address some changes and evoke a successful environment for all.”

She believes communities can work together to elevate women starting at a young age. Kat says mentorship programs would be a huge benefit to young girls.

“Give girls an opportunity in leadership roles and let them take lead,” said Kat. “We look up to our role models, and mentorship programs have some of the best mentors. They give girls and women knowledge and access to many possibilities and networks.”

Kat is inspired to continue with her pursuit of leadership roles by her parents, who sacrificed much to help get her to where she is today.

“Coming to the U.S. from their home country of El Salvador, with no idea of what to expect, my parents gave my sisters and I the world,” said Kat. “Their tenacity to make sure that we created a legacy never goes unrecognized.”

She’s also motivated to make a positive difference in everything she does, in part to inspire others.

“Whether at work, home, or a social setting, I hope to always make a positive change—I want to leave an impression that inspires those around me,” she said. “I want my daughter, and my future generations, to always try and make a difference.”

With more representation, Kat believes women will feel more empowered to run for office, apply for jobs, and take on more roles in leadership positions.

“Take the chance,” said Kat. “Barriers are meant to be broken and we could be the ones who set the tone for many, many future generations of fearless leaders. Be the somebody that makes someone feel like somebody. Because like Bad Bunny said, ‘éxito es 50% visión, 50% esfuerzo (success is 50% vision, 50% effort)’ and we cannot do this alone.”

If you are interested in becoming involved in leadership roles in your rural Nebraska community, the Center for Rural Affairs will be launching a women in leadership group to help women develop their leadership skills and selves to gain confidence in leadership roles. For more information, contact Nina Lanuza at 402.380.0785 or ninal@cfra.org.