Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman spoke to me about succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated field, running for office while being open about her sexuality, and drawing strength from her Latina roots.
Since Women’s History Month in March, I have been reflecting on the women who have made immense progress and have inspired me in the process. In February I met Assemblymember Eggman, who represents the 13th Assembly District in the California State Legislature. I attended a panel in Sacramento where she spoke about feminism, being openly gay while running for office, and her experience getting an education in a male-dominated profession following her time as a medic in the U.S. Army. She is the first Latina elected to Stockton’s city council and has worked tirelessly to propose and pass bills that help the environment and women trying to find work. Most recently, her bill to close the wage gap through eliminating salary history on job applications has passed a key committee. She kindly answered some of my questions and provided some inspiration and motivation in the process.
Alexandra Miller: What made you want to get involved in government? Was there an event or “aha moment” that motivated your career choice?
Susan Talamantes Eggman: It was the re-election of George W. Bush. The day after the election the atmosphere in my department was so depressed. I vowed to run for the next office for which I was eligible, which turned out to be the Stockton City Council.
AM: What difficulties have you faced as a woman in government? How do you cope with these challenges?
SE: Many people will passively not notice women as effective, powerful leaders with a lot to offer, no matter what kind of results they are getting. Women have to find ways to make themselves heard in elected office. Some of the characteristics that make people successful here – assertiveness, forcefulness – don’t come easily to women who have been discouraged all their lives from exercising those parts of their nature. And those characteristics that do come easily are undervalued.
AM: How was it running for office while being open about your sexuality?
SE: Living in my skin, you have to have a thick one. It was strange how despite being open my entire adult life, there was suddenly a question. I think people thought I would hide, but I didn’t. When I first talked about it in public people’s heads jerked around. My opponents started talking a lot more about their families and how many years they’d been married – so I did, too.
AM: As the first Latina elected to Stockton’s City Council, what advice would you have for other women of color looking to succeed either in government or their chosen professions?
SE: I would encourage them to embrace their full identity and find ways to draw on the skills of their mothers and grandmothers and apply them. We always think we have to come up with these new skills. They are there.
AM: With your bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s in social work, and Ph.D, you are a role model for so many young women aiming for higher education. What would you say to girls who are just starting on their journey to college? Why should we pursue a higher education?
SE: Because no one can ever take away your educated mind. It allows us to see the world differently and to be an effective leader, you need that.
AM: Because March was Women’s History Month, what women have inspired you and why?
SE: The women in my family, with their goodness, hard work, faith, and belief in sacrifice for the future of their families. I apply that to my service in elected office. Also, Jane Addam, the pioneering social worker; Eleanor Roosevelt; Dolores Huerta – strong, educated women who take a stand for social justice.
AM: What advice do you have for young women wanting to pursue careers in fields dominated by men?
SE: Do it. We never change the status quo without entering the arena. Meet men where they are, don’t back down.
You can read more about Assemblymember Eggman here.
Many thanks to Assemblymember Eggman and Christian Burkin for taking the time to speak to us.
Article originally posted in Bold Magazine. Article has been edited for clarity.