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Advocating for Women with Commissioner Leslie Osborn

Leslie Osborn was elected as Oklahoma's twentieth Labor Commissioner in 2018 and is currently serving a four year term. Prior to being elected Labor Commissioner Leslie served ten years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing District 47. During her tenure she was appointed chair the Judiciary committee, the first female in state history to do so and as chair the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, first Republican female to do so. Leslie currently serves as the chair of the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Advisory Commission and the Department of Commerce’s Automotive Steering Committee. In addition, she serves on the advisory board of Oklahoma Small Business Development Centers, the Oklahoma Academy and the foundation board for the Canadian Valley Technology Center.

Join us as we talk to Leslie about imposter syndrome and the systems that help manifest self-doubt in women. Whether or not it is true that having more women in office will help us achieve progress more quickly and what it is like for her to advocate for sound middle of the road policies in one of the most conservative states in the nation.

This recording was part of a more intimate coaching session with VEST Members and has been repurposed to accommodate this episode.

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Oklahoma Labor Commission


Erika Lucas00:00

Why don't we start with you telling us what the hell does the labor commissioner do?

Leslie Osborn00:03

That's a very good question. And before I came into state government, I would have had no idea. We offer a lot of services that are very beneficial to small businesses and are free also to citizens. And most people would assume. Being labor department that we have a lot to do with maybe union and non-union issues. Not really they would assume a lot of they, a lot of people assumed that we did unemployment.

Thank goodness with all the nightmare of that with COVID that was at another agency in Oklahoma. OESC what we do do is ensure that there are safe workplaces for citizens across the state and that citizens wages are paid. We make sure we're the enforcement agency to make sure that people are adhering by child labor.

It's different if you employ somebody under 18. And we also made sure on a lot of things, we're also the safety agency for citizens. Just a brief recap is that we check every public access elevator and escalator in the state once a year for safety, every commercial grade, hot water heater and boiler vehicle conversions from compressed natural gas to, to a normal gas or diesel.

Amusement park rides, check all of those once a year. And it's just a lot of things that people don't assume it's a pretty small agency. We have 80 employees, but we multitask. And so if you're checking inspection, inspecting rides in the summer, then you're doing boilers in the winter. We have a really great cross trained staff and just do a lot to make sure that small businesses are keeping their employees safe on the job that can't afford.

Full-time safety consultants is probably our main push.

Erika Lucas01:35

I love it. And one of the reasons why we invited you here, right? I mean, obviously the, the main goal for vest is to connect women across industries for agents and sectors so that we can build power collectively, but also to fix workplaces, right?

Because for so long, we've been telling women to fix themselves so that we can achieve positions of power and reality. We needed to fix the systems and the workplaces, like you mentioned to be. Fruitful spaces for not just women, but for everyone in general. So this month for us, we've been dwelling into imposter syndrome and you know, how, how, how it manifests and also the systems that contribute to us feeling like imposters and a fraud.

Have you ever been. Experienced imposter syndrome in your career.

Leslie Osborn02:22

I hate to say this because this is the topic of the month, but I don't think I have. And I think a lot of people do. I challenge, I have challenges in other areas, but for some reason, and I'm not sure exactly what it was. My parents raised me with a great amount of self-conscious.

That I could tackle any role and that gender didn't have to matter. And that was a beautiful thing to be raised with a very functional helm. When we talk about ACE scores, you know, and stuff, I realized that I am privileged in that area. She's not close with my father. That's the only area that I have some of that area, but I'm one that never felt like, and I use this as speeches.

I never felt like I had to ask permission. And I think a women do that to their selves frequently. I think that is part of being in a patriarchal society. I think in Oklahoma, it has a lot to do with fundamentalist, religion, that so many of the people that make up our citizenship have lived with those types of roles.

The woman is the helpmate kind of thing is what we have evolved past. I grew up in the Methodist church, which was not that way as much, but then in college, married, Young man, who was church of Christ. If anyone knows more of a fundamentalist type religion. And so that did shape my views and seeing how women were treated differently, even religiously, which can be in your social circles as well.

So I don't, I don't fight with the imposter syndrome because I always assumed that I should have a seat at the table. So I think we need to be raising our young ones. To assume that's natural instead of something that there should even be a barrier for. And I think sometimes we put those, we put that restraint on ourselves and for, you know, I have a lot of problems with that.

Not feeling attractive enough or, you know, or like weight issues, those kinds of things. That's where I put a lot of stuff on myself. But as far as the imposter syndrome, I've been blessed not to, but I do think it's our job as women. In the positions that most of us are in to mentor women, not to have, and especially younger women to expect that, that there should be no different.

Erika Lucas04:34

Have you ever had other people expectations perhaps, and societal norms that have affected how you show up in those places?

Leslie Osborn04:39

Well, I think so. I think now that would be unnatural if we hadn't. And I always like to tell that my whole life has been the pat the life of unexpected. So many unexpected paths that seem traumatizing at the time.

And every one of them without fail has been a learning experience and something I could grow from so graduated from Oklahoma state in 1986, wanted to be a loan officer, but had married someone who was a family farmer that had gotten an ag degree, moved back to a small town in Oklahoma, applied to two jobs at the local banks to be a junior loan officer.

And they really both laughed at. And said, you do realize that we have older agricultural icons here, and they're not going to talk to a young woman about their finance. Now later I grew from that because I had to work as a teller, which I thought was very demeaning at that time of my beautifully freshly minted, you know resume and college degree.

But what it did was encouraged me to leave that workforce after a few years and start my own business. And I had grown up on an agricultural operation of cattle ranch, and then it married a farmer. So ag sales was something. I w products I was familiar with, I found a product that no one in Oklahoma was selling and went to Texas and got the distributor ship and kind of the same way showed up and said, I'd like six grill guards.

Nobody may know what those are, but if you see big, heavy duty trucks, if anyone watches Yellowstone, I'm sure a few of you do when rip is driving through those fences with the big black pipe on the front, that is a girl guard that protects your truck. If you're doing crazy things like taking people to the train station.

So that being said I, I found a business. I went down there and I said, I'd like a load of these to start. And they said, oh, well, why don't you take six? And let us know how that goes. Came back a week later and said, when do I get my first semi full? Those are gone. And so same way of that. Don't ask permission.

Just assume you should be in the room. And was kind of my attitude. So there's been things like that and an ag sales the same way. This is predominantly a male business and then running for the legislature. In my class of the year, I came in in 2008, I was the only woman elected in the house or Senate out of 14.

So, you know, it's very rare. And at that time I think we had 11 out of 149. Of our representatives were female. I think now it's up in the twenties, but that's still ridiculous. We're half of the population. And until our demographic are our legislative bodies actually represent our demographic as engaged straight black, white man woman ethnicities.

We will never have truly good representation. You know, one of the reasons

Erika Lucas07:22

I really admire you and, and, and follow your leadership is because you are ever Republican, but you've been able to pass policies that are non-partisan right? Like you've, you've been able to work with both sides. I, I actually, I'm going to call you out and not, I don't know if this is imposter syndrome or, or, or, or a sense of not belonging, but often you say.

Often you say, well, I don't know if I'm just a token Republican because you get invited to so many democratic or progressive events as much as you do with, with your side of the party. But I don't know that it's tokenism. I think that people just respect the fact, the fact that you can actually.

Listen to both size compromise, which I think that has become an ugly word nowadays.

Why do you say that about the tokenism? And tell me, just kind of tell us your experience being a Republican representative that actually has pushed pretty progressive especially in the state of Oklahoma.

Leslie Osborn08:24

Yes. I call myself a John McCain, Republican who called himself a Maverick. I hate the labels. I really hate that we even have to run as a labeled party. I hate labels, period. You know, I'm straight. My daughter is gay, you know, or whatever. I don't like, I hate us having to label ourselves. So I think I tend to always feel like the best answers come with the biggest consensus in the middle.

And, you know, I talk about this a lot. When I ran 13 years ago, I'd never given a speech I'd never, you know, just was not doing anything in that venue. I ran as being a bipartisan legislature that was on all my flyers 13 years ago. Very well-received. If I put that on my flyers, when I run for elect reelection for my second term in a year, I will not be alone.

Because I am supposed to hate the other side. And in Oklahoma, as a closed primary state, you have to appeal to the people in your own party. First thing I'd love to see Oklahoma dues side note is go to open primaries, but states that have done that tend to take off some of that label and find that 50, 60, 70% in the middle that really just want good government instead of the loud squeaky wheels on the far right of the far left.

And we see a lot of that in Oklahoma. I worked a lot with representative Jason Dunnington, who was a Democrat. I was a Republican, he was a more moderate Democrat. I was a moderate Republican. We could find good solutions in the middle to work on, but that has changed markedly in the last two or three years.

That that is not as accepted. And I think if we dug down, there are still people that do do that, but the loud and angry podcast. So to talk radio to news channels are telling us not to do that. I will always believe the best solutions. Come when you take off the label, sit down with people that have different opinions than you and learn.

And if my parents did one thing, right, and I know that they did lots of things, right. But it was that they taught us to admit if we made a mistake and to always be willing to change your opinion with better information. So I came in further to the right. I actually believed trickle down economics worked because I just had.

The little bits when I became appropriation steer the year that we had it budget crisis, the worst in history and did a lot of study. I realized that it was a total fallacy sold to us by wealthy industrialists that it never worked. And now we've seen that divide grow in, you know, the Uber wealthy to the Uber poor, and we're seeing less in the middle and that's not working well for us.

And we have to acknowledge that those are failed policies. So as I morphed over that most made me very unpopular. And my party. And as you know, but you were nice and didn't share, I was fired by the speaker of the house and you never want to be as a politician above the fold on the front page. Right. And so I still got the article, you know, speaker fire's appropriations chair, you know, and the reason he did is I was calling for tax increases.

At that time we were 49th in the nation and over. As collections you get what you pay for. If you do not invest in your future, you never change your check trajectory and to take great pride in saying we taxed the lowest. Well, that means you're not giving anything to school teachers and an infrastructure and mental health care and rural health care and the things that affect industry and citizens lives.

So it's been an interesting journey because after being fired, From that, you know, you do kind of have to work your way back up the ladder in a different, you know, direction. So it isn't that I haven't been told. No, it's just that I didn't think the no was valid. I thought that that didn't make me a bad Republican.

I thought it made me a good Oklahoman.

Erika Lucas 12:06

Absolutely. There's a quick question from Michelle. One of an, a lots of flaps and cheering with emojis. But there's a question from one of our members, Michelle. What will it take? What will it take to ger open primaries?

Leslie Osborn 12:08

That we have two alternatives in Oklahoma. We are a state that really is a very populous state. So we do a lot of things that the legislature will not tackle through the initiative petition process, quite a few things that people have never expected to get on that might've seemed more moderate slash liberal. Medicaid expansion passed through initiative, petition medical marijuana passed through men.

You know, these are things in an extremely red state you would not expect to see. So it's absolutely possible. What you have to do is have a, a like-minded group or village to work on those issues because it costs money. You can't just do an initiative petition process and expect to do it without paying.

For your pull your people to go out and get the the signatures and to actually have an advertising campaign to explain what it is. Second alternative will be to get it through the legislature, which they will not do. We are also one of six states that still do state party voting, which I hated dumbs down the electorates.

You don't have to find out as much about issues or campaigns or individuals. And whenever you have a large majority, they're not going to run those kinds of bills because they help them. So when you have like more of a 48, 50 2% majority kind of swing in the house or Senate, then you can get those kinds of bills through.

We will not have that again for a long time. I believe we're about 85% Republican now. So most Democrat ideas are squashed or not.

Erika Lucas13:42

You've talked about something that we've been covering throughout the year at best, which is, you know, damn if you do, damn, if you don't. A lot of us do want to speak out on issues.

And then when we speak out. Thanks. Like get him fired, getting de appointed or removed from office happened and we just get chastised and, and reprimanded a lot more than our male colleagues do. Right. So what do you think, Leslie? I mean, how. How do we support the women that are trying to do things that are good for everyone? And how do we defend them? How do we keep them in positions of power?

Leslie Osborn14:23

That's when you need your village. And, you know, so go back to even just the simple thing, which now seems so small that the banks wouldn't hire me for a loan officer position in small towns, because I was a woman only drove me.

To be entrepreneurial and start my own business. When I was fired by the speaker of the house, the advice I got, and I'm going to answer one of your questions early of what's the worst advice you got? Well, why don't you go sit on the back of the best real quietly for a year. Maybe people will forget. It's like, oh no, no.

I'm going to keep every time I met a and I'm going to say I was removed and I'm okay with that, but I'm not going to be silent that we have to better fund this state. And so all it did was drive me to run for one of the 11 statewide elected officials. Leave the legislature two years early and now be in a position that's much higher of authority.

So I used it. I have one night to go home and lick my. And lay in a fetal position. We all get to give ourselves a bit of grace with that, and then to wake up the next morning and say, I damn it. I'm not going to take that. And let's find an alternative path now. I'm not going to hit my head on a brick wall, but I'm going to talk to the right people.

I'm still going to try to do these things. And all it did was propel me to be able to work at the department of labor, running an agency, making more money, having more. Authority to do things. And you know, we've done a lot of things at our agency that I feel have been really good, like with the licensing commission, like working, to make sure that you have felony prohibition and your past would not disallow you from having an occupational license.

You have some things like that. So I've got to go on and work on it may not have been those same fiscal issues, but other issues. So take your leg. And let it embolden you to work out, but I will tell you how many people reached out to me, men and women. I've got equally supportive men in my life as well.

And that said, do not let this get you down. I will have your back. Don't you be a scared to go to the next caucus meeting we have to do that. We have to galvanize when we see someone that has that type of position, be the one that reaches out with the first text, the first call we have to be there for each other.

Erika Lucas16:34

You mentioned, you know, we do get on a fetal position and all of us do, I, I, if you say that you don't, you're lying. Cause we all go through those the situation. What are you say to yourself? What do you do? What habits, what routines do you do to get back up

Leslie Osborn16:50

And that's where I would say I had good friends and colleagues that didn't let me drowned in that sorrow, because at that time that's one of the most influential positions in the state. We were really trying to, at that point, we were so broken Oklahoma, you know, we're better right now. But that's temporary because the legislature cut taxes again last year to go back to where we were, and that will happen in 23, very distressing.

So we're so thrilled to be a bottom five state. We're going to try to be a bottom three state or something, you know, and I don't understand that mentality, but I just had so many people around me that were encouraging that I just made myself get up. And, you know, as we all know, the first time you show up at work, after something like that, it's easier to do it the next time.

And the next time. And I found my people on both sides of the aisle and kept working for those same issues. And it's just, I think we have to give ourselves grace and we have to find our village.