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.
Join the conversation by becoming a VEST Member. Apply today!
Why don't we start with you telling us what the hell does the labor commissioner do?
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever had other people expectations perhaps, and societal norms that have affected how you show up in those places?
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
Yeah. The power of surrounding yourself with, with people that can lift you. Absolutely.
Leslie, I feel like, not just an Oklahoma and then tire nation.
We continue to because there's that lack of representation and legislative bodies at the federal state local level of more women, I feel like we continue to pass policies that don't serve us. Right. And in fact, they heard us. In in Oklahoma and, you know, the pandemic only made things worse. I think for women Newsweek did a recent study showcasing that women are set to lose 600, an average of $600,000 in lifetime income.
And when you add that to the fact that we already don't have equal pay. When you add that to the fact that we already have a wealth gap pay, right? Like women only get to keep 32 cents on the dollar that our male colleagues get to keep to invest and to start building that wealth. Why do, what do you think?
How do we enact change to support women in the workplace? Honestly, in a place like Oklahoma?
A lot of times I hear I'm going to say something controversial. But I'm good at that. So is we always think that if we elect more women, things will be better. Often we elect more women that don't take on those issues.
Sometimes a man may do that. And that's what I'm saying. You have to be a little careful with just saying we only want more women look at their voting history. And I am absolutely a proponent of having, you know, a, like, like I said, diversity in the legislature that matched your population. But just because somebody is a female doesn't necessarily mean that they advocate for women's.
Issues. So check out your candidates and all of us are guilty on this. We get busy in our own lives, right? And we're taking the kids to soccer practice and getting dinner on the table and still have that presentation to put together. And it's midnight. You may not have had time to look at how your state representative or your state Senator is voting.
But if you've elected women that are voting against issues, you would agree on, then it may not have been as good to elect a woman. And I, that may sound like an anathema, but I'm just saying we have to look at their voting records. You're putting your money where your mouth is. I'm willing to get. When my daughter came out a few years ago, which was another one of those journeys of something totally unexpected.
And you know, her, my ex-husband, his whole family disowned, her, you know, the fundamentalist stuff and all that. The first thing I did was start marching in pride parades with her holding her hand. And I got a lot of pushback from my party for that. And and I said, really, because I thought now, correct me if I'm wrong, that the United States was formed on the separation of church and state.
Why have we elected all these people that want to save myself, go do that in a Pope. And on Sunday morning, I need people to come to the legislature that want to work on good schools, mental health care, Simpsons infrastructure, things that allow a society and its citizens to flourish. And if going out and marching in a pride parade means I don't get elected, then damn it don't realize.
I'm not going to change who I am or what I believe. I get that vote of approval or non-approval every year at the ballot box and I'm just going to be me. But if we don't have people willing to push those boundaries of going to March in the pride parade, which thank you to mayor David Holt. The superintendent of Oklahoma city school, Sean McDaniel, who are always right there with me and are both registered Republican, it can happen, but we, if we don't push people in our own party, like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney are doing in Congress right now, who are we?
What good are we even being there? If we aren't going to push that?
And what you just said is not controversial is something that we should, as women should. Talk about, you know, it's sometimes and we have been talking about at other best sessions, the notion that I don't know if it's because there's been so few of us at the top or so few of us that get invited that we have developed this.
That we must compete with one another as opposed to support one another, or that once we get into those positions of power and influence that in order to keep that we have to do whatever it takes, even if it means passing policies that hurt our fellow women or, or, or our fellow people. Right. So thank you for saying that. Why, why do you, why do you think what's your take on that? Leslie? How, how do we change the narrative that, and you're right. It's not just men. I always also speak about most of my mentors, specially when I started where white man, older white man. And we also talked before with vest other best coaches that, you know, perhaps it was because they didn't feel that we were a threat to them, that we could be a threat to them ever, which is another conversation. But in your experience, how do, how do we change the narrative that women have to compete with one another to enact change?
It's real hard to change that without being the change yourself. I mean, it's just kinda, like I say, a lot of times about pro-life people is, yeah. They're pro-life as long as it's in the uterus.
So let's just get rid of that term pro-life and start saying you're pro uterus or pro fetus, because if that's all you care about, you are not a pro-life person. You are not pro-life. If you don't want to envelop that poor young mother who had trauma. Or poverty, or she wouldn't even have considered abortion with all the wraparound services to change her and her child's trajectory.
Then you are not pro-life. And so we have to teach our children to be critical thinkers. We have to teach our girls to be strong and to have that village. And we have to teach them and our young coworkers around us that we only get stronger and better by bringing others along with us and pulling them up those ranks at well.
And know, one of the things I'm working on at labor right now, there was a bill passed several years ago where we could help encourage some of our employees to get training college. Different things. You have to be a little careful, like, you know, I can't pay for somebody to go to medical school. That's inspecting boilers, but I could encourage them to do some college classes, more certifications, and the state can help cost match or pay for some of t