‘The climate for women in business is getting better in New Jersey and throughout the country, but it is still not where it needs to be,” says Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey. Whitman’s career gives her a unique perspective on the role of women in both business and politics. Her resume is, of course, well-known in New Jersey, and includes local, state and national political service.

Whitman discusses her experiences, focusing on the challenges she faced as a woman, at a New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners meeting on Thursday, February 9, at 6 p.m. at the Harrison Conference Center at Merrill Lynch. Cost: $40. For reservations and more information, E-mail rsvpmercerdinner@yahoo.com.

Help is still needed for women and minorities business owners, says Whitman. “The government recognizes that it is appropriate to help women and minorities,” she says, “but the public perception is tougher.” She notes that women-owned businesses create a majority of new jobs and employ 19.1 million people in industries ranging from construction and agricultural services to transportation, communications, and public utilities.

Since leaving the Bush administration in 2003, Whitman has joined the ranks of women business owners. Her firm, the Whitman Strategy Group, a management consulting and strategic planning partnership, works with both government and business clients and has offices in Gladstone and in Washington, D.C. All of the partners in the firm are women.

Some people (men, she notes) have asked her if she thought her firm would do better if it had a man on board. Her reply, “Why? No one would ask an all-male firm if they would do better with a woman.”

It is hard to know, she says, if any company would do better if a man was also involved. But, she says, there are benefits from working in an all-woman firm. Women often are more interested in balancing work and family life. “Two of my partners have young children,” she says. The other partners understand the need to sometimes schedule around personal needs. She understands that many women have family responsibilities, but that, just like men, “they want to make money.”

While they want to make money, women, in Whitman’s view, tend to demand time for family, too. Men, in turns out, often follow the leader on this one. Whitman says that in her experience when men see that a woman can make time for family and business, they too, realize that it is possible. “In my first position as a freeholder (in Somerset County) I was the only woman on the board. The first time I took time to go to one of my children’s events some eyebrows were raised. But I noticed that soon the men were taking time for those type of events, also.”

Can a woman have it all — a great career and a great family life? “There are always trade offs,” says Whitman. “There will always be a time in your life when you berate yourself for neglecting your child or you berate yourself for neglecting your job. You have to learn to find the balance. You can have a good career, maybe just not quite as fast.”

Along with focusing on her business, Whitman is still involved in the Republican party. Her book, “It’s My Party, Too,” made the New York Times bestseller list. It details her political career and gives her insights into the Republican party and the current struggle between the far-right faction of the party and the moderate wing.

She has started a political action committee to work on steering the party back toward the middle. Its website, www.mypartytoo.com, advocates “for the historic Republican principles of liberty, individual responsibility, and personal freedom,” and a Republican party “that is unified by the basic tenets of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, but that allows for diverse opinions on social issues by its members.”

The committee is active in 31 states and is partnered with a variety of other organizations, including Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice, the Alliance of Black Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the WISH List (Women in the Senate and House).

Commenting on the agenda of New Jersey’s new governor, Jon S. Corzine, she says that his call for corporate tax increases “will only help to discourage the business climate” in the state.

On another issue, one that is far more controversial and much harder for a moderate Republican to address, she says that she is “torn” about state funding for stem cell research, a program that Corzine supports. “Why should government make the investment in this?” she asks. If business and industry feel that the research is viable they will make the investment in the research. “Why should government provide the umbrella?”

Open space is another important issue for Whitman, who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush. Open space is compatible with smart economic growth, she says. “It is not an either/or issue.” Instead, she says, open space is one part of the “infrastructure” that provides quality of life and attracts new jobs to New Jersey. Of her time in Washington, under an administration not notable for putting the preservation of open space and natural resources at the top of its agenda, she says tactfully, “as an administrator “you are there to carry out the president’s goals in the best way possible.”

Whitman says that having more women involved in politics and government can only help our country. In her book, she writes that, “while women can be as deeply divided and passionate on issues as men, we tend to be less dogmatic in our approach.” This flexibility means women are much more willing to compromise,” she says. “Men often won’t consider compromise.” Many times, she adds, men believe that to compromise is “to not have principles.”

But to her, “compromise is not a dirty word.” She thinks some of the difference in attitude can be explained by the different life experiences of men and women. “Women are often the primary caregiver,” she says. “They learn to balance and they recognize that there are few things that are black and white. Most are gray.”

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