Tanya Conrath has been able to successfully balance both a career and a family.
But the Athens family businesswoman and attorney readily admits that she was fortunate enough to be able to exercise options — and a strong support system — that many working women simply can’t choose from.
“After I had my second son, I made the decision to stay home, it was a choice, that’s what’s important to note. That (choice) is certainly not the case for a lot of women,” Conrath said.
Married to her high school sweetheart, Matthew Sweeney, who she started dating while she was a junior at Athens High School, Conrath said she was fortunate to have his support and acknowledged that not all women are so fortunate.
“It helps to have a support network, whether it’s family, a partner or a friend. It’s easier when you have support.”
Part of that strong support system Conrath mentioned she actually inherited from birth.
Conrath’s parents, Larry and Shelley, are not only the native Athenian’s inspiration for how she has lived her life, but also instilled in her at an early age the belief system that she promotes in both her professional and personal life even to this day.
“My mother is a feminist and my father is a feminist. I was raised with two sisters, and all three of us, at a very young age, were taught that we could be whoever we wanted to be,” Conrath said.
What Conrath eventually aspired to was attending college and obtaining a law degree.
She graduated from The Ohio State University Moritz’ College of Law and returned to Athens and worked for about a year at the local law firm of Mollica Gall Sloan and Sillery Co. LPA.
“I did a lot of work for the associates and did a lot of insurance defense work,” she said, explaining that the firm is a general practice and also provided outside counsel to Ohio University.
Although the firm was “always very supportive,” she did note that in her first years as an attorney, she did receive comments from others that certainly could be construed as questionable, something that she hopes doesn’t still happen today.
“As a young attorney, there were several instances when opposing counsel called me ‘little lady.’ It’s hard to know if it was my age or because I was a woman.”
Conrath noted that she rose above that and never let it influence who she was or what her belief systems were.
“I’ve always been someone who calls it out, which can be a benefit or a detriment. It certainly helped in the political arena,” she said.
Her entrance into politics came this summer when she went through a battle that eventually went to the Ohio State Supreme Court to have her name placed on the ballot as the Democratic nominee for the Ohio House of Representatives District 94 seat after the winner of the August primary, Ohio University student, Rhyan Goodman, dropped out of the race shortly after the election.
While her reasons for entering the political arena were varied and discussed often during her abbreviated campaign for the State House, Conrath noted that she is definitely concerned about a few things in regards to women in elected positions in the state.
“I look at our state legislature and only 30 percent of it is comprised of women, and there are no statewide women who are office holders,” she said. “I feel that’s a huge disparity.”
While she ultimately was defeated in her bid to unseat incumbent representative, Republican Jay Edwards, of Nelsonville, Conrath said that she learned some important things during the campaign.
“I fell back in love with this county,” she said. “It was a good reminder that people are not that different in our area. I think that both political parties benefit from continuing to polarize us.”
While a second run for the State House of Representatives is certainly a possibility for Conrath, she said it is still too soon after the Nov. 8 election to decide whether she will seek that office in 2024.
Leaving the door open for a possible run, Conrath said, “I’m still considering it. I’m talking with my husband and talking to others about it.”
Speaking of her husband and sons, Sam, 25, and Jack, 23, she credits them with always supporting whatever decisions she made to advance her professional career.
“He has always been a super involved partner,” Conrath said of Sweeney, who she co-owns Matthew Sweeney Appraisals with and who Jack now also works for.
Once her sons were older, Conrath decided to enter the workplace again, albeit on her own terms.
“I started doing not for profit work at that time. I went back to work part-time. For me that was really important to be able to do that on my own terms. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband, who also made choices,” she said, noting that Sweeney was always super involved in their sons’ lives and even coached their soccer and baseball teams along the way.
In her own career path, Conrath’s resume is quite impressive.
Once she returned to the workplace, she served as associate director of the OU Innovation Center, was an entrepreneurial ecosystem network manager for Techgrowth Ohio and was the coordinator of The Business Training Center, a partnership between Tri-County Adult Career Center and Hocking College. Its goal was to advance regional economic development by meeting the staff training and development needs of area businesses.
And that’s just a partial list of Conrath’s accomplishments that have kept her active in the area that she is proud to call home.
“This is where both my husband and I grew up,” Conrath said, noting that they had thought about moving to Washington, D.C., at one point early in their careers, but ultimately decided, “we wanted to raise our kids in Athens.”
It’s a decision they never regretted.
“I think Athens is such a unique community. It has a vibrancy, not just from the university, but from the people who choose to live here.”
As women continue to make their marks in the boardroom, Conrath noted a few key things that she would offer as advice to females trying to make it up the corporate ladder.
“There’s always going to be a sacrifice. It’s about choices. Empowered women can pivot in their careers. It is critical to find mentors or peers in that field (you choose to enter) who can help you in building your support.”
As for Conrath, she is a glowing example of how a strong support system can ultimately help a person achieve both their personal and professional goals.