If you're a woman in politics or business and you come up against someone who isn't taking you seriously because of your gender, you know it immediately.

"Women pick up on that in 20 seconds - body language, eye contact," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Mary Callaghan.Thankfully, Callaghan says, she doesn't run across that much anymore. General acceptance of women in the professional and political arenas has been growing, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"This is a major social change, so it takes time," she said.

Callaghan, the first woman commissioner in Salt Lake County, came to her position from a background of business and Republican Party activism. She was president of Professional Republican Women and a principal of the Utah Federation of Republican Women and worked for years for Hercules Aerospace as a contracts administrator, business analyst, legal team member and proposal administrator.

She holds two bachelor's and two master's degrees in political science and business.

Given her background, it is perhaps not surprising that while Callaghan has been active in encouraging women to involve themselves in business and government, she dislikes the tactic of asking people to vote for a candidate solely or primarily because of her gender.

"We need more women in politics, but I don't think you should be running on that," she said. "It's up to the individual."

Rather, women today should be running on the basis of their professional experience, which they have more of now than ever. Combine that, Callaghan says, with their often-assigned role of nurturing children and caring for aging parents and others, and you wind up with a potent mix.

"I think those two together make us very effective," she said.

Callaghan dislikes bringing her personal life into politics. Not for her the holding of babies and public tears and hearts on sleeves and exploiting her children for political gain (she has two). She exudes a professional demeanor that rarely slips.

Nevertheless, she does have her quirks. Example: While you would never know it by looking at her rail-thin physique, Callaghan is a chocoholic.

"It's her favorite food," said one friend with a laugh. "But you never see her eating it."

Her reply when her children asked what she wanted for Christmas last year: "Chocolate - and a pair of scales."

She also enjoys travel, hiking and camping.

Callaghan is running for re-election to the County Commission against Democrat Karen Crompton, having recently survived a squeaker of a Republican primary election against Wendy Smith. Her political aspirations, however, don't end with the County Commission. Callaghan has set her long-term sights higher - on Congress or the U.S. Senate.

"I think," she said, "I'm ready for the next step."