Where Are All The Women in Politics?
5 mins read

Where Are All The Women in Politics?

Here are some grim statistics for mothers, who are raising the next generation (including their observant girls), to consider:

“Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress.”

“State legislatures only have 23 percent women.”

“Only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor.”

“The United States trails behind the rest of the world – ranking 87th in the number of women in our national legislature.”

“. . . [W]omen are 50 percent less likely than men to seriously consider running for office, less likely than men actually run for office, and far less likely to run for higher office.”

Has anyone ever asked you to run for public office? Have you ever worked for or encouraged another female candidate to run for office? I’m not talking about the lofty posts that get all the news coverage like president (where I don’t think there’s been a race that included more than one woman in contention for the top spot despite the fact that female voters outnumber male voters), U.S. Senate or governor. I’m talking about some of the closer-to-home positions such as city council, finance committee or school committee. Have you ever seriously considered throwing your hat into those local rings in order to make your voice heard, to bring a new brand of leadership to the table?

Well maybe you should. Consider this column my request to you: Run.

The nonprofit women’s advocacy group She Should Run — from which I obtained the statistics at the beginning of this piece – is adamant in saying that if we want to see change in our political culture, if we want our daughters (and our sons) to see women in leadership positions we, their mothers, need to step up.

“Research continues to show the positive influence that women’s unique leadership style has on decision making,” the She Should Run web site says. “It’s proven that women legislate differently – perhaps more effectively – than men. They’re more likely to collaborate and ensure a win-win decision. Also, women tend to run for office because they want to get something done, not for the pure sport of politics.”

This notion was brought into stark relief when I attended a Boston conference for women recently — attended by over 7,000 — where the unifying theme was “Live Fearlessly.” I observed a discussion about “How to Impact Change: Real-World Advice” and among the panelists was Jane Swift, the first female governor of Massachusetts and the first U.S. governor to give birth while in office. Her tenure was marred by controversies and unfair, sexist criticism about how she handled her childcare issues, a concern her male predecessors didn’t have.

Despite the difficulties she experienced during her term in office in a state where she called politics a “full-contact sport,” Swift encouraged those in the audience to run or work for someone who’s running for office because women often tell pollsters that they never became candidates because no one asked them to run. “If you don’t run, you actually don’t get elected,” the mother of three joked.

Acknowledging that being a parent and a politician can require “sacrifice,” Swift said potential candidates shouldn’t fear that they have to be “completely prepared” and know everything in order to enter politics because the male candidates certainly don’t. “Your views are your value,” she said.

Swift said she regrets the recent emphasis on how “broken” our politics seem nowadays “because it appears to be such a brutal venue [that] good, decent people who want to protect their families don’t run.”

For those women who might consider politics – whether it’s very local or less so – there are plenty of resources out there, cheering women on.

There’s Rutgers’ University’s Center for American Women and Politics which has a non-partisan program “Ready to Run: Campaign Training for Women” with programs and practical info about running. The Center also is the home base for The 2012 Project whose motto is: “Don’t get mad. Get elected.” and includes an icon of a woman holding a flag aloft above her head. The White House Project, a nonprofit leadership organization, is not only interested in seeing a woman commander-in-chief, but is striving, through training programs, to create a “leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women” in government and business.

Know of a female friend who you think would be really good in office who you’d be willing to help? She Should Run has an online form where you could officially ask her to consider it. The organization promises to “make sure she gets the encouragement, connections and resources she needs. Whether she’s already talking about running or has never considered it, your vote of confidence matters.”

As you make your New Year’s resolutions and contemplate the brand, spankin’ new 2012 landscape, maybe you should pencil in “public office” ahead of your annual “join a gym” entry on that list. On second thought, maybe you should write it in pen. Why? This one quote from the founding president of The White House Project about the impact of the dearth of female pols on girls, from the eye-opening documentary Miss Representation: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

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