In the last post I brought up the fact that women make up 51 percent of the US population, but make up only 19 percent of Congress and 24 percent of statewide and legislative offices. The reason for the imparity is not because women aren’t winning their elections, it’s because they aren’t running!
So you might be asking haven’t more women aren’t stepping up to put their name on the ballot. After all, it was nearly 25 years ago that Claire Sargent, a senatorial candidate said, “I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we have been voting for boobs long enough.”
Based on my professional experience, here are some of the most common reasons women choose not to run for office:
- No one has asked them—women think they need to be asked to run for office, and not just once by one person, but multiple times by number of people. I think this is because some want to know that she will be welcomed by the establishment before throwing her hat in the ring. I think others may have never considered it before so it take some convincing.
- They don’t think it’s their turn—even after they are asked, a women will stay out of the race if they think there another person who has been considering running for office longer than them.
- Politics is brutal—many women don’t like the nature of politics so even if they think they would be the best candidate they do not want get involved. But, if more women don’t get involved the tone and tenor of campaigns will never change.
- They don’t think they are wealthy enough—what you give to your campaign is your time and energy—NOT your money. We don’t want government run only by the wealthy because they don’t often don’t accurately represent the working folks. It’s true that a political campaign, even at the local level, can be very expensive, but you should not spend your money. That’s why there are fundraisers.
- They are the primary care taker of their kids—women don’t think they can balance their responsibilities as a mother and an elected official. This is difficult, but the women I know who have children and are elected feel like being a leader is the best lesson they can teach their children.
- They don’t think they are qualified—even the most successful women tend to be less confident, judge themselves more critically, and carry their failures with them longer than then men.
During the election many of us read this quote by artist and college professor Michelle Vitali:
“Imagine a women who showed up [to a presidential debate] unprepared, sniffling like a coke addict and interrupting the opponent 70 times. Let’s further imagine that she had 5 kids by 3 men, was a repeated adulterer, had multiple bankruptcies, paid zero federal taxes and rooted for the housing crisis in which many thousands of families lost their homes. Wait…there’s more: she’s never held any elected office in her life.”
On January 22, the day after the “Women’s March” 500 woman got together to learn how to run for office. The training was held by EMILY’s List and provided concrete steps women can take to prepare to run for office, even if that might be a number of years down the road. There are a number of groups that provide training to women to give them all the tools they need to run at every level. In addition to EMILY’s list, I encourage you to check out Emerge and Run for Something. All of these training programs will give you the tools you need to mount a successful campaign and overcome many of the fears women that keep women from running for office.
If this past election has taught us anything, it is that there are no formal qualifications needed to hold office. Politics is different than other professions. There is no training like doctors or lawyers or teachers. Life is all the training you need and government works best when a variety of backgrounds and experiences are represented. So women, you are out of excuses. If more women don’t run for office then there will never be more women in office, and things will never change. It’s that simple.
I predict (as do many others) that women will be running for office in record numbers in the future. Participating in a training program will significantly increase your chance of success. Not only do will they give you the skill you need to be a candidate, they also give you an automatic network of support. If you don’t think the programs I mentioned are for you then leave a comment and I will try to point you in the right direction! There are quite a few training programs out there. I mentioned the few with which I am most familiar.
I am hoping that there are a few people out there reading this who are in office, are running for office or have been through a training. Please leave a comment and tell us about your experiences. Let us learn from you and applaud you for being in the room where it happens.