Power Up: How to Redefine Power for Women Leaders in Politics

powerOf course the lunch featured a do- it-yourself, build your own salad plate because these 1,500 women (and a few men) at the 15th Annual Ultimate Women’s Power Lunch in Chicago are used to doing it for themselves. And each other.U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Il.) served up hearty applause for the more than 80 female current and former elected officials including federal, state, county, city municipal and judiciary representatives who are “fierce and fabulous,” including candidates running for office in Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada.“I am so thrilled we stand on the precipice of making history that will change the world and lift the status of women everywhere,” Schakowsky said of the November election with Hillary Clinton as the presumed Democratic candidate for president.Co-chair of the event was Theresa Mah, a Democrat, who recently won the primary with 51 percent of the vote in Illinois’ 2nd District. If elected in November, Mah said, “I will be the first Asian-American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.”That is a major shift that will redefine power for many women in the state.Introducing keynote speaker Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, with more than 2 million members, Schakowsky called her “one of the most powerful women in our country.”As a leader in the national “Fight for $15” movement for hourly wage increases across the country, Henry was named one of the 100 most creative leaders in 2015 by Fast Company, and also included in the top 50 visionaries reshaping American politics by Politico. (She was No. 25.)Henry said her talent for collaboration was formed early as she grew up in a family as the oldest daughter of 10 children and it was her job every morning to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door to the bus stop every morning for school. She said her mother’s mantra of “make the impossible possible,” was in her mind every day as she did just that.“I learned about the power of what we can make happen when we work in a group,” Henry said.Since the “Fight for $15” campaign began, Henry said, more than 18 million workers in America have had wage increases. Yet, there are still 49 million workers who earn minimum wage, have no guaranteed hours, no benefits and are are “facing poverty level conditions.”The enthusiasm of the luncheon guests is echoed nationally with an unprecedented, historic increase in more women funding political campaigns in all parties, according to the New York Times. This change in donation and funding trends may well come to redefine power as we know it in politics.“Forty-three percent of all reported contributions to federal candidates for this election have come from women, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by Crowdpac, a political crowdfunding website, higher than any election cycle on record,” writes Nicholas Confessore. “Women have also provided a fifth of all individual contributions to super PACs for this election, compared with just 1 percent in 2010, the year the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision paved the way for new levels of giving to outside groups.”Confessore continues: ”In interviews, female donors in both parties described cascading cultural and economic changes that were driving their participation in political giving, long among the most exclusive men’s clubs in American culture. More women are founding their own companies or rising to lead family businesses, or have already sold or retired from them, a common springboard to the upper reaches of political fund-raising. Within marriages, they said, women now had more authority to steer family decisions about political giving.”One female politician in particular thinks more women involved in politics is not a good thing and does not consider the need for women to help redefine power in American politics.  Speaking recently about Donald Trump’s search for a vice president on the GOP ticket, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said: “I don’t necessarily think you need to pick a woman. You know, this woman thing has gotten way out of control I believe. And I think it’s been driven by the left, because they think that it’s going to bring them over the end. But I think people, when they sit down to vote, they vote for the very best candidate. They want somebody that’s going to represent them.”But her view may be in the minority.Steeped in the need for women in leadership to redefine power and be empowered in politics, business and across all arenas of work and relationships, Gloria Feldt,  Take The Lead co-founder and president, developed the online certificate course of 9 Leadership Power Tools To Advance Your Career. Studying the choice of women to redefine power for themselves, act upon that power and to enter politics is Deborah Carr of Rutgers University, who writes that women have a slew of deciding factors working against them on the choice to throw their hats into the ring.Carr writes: “Women accounted for just 23 of the 345 statewide elective executive offices in 196 9 (6 .6 percent), yet their participation increased to 13.3 percent in 1985, 25. 9 percent in 1995, and peaked at 28.5 percent in 2000. Today, women hold 23. 8 percent (or 75 of the 315) of state-level offices. In 2008, women held the positions of governor (eight states), lieutenant governor (10), attorney general (five), secretary of state (12), state treasurer/ chief financial officer (11), state auditor (six ), state comptroller/ controller (four), chief state education official (eight), commissioner of insurance (two)  plus other commissioner positions.”She adds that states have “undergone a slow, steady gender transformation since 1971, when women accounted for just 4.5 percent of state legislators, and today women hold 422 or 21.4 percent of state legislator positions.”Writing on the nuance of her findings, Carr concludes: “Voters may hold stereotypes about what women can and should be, and being assertive, self-assured and focused on global politics may violate idealized notions of what a woman ‘should’ be.”As summarized in Pacific Standard, Carr holds that sexism, the pipeline conundrum, wealth inequality and family issues are key factors in whether or not a woman enters the political arena.In its recent list of the world’s most powerful people, Forbes touted that it for the first time the coveted list included nine women. The small print is that the list has 73 people total, so women account for only 12 percent.In closing her speech at the Power Lunch, Henry called on all the women in the audience to invoke the mantra of her own mother. “Imagine that together we can make the impossible possible.”