Run For Your Life: How Women Leaders Can Make The Move to Election Day

Rebecca Sive offers lessons for women leaders on running for office, her in conversation with journalist Amy Guth. Author and activist Rebecca Sive has been around a political campaign or two. The daughter of a New York lawyer who ran for Congress in 1958, Sive says her parents taught her that “politics is the highest form of contributing to the public good.”After graduating from Carleton College, and earning a masters degree at the University of Illinois, Sive spent her post-graduate years and decades afterwards organizing and campaigning in Chicago for other candidates and causes.The author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House,   Sive worked on the national campaigns for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as many issues and agendas. She writes, “You will learn how every single day is a campaign of one sort or another and what you need to do to achieve success at every stage.”Speaking at an Association for Women Journalists-Chicago event, hosted by AWJ-Chicago president Amy Guth, Sive told the crowd of close to 50 journalists and activists what she has learned about women leaders from her own work as well as her scholarship teaching women’s public leadership at University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies.The good news is that in the past few months, thousands of women leaders are taking steps to run for public office. The bad news, progress has been slow for the past century.[bctt tweet=“In past months, thousands of women are taking steps to run for public office #PoliticalWomen” username=“takeleadwomen”]According to a new report from Pew Research Center, “‘In 2017, 21 women serve in the U.S. Senate and 83 serve in the House of Representatives, comprising 19.4 percent of Congress. While this share is nearly nine times higher than it was in 1965, it remains well below the 51.4 percent of women in the overall U.S. adult population.”Anna Brown writes in Pew, “The share of women serving in state legislatures is slightly higher than at the national level. Some 24.8 percent of state legislators are women, up from 4.5 percent in 1971. There are currently four women governors, representing Oklahoma, Oregon, New Mexico and Rhode Island, and a total of 37 women have served in this role since 1925. Four women are serving in Cabinet-level positions under President Donald Trump (21.1 percent of the positions that have been confirmed to date), a share about on par with George W. Bush’s Cabinet but smaller than in Barack Obama’s. The share of women in Cabinet or equivalent positions peaked at 40.9 percent during Bill Clinton’s second term. Seven women have served as labor secretary, more than in any other Cabinet-level position.”Clearly, there is work women need to do to run for office and to reach gender parity in leadership by 2025, as is the goal and mission of Take The Lead.[bctt tweet=“There’s work women need to do to run for office & reach #GenderParity in leadership by 2025 “ username=“takeleadwomen”]According to Nick Corasaniti writing in the New York Times, “Political activism of all persuasions, ignited largely in response to President Trump, has swelled in the wake of the 2016 election. A monsoon of marchers swept through Washington following the inauguration, letters and phone calls flooded the White House and Congress, and protests erupted at congressional town hall meetings across the nation. But some have wondered whether the fervor and energy would be reflected in local, state and federal ballots, or remain relegated to cable news screens and hashtags before fading away.”

According to Corasaniti, “What we’re seeing is not just in New Jersey but it’s happening all around the country,” said Debbie Walsh, the director at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. “Women are looking for a way to have a voice. They’re feeling that in ways that we haven’t seen the general public experience, the real understanding that elections have consequences.”

Sive found this to be true. After interviewing scores of women leaders around the country in politics, public policy, organizations, foundations and business, Sive says she came up with a road map with lessons for women who aim to win a shot at public leadership.“I thought there was wisdom in what women learned about what it takes to be a public voice,” Sive says. “I think it is complicated to learn a new skill and understand how government works. And women worry about fundraising, family responsibilities and being sufficiently well-qualified.”Sive adds, “Women who decide to run, care deeply, and answer the question, what do you think the change ought to be?” She adds that the increase of women leaders in public office has a natural progression. “First we march, now we make our voices heard, next step is to encourage women to engage with organizations on long term issues and building an agenda.“Here are Sive’s 10 tips on running, winning and becoming a leader:

  1. Look inside yourself. Go back to the idea that you know you want to be involved in public life. Let me make sure I understand the difficult path and that this is one for me. Then you become fully confident.
  2. Use family and friends as a sounding board. Engage them in the collective effort while you are the catalyst at the center. You validate other people. If you start with a circle of friends who believe in you and your agenda, you can be open about your fears.
  3. Do opposition research on yourself. It may be positive or negative, but be clear and concise about the choices you may have made and how to talk about them. Women do have unequal treatment.
  4. Fundraising is about organizing, messaging and consciousness raising. Everyone can give you money, it’s just a matter of how much. Identify the first circle of those who most believe in you so it establishes your credibility. Then reach out. Know that when ask somebody for something, you are validating that they have power.
  5. Understand the notion of being publicly engaged as a leader is about giving to the community. Otherwise it’s just an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
  6. Know that women who choose to run who do not live normative lives are suspicious. The norm has been determined that it means you have to be married to a man, have children and go to church. Thankfully the norm is now broader.
  7. In the group, there is power for the individual. How can we help each other, collaborate, vote for each other, and speak for each other? The larger interest is for one of us to win something big.
  8. Decide if you would rather be an inside player or an outside player. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses.
  9. Whatever your little or big thing is, finding the time for it is dispensing with other things. Use your time wisely. If you have five things to get done today, some have to be done in prime time, others don’t. It’s a choice.
  10. Do I have a shot at it? Can I make a difference? Be clear about what you believe in and why you believe it.

According to Sive, “For a woman to be an effective public leader, she has to ask, ‘What’s the agenda and how am I going to get it done?’ That’s the task.”When asked about the gender difference in leadership styles, Sive says, “Some good research says that women legislators do work better together than men do.”[bctt tweet=“It seems more difficult for women to feel prepared enough to launch a campaign #WomenInOffice” username=“takeleadwomen”]Still, for women, it seems more difficult to build the confidence and move into the position of feeling prepared enough to launch a campaign. For some women in public office, it has been a dream since childhood or adolescence to work in an elected position. And for so many others, those dreams are deferred. Sive says that is not fair and that it is a lesson she learned from Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General since 2003.Sive says Madigan told her: “The hard thing for women is to realize that no one has the right to take your dreams away, not you, not your spouse, not your children, not your parents. So many women put their dreams second.”Now perhaps is the time to allow those dreams to move into first place.