Vote For Women Leaders: Celebrate International Women's Day, Run For Office

Washington State Sen. Rcebecca Saldana recently decided to run for office for the first time, and won.

Washington State Sen. Rcebecca Saldana recently decided to run for office for the first time, and won.

Sometimes it has to rain torrentially before you decide you need an umbrella.

For thousands of women leaders in this country, the recent election is the rainstorm that has prompted a decision and become the tipping point to take action and run for office on all levels of involvement and government.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day March 8, it seems a suitable opportunity to salute those who embrace their power to change policy, lives, community and to be the policy makers.

This International Women’s Day, we salute those embracing their power to change policy #IWD2017

According to Makers, “In the past two months, more than 2,300 women have signed up to take an online course with VoteLeadRun and the organization’s January 7th seminar was filled by 1,200 women in less than 48 hours. Another organization, EMILY’s List, which aired a campaign stating “don’t just march, run,” had more than 4,000 people reach out with interest in running for office since election day and 1,660 since Inauguration Day.”

Makers reports, “CEO of She Should Run, Erin Loos Cutraro said that 8,100 women have registered for their online incubator program, which as the site states: ‘trains women for public leadership roles… designed to build a community of women interested in entering politics and provide them with the tools to do so.’”

Considering the outcome of the 2016 election in this country, some might think women would be discouraged from running for office, instead of inspired. But the opposite is true, according to The World Today.

This aligns with Leadership Power Tool #7, as created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president  of Take The Lead. One of the 9 leadership power tools, #7  professes:  “Take Action; Create a Movement.” According to Feldt, “Things don’t just happen. People make them happen in a systematic way. And you can change systems. Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life.”

And an estimated 13,000 women in the past few months have created the plan and taken the action to move into public office.

An estimated 13,000 women in past months have taken action to move to public office #womenleaders

According to NPR, “We saw an immediate uptick in interest in our work,” said Andrea Dew Steele, the president and founder of Emerge America. “And it has persisted through today. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Still, declaring an intention to run and actually running are different actions.

NPR reports, “’But a surge in interest in running for office might not translate into women actually running for office,’ said Rachel Michelin, executive director of the nonpartisan training group California Women Lead, pointing to 2012 as a year that was supposed to be good for female candidates in California.

Women are under-represented on all governmental levels from the community to Congress and in federal posts and appointments up to the White House.

Women are under-represented on all governmental levels from community to Congress #womeninoffice

“Women remain the vast minority in government positions in the U.S., making up only about one-fifth of Congress despite accounting for more than half of the population in the country. Representation is paltry at the state level as well, with the proportion of women in state legislatures at just 24.8 percent going into 2017, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University,” Mahita Gajarnan in Time.

In Seattle recently, Puget Sound Sage executive director Rebecca Saldaña won a unanimous vote to win the appointment to the state senate to take former state senator Pramila Jayapal’s seat representing Southeast Seattle’s 37th Legislative District, according to Seattle Met.  Saldaña, a Latina, said at her testimony that minority representation “does make a difference.”

While all women’s representation in public office is not aligned with the population of women, studies and history shows far fewer women run for office than men. So as a result, far few women get elected.

“Research has shown that, in comparable races, women are elected and re-elected at the same rates as men. The pipeline doesn’t spring its leaks during campaigns, but in the off season, when women decide not to run in the first place,” Christina Cauterucci writes in Slate.

“Some of the disincentive is logistical: Women often act as the heads of their households and primary caretakers of children or elderly parents. They have less disposable time and income to run a campaign than men. Some is psychological: Women are less likely to consider themselves qualified for any given job; years ago, an internal Hewlett-Packard study found that women applied for promotions when they thought they met 100 percent of the listed qualifications while men applied when they met 60 percent. The same pattern affects the political pipeline. And concerns about family privacy and sexist attacks further dissuade many potential female candidates from mounting campaigns.”

If women leaders are not dissuaded by the possible personal attacks, negative slams on social media and the grueling hours of campaigning, then the road to public office can proceed.

As one who understands and trains many leaders around the world on the elements of the power to change policy, leadership paradigms and culture, Feldt writes: “Now the world’s great need is to expand the movement to include economic and political power. Women are 51 percent of the population. We have led companies, been successful entrepreneurs and politicians, scientists, artists and more. There is no logical reason, no ability deficit, and no educational aptitude at issue when a woman steps into a leadership role. Women are not asking for protection; we are not looking to be merely allowed into the conversation. We’re changing the conversation altogether.”

Conversation change leads to change of all kinds.

Cauterucci writes, “Recruiting organizations say women who want to change something in their communities make the best candidates, but a political star isn’t born—she’s made. ‘You don’t need a degree in poli-sci beforehand. We need people from all kinds of backgrounds representing us in government,” said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the nonpartisan Center for American Women and Politics. ‘There are things you need to do to present yourself to the world that would make yourself more effective as a candidate—making yourself more visible, building your voter base—and we can help with that. All you need is a passion and a commitment to serve.’”

Women can take the action to run for their lives, and all of ours as well.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon