Thursday, March 14, 2013

Women & Influence

A little over a month ago now I attended the Women's Way of Philadelphia annual Women & Influence Conference. This year's theme was Women & Leadership, very appropriate considering that the United States is 95th in the world for women in legislature. Pennsylvania (where I live) is 47th in the country for women in elected office.

The keynote speaker was Sam Bennett, of the Women's Campaign Fund and the She Should Run Foundation, who even early on a Saturday morning was a firecracker. As her work is devoted to getting more women into office, she shared her own story to how she got to where she was, as well as some powerful facts concerning women in political office that she's come across:

1. The most important pre-indicator in whether a woman will run for office is if she runs for something in elementary school/middle school/high school. We should be encouraging girls to get involved in student government!

2. There is no such thing as mild sexism. All of it is electorally devastating. Women drop 7-10 points when it happens and the possibility of sexism in campaigning is a huge deterrent to women running in the first place.

3. But when candidates call out that sexism, it brings those points back and gives them a bump in poll numbers. Conventional campaign wisdom used to say that female candidates had to ignore the sexism lest they be called a whiny girl, but research by the WCF and She Should Run Foundation say that it makes candidates look more assertive and brave.

4. Women don't run because they're not asked. On average, a woman needs to be asked six times before she decides to run. Later in the conference someone brought up the point that when men are applying to jobs, if there is a list of 6 qualifications that potential candidates should have and they have 2 or 3, they will still apply. Women, if they are missing one of the qualifications, will not. Men and women are socialized differently, so for now we should be asking more women to run for office. 

5. When women do run, they win in equal numbers. Fear of losing is irrational when you're not even running!

6. When women run for office, they tend to raise more money than their male counterparts because they work harder. You wonder why Hillary Clinton is so scrappy? She works really really hard! 

7. Women report being concerned about a work/life balance. 0% of men report a similar concern.

8. Women are concerned about the impact of negative campaigning and sexist media coverage of their families.  0% of men report a similar concern (even a fear of negative campaigns.)

9. Women are concerned about raising enough money for their campaigns. Research shows that women give to campaigns (male or female) significantly less than men. Sam encouraged the audience to give just $5 whenever you see a female candidate you like! (The price of a grande Starbucks specialty drink!) And as Cheryl Bullock, Senior Advisor and Southeast PA Regional Director for Senator Bob Casey, Jr., said later in the day, "If you want good leaders you've got to spend money to support those leaders."

So... are you thinking about running for office now?


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