Are female politicians doing enough to encourage other women to run for office?
In a conversation with a Toronto audience last week, Hillary Clinton ignited further speculation around a potential 2016 presidential run. “Hypothetically speaking, I really do hope that we have a woman president in my lifetime,” said Clinton to an enthusiastic audience of thousands. “I hope that we will see a woman elected because I think it would send exactly the right historic signal to girls, women as well as boys and men. And I will certainly vote for the right woman to be president.”
Although electing a female president would, according to Clinton, require a “leap of faith” on the part of American voters, such an historic occasion also “really depends on women stepping up and subjecting themselves to the political process, which is very difficult,” admitted Clinton. She referenced former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who noted, “If women want to be in politics, they need to ‘grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.’” “And I think there is still truth to that, so you have to step up, you have to dare to compete,” Clinton added.
Despite the history-making possibilities associated with a Clinton bid for the oval office, her remarks were a sobering reminder that not enough women today are willing to make a run for elected office. Very few of us can relate to or take cue from the course she’s charted in becoming arguably the most powerful woman in American politics today. What’s more, she’s charted that course over the past two decades under the same unrelenting public eye that’s soured the political aspirations of so many women eager to engage in our political system.
Nonetheless, the presence of more women in positions of political power around the world does serve as a powerful affirmation of what’s possible for others. Women, for example, are at the helm of some of the world’s largest economies such as Brazil and Germany and here at home, women’s representation in the Senate is at an all time high. As Minority Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi serves as the highest-ranking woman in government today, while others leaders such as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hold some of the most powerful cabinet positions in the current administration.
Despite these global political role models, are women in America willing to “step up” and throw their hat into the brutal, rough-and-tumble world of politics as candidates? The paths may be getting paved faster than ever before for future generations of women to ascend in the political ranks, yet are these the paths women are looking to follow?
A recent study of 18 to 25-year-old men and women found a “persistent gender gap” when it came to the political ambition between sexes. Women surveyed were not only less likely to express interest in or consider running for office than their male counterparts, they were also far less likely to consider an elective office as a desirable profession.
The study goes on to cite a number of cultural forces influencing these attitudes, including the fact that women report feeling less qualified to run for office, and consequently require significant convincing from others rather than independently raising their hands. Even at the earliest of ages, women report receiving less encouragement as their male peers.
What’s more, in today’s new media environment, there are far more ways to influence the political agenda than running for office or punching your card at the voting booths. Thanks to social media, for example, women can impact policy and leverage their voice in ways that were never possible a decade ago.
The bottom line though is that in order to effect real change in this country, women now more than ever need to “dare to compete” and take active roles at the center of our political process. At the recent Forbes Women’s Summit in New York, I asked Secretary Napolitano to identify the most under-utilized tool that women possess to impact meaningful reform in this country. Her answer was decisive and immediate, “Run for office. There are frustrations and it’s hard. Take the risk and run. You can’t win if you don’t run.” I only hope that more leaders such as Napolitano and Clinton amplify this critical message.
As women, we can’t just “lean in” to the political process — we have to “step up” (even if this means developing that “rhinoceros skin” Eleanor Roosevelt deemed so imperative.) Read more …
© Forbes.com/Moira Forbes