Who inspires you? For us at Political Parity, our co-chairs, Swanee Hunt and Kerry Healey, and the 50 remarkable women who compose our Leadership Team are inspiring mentors. Their political paths are dynamic and varied, lending them strategic insight on not only how to reach, but also shatter the highest of glass ceilings: The very insight greatly needed by today’s female political candidates.
A majority of the 230 women in our “Steps to the Capitol: Women’s Political Paths” study say a political or personal mentor played an important role in their career. For most, however, these mentors are peers and colleagues, not a high-level political leader. Our findings indicate that a mentor in a lateral political position actually limits a woman’s ascent to high-level office (Congress or Governor’s mansion). Very few female candidates have mentors at a higher level. In contrast to their male colleagues, this lack of access leaves women further behind if and when they decide to campaign for higher office.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, women have become more strategic in plotting their political paths. Running for higher office is a complex and ever-evolving process. The money required to campaign today necessitates a thorough understanding of the political environment. Mentors have a measurable impact on helping female candidates finance their campaigns. Combined with targeted trainings, women must be supported with myriad resources in the field, including high-level mentors, lists of donors, proven consultants, and campaign staff.
Women at all levels of government express a desire for mentoring by organizations, parties, or other elected officials. They want more than a pat on the back and nod of encouragement at a fundraiser: Female candidates need and deserve collaborative, reflective relationships with seasoned leaders, who can provide personal stories, professional strategies, resources, connections, and confidence.
“I had a huge mentor, and she had been in politics herself for decades. And gave me the strength and support I needed to run… that level of comfort. I don’t think I could have made it without her.” (Local officeholder, Southern US)
Our study participants stressed the need to engage more women (and men) in this important endeavor, suggesting political parties conduct formal trainings for mentors, increase mentoring for female staff, and connect women, beyond email, at events and conferences for candidates at every level of the political process. A more structured environment is essential to provoke change.
Women candidates inspire us with their courage, conviction, and commitment to make our nation better. For them and the women who come after them, it’s time to do more than lean in. Mentors uplift.
From motivation to mentoring to money, in our next post we’ll share insights on how funding affects a woman’s political decision-making. Can’t wait? Learn more about Political Parity and “Steps to the Capitol: Women’s Political Paths.”