If You Want To Change The World For Women, Read This
Kerry Healey served as the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 under then-Governor Mitt Romney. She’s currently the President of Babson College, the first woman to hold that position. She wrote for Refinery29 about the results of this month’s midterm elections, and what they mean for women.
Before the first vote was even cast, one of the most important takeaways from this election cycle was already clear: We need more women running for office.
Certainly, Tuesday’s elections resulted in some historic successes for women politicians. For the first time in history, the U.S. Congress is projected to reach 101 women, including the first women Senators from Iowa and West Virginia.
Two Republican victories were of particular note. Elise Stefanik, who will represent New York’s 21st district, is the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. She will be joined in the GOP caucus by Mia Love who, in her second run for the seat, claimed victory in a closely contested race in Utah’s fourth district. Congresswoman-elect Love becomes the first Republican African-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, these symbolic victories continue to be stymied by the limited number of women who decide to run each election cycle.
While there were more than 6,000 state legislative seats up for election this midterm cycle, fewer than 2,300 women were on the ballots for those races. At the national level, results from last week’s election continue an unfortunate trend: The number of men in the U.S. Senate in 2015 will be higher than the number of women who have served in the Senate…ever.
The mounting challenges facing our county are complex. If we’re going to solve them, we can no longer afford to leave half our people — half our brain power — out of the conversation. We need a diversity of backgrounds and intellects involved in our government to solve today’s most pressing problems.
So, why are women in America less likely than men to run for elected office? As a former state party chairman, I’ve seen firsthand that women seldom have access to political networks, fundraisers, and professional mentors. Running for office requires sustained support from a variety of stakeholders. Without them, women are less likely to even consider a bid.
The first time I ran for elected office, I faced a result similar to so many first time candidates — I lost. However, the experience of running opened the door to more opportunities than I ever could have imagined, including eventually being elected Lieutenant Governor in Massachusetts. When political campaigns don’t end in a victory, a strong network of mentors and advisors can make all the difference for a candidate who’s considering whether to run again in the future.
After the closest governor’s race in Massachusetts history came to an end on Wednesday morning, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley emphatically stressed the importance of women making the commitment to be active participants in the political process saying, “I want to say this to all the young women who have worked on this campaign, thought about running for office, who have tried and maybe not won: it’s important that you do.”
Thankfully, innovative organizations are partnering with women across the country to ensure more women run, and win, at every level of politics. I’m proud to support She Should Run, one such organization, as it strives to dramatically increase the number of women serving in elected office. She Should Run knows the power of mentorship and supports women every step of the way toward public leadership.
She Should Run starts by encouraging people across the country to identify and ask qualified women they know to run for office. Convincing women to see themselves as potential candidates is half the battle, and our program opens the door to the critical next steps — sharing best practices, demystifying the campaign experience, and empowering women to unleash their leadership potential.
It’s never too soon to start thinking about the next election. As you reflect on this year’s results, consider what a government that utilized all of our country’s talent would accomplish. Ask a woman you know to consider a run for office. One campaign promise that I guarantee will be kept is that our country will be more prosperous when women have an equal seat at the political table.
This blog post was originally published on Refinery29.