Women in Politics

Tonight I attended a workshop by the Women’s Campaign School at Yale aimed at women who want to run for office or get involved in campaign work.  WCS is a non-partisan leadership program aimed at increasing the number of women in elected and appointed offices.  I had flashbacks of my Catholic all-girls’ school education with so many smart and passionate women in one room, all nodding our heads in agreement to the specific barriers that women face in the political field.  It’s so good to be with other women and together remember that it’s hard.  That people will never give mention to a man’s outfit or say he’s talking too much or take his words with a grain of salt simply because he’s a man.  Solidarity, sistas!

Patti Russo, WCS’s president, had some good basic questions to ask for women who are thinking about running for office:

  • Are you healthy?  Do you try to live a healthy lifestyle and look like someone who does so?
  • Do people like you?  (because, if they don’t now, they certainly won’t once you’re in the public eye)
  • Are you emotionally stable with a generally peaceful life?  Do you love yourself? (so important for women)
  • Is your spouse and/or family supportive?
  • Are you a thoughtful and conscientious person?  Are you willing to work hard, tackle tough issues & do your homework?
  • Are you getting into this for the greater good?
  • Do you have a real chance at winning?
  • Are you willing to give up everything?
  • Do you have a compelling message and know why you’re running?
  • How much money do you need and can you raise that amount?

Like I said, very practical yet important stuff to consider.  Next we heard from Emily Donahoe-O’Keefe of WOMENSPEAK Training who is a dynamic and fabulous woman and gave us some equally fabulous tips on messaging. She said that, after a speech, people typically only remember three things that you said.  She gave us a simple format for doing a 30 second pitch on any issue of our choosing:

What is your take-away message / what do you want your audience to do?  (i.e. to Vote for Emily, to buy an iphone, to support immigrants, etc.).  Once you know your take-away, here are three steps for getting people on board through your speech:

  1. Definition— define your take-away
  2. Problem-solution— state the general problem and proposed solution
  3. Accomplishment— give a specific example  of how the problem has been solved using your specific solution

I must admit that I did not get up and practice mine (I was freakin’ scared!), but here is one I came up with:

Take-away: More social workers should be hired to work in politics (side note: this originally started as “You should hire me” but I made it broader, mostly to deflect so much attention to my current situation)

Definition: You should hire more social workers to work in politics.

Problem-Solution: Very few politicians and their staff have a personal understanding and first-hand experience with the issues on which they are legislating.  For example, those who are passing drug laws and sentencing terms have most likely never set foot in a prison or known someone who served time.  Social workers such as myself have worked in and with the city’s most marginalized and underrepresented communities and have a genuine understanding of how our policies play out in the lives of the citizens they most affect.

Accomplishment: While serving as a manager at The Doe Fund, my team and I helped over 200 formerly-incarcerated men find full-time employment.  Daily we witnessed the discrimination experienced from having to check “yes” to the criminal conviction question on job applications.  Without our advocacy, these men, many of whom went on to be top performers at their companies, would have been overlooked soley based on that question.  Instead of navigating around unjust and unnecessary laws, social workers can be creating such laws and contributing to the research behind them.  Hiring social workers in politics will bring a more holistic understanding of policy and, ultimately, more humane legislation.

So, that’s what I’ve got, folks.  I hope this framework is helpful and I hope that all you women out there will be inspired to do something political.



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