Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Among the 525,600 people running for President, former Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden is still leading considerably in the polls, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. He’s been taking up much of the attention despite the unprecedented number of nontraditional candidates running. The narrative will once again become about the white male who will be able to defeat Donald Trump in the battle for “the soul of America.” While some may have been waiting for Biden to enter the race, many are wondering what his strategy will be to rehab an image that has been marked by accusations of close touching with women and his treatment of Dr. Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. There’s a good chance that strategy will involve a woman.
Women are often cast in supporting roles as opposed to those in positions of power, despite their qualifications. Like Stacy Abrams. Remember her? Former Georgia House Minority Leader, Abrams ran for governor of Georgia in 2018 and narrowly lost (arguably due to voter suppression tactics) to Brian Kemp. Abrams’ run elevated her to the national spotlight and showed what happens when the powers that be invest in women. Abrams was the first African American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union. Her speech demonstrated why women are so essential to the political dialogue.
In her speech, Abrams deftly told a story of her upbringing — of her learned morals and values. A story anchored by a major principle — “we do not succeed alone.” It highlighted the importance of community and community building. Women tend to be more collaborative and utilize cooperation to get work done. According to a study in the American Journal of Political Science, women in politics tend to act on legislation related to families, health, and education; generally, policies that have a wider impact on the highest number of people.
Abrams also focused on the U.S.’ collective responsibility to respect and to treat others with compassion. Rather than relying on divisive rhetoric that continues to “other” individuals, Abrams called on the President and Congress to show leadership in unifying the country and creating opportunities for everyone. Her speech was almost presidential, some might say?
At the time, here came “yet to announce but leading in the polls” Joe Biden, openly stating that he would be sure to select Stacy Abrams as his running mate should he run. (Record scratch). A mighty bold statement for a candidate who at the time hadn’t declared. Now that he’s officially thrown his hat into the ring, Biden has a long road ahead of him reconciling his folksy, “Uncle Joe” way of connecting with voters and the obvious implications of his antiquated, personal-bubble-popping approach to engagement. It would be unsurprising if the Biden team chose to select any of the women currently women to be Vice President should he clinch the nomination. This is a common experience: relegating women to the backseat.
There are an unprecedented number of women in Congress and in state legislatures. Out of the nearly 7,400 state legislators in the 99 chambers in the U.S. (Nebraska is unicameral) over 2,000 of them are women. And while that number seems large, consider that women make up a little more than half of the U.S. population but only comprise 28.7 percent of state legislators.
Among the 352 legislators holding a leadership position in the states, only 76 are women! Only five women serve as Senate Presidents (Sens. Karen Fann (AZ), Cathy Giessel (AK), Donna Soucy (NH), Karen Spilka (MA), Susan Wagle (KS)) and six serve as the Speaker of the House (Reps. KC Becker (CO), Sara Gideon (ME), Melissa Hortman (MN), Mizi Johnson (VT) Tina Kotek (OR), Linda Upmeyer (IA)). While we are embracing more women in elected positions, we should also make a concerted effort to have those women lead from the speaker’s chair and the White House.
Women in office often note feeling that they must work harder to prove that they belong, there is a lack of support from male colleagues, they face greater obstacles to effective fundraising, and they are expected to wait to be asked to run. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center even showed that women outside of the political process see “structural barriers and uneven expectations” for women in top leadership positions. When the polls suggest it’ll be two men going head to head for President in 2020, we can see how women in any race could feel unsupported. Moreover, it is likely that a woman will be tossed a bone and asked to run for VP to balance out the Democratic ticket. Despite that possibility, we should look at the resources that can build women’s confidence and public confidence in women’s leadership.
Mentorship and the resources it brings can help women perform better in the workplace. Through a process of training and education coupled with mentorship, programs like the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL) seek to make women legislators not only successful but exceptional. As a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), WiLL serves as a national nonpartisan organization of women state legislators who work together to influence federal policies and budget priorities. Rather than sit back, WiLL organizes its members to advocate for meaningful federal spending through itsbudget letter campaign. This campaign relies on the leadership and initiative of hundreds of women across the country to call on Congress to make smart spending decisions.
Women Legislators’ Lobby Seattle Communications Training
Getting women and diverse candidates elected to every level of government is essential in drafting legislation and enacting policy that will benefit everyone. And, we cannot neglect that they will need access to resources that will place them as chairs, Senate Presidents, Speakers of the House and more. As a part of WiLL’s biennial conference this year, women legislators will be networking and learning from each other and receiving training on tackling the obstacles to leadership. We should want women at every point of government, but their presence there should be more than ornamental it should be monumental.
The results of the 2018 election have not meant an end to inequality, the results mean we have a new obligation to ensure that the elected women reach the highest levels of leadership. That leadership can certainly extend past the bottom half of a Presidential ballot. Let’s not forget the women running to lead our entire country to prosperity, they could be the ticket to a better future.