Three years ago I decided to make a documentary film about women and politics. I believe that better decisions would be made if we had greater gender parity in elected government. The problem: Women just aren’t running. Why? Why, in the 21st century, don’t women run for office? Why don’t politics-loving women like myself run for office?
Raising Ms. President helps us understand why it is women shy away from elected office, while inspiring a new generation of women to lead. As it turns out, I inspired myself as well.
Growing up I believed that things would have been easier if I were a boy. I felt I lived in a ‘no’ world while boys lived in a world filled with ‘yes’. Although I felt I could do anything I put my mind to, I always felt held back, but I wasn’t sure by what. I always thought of myself as a leader, but instead of striving for positions at the top, I have always preferred the second position where it was safe. It wasn’t until I finished with production that I realized the main reason many women in America weren’t running for office was the same reason that was affecting me: I lacked the confidence in my own qualifications to lead.
In their book It Takes A Candidate, Why Women Don’t Run For Office, Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless write that women who have MBAs and law degrees, professions that usually lead to politics, are less likely to think they’re qualified to run for office compared to equally situated men. Again, I asked why. Why do women feel that they need a law degree and years of political experience under their belt before even considering running for office, while a man with no law degree and hardly any experience thinks he could be president?
The answer is confidence, and not just any confidence. It is the kind of confidence that makes men ask for pay raises and promotions while women don’t. The kind of confidence that allows men to take risks while women play it safe. It’s a confidence that makes men feel they’re qualified for a job when perhaps they’re not. This kind of confidence is born and fostered early, and somewhere along the way we have failed to give it to our girls. Blame socialization, culture and even ourselves for this, but one thing is certain, there is hope. Here’s how we can get there.
1. End the Double Standard
What Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts did with their #BanBossy campaign was remarkable. It shed light on the double standard that exists in our culture when it comes to gender. A male who is opinionated and assertive is seen as a potential leader, while a female pinned with the same adjectives is considered, well, bossy. Influential companies like P&G with their #LikeAGirlcampaign and Verizon with #InspireHerMind are also raising attention to the unconscious gender bias we place on girls at a young age. If we can end the double standard we can help women see their leadership potential and in turn help men respect and see women as leaders as well.
2. Become a Mentor
Historically, women have trouble finding mentors. In fact, in the 80s and 90s, many females report that they were often discouraged by other women, according to Stephanie Coontz in her book “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.” It’s important for women and men to recognize the potential in young women who show leadership qualities, not only because of history, but because we’ve asked them to get involved, go above the social norms, and yes, even “Lean In.” We can’t leave them hanging to do it all alone.
3. Encourage Women To Run
Not everyone is a born leader, but there are many women out there who would be great at the job, they just haven’t been asked. Studies show that women, more than men, need to be asked to run for office, cites Richard Fox in his book “It Takes a Candidate, Why Women Don’t Run for Office.”Prior to the 21st century, party leaders did not see women as viable candidates. In fact, often times women were put up as sacrificial lambs in races the parties knew they couldn’t win in order to say they supported women, but it isn’t just the political parties that need to do the asking. Parents, teachers and family members need to encourage their daughters, students and wives to run, whether it be for class president, city council or state senate. When someone believes in you, you usually believe in yourself.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and Raising Ms. President will continue to be a tool that can be used to affect that change. The film inspires me each time I watch it, enough so that I no longer say I will never run for office. I now say “when I run” and usually follow it up with everything I plan to do; I hope it continues to do the same for others.