Very few women run for political office. In 2015, only 20% of Congress was female. In South Carolina, my home state, the number of women serving at the state level is even lower, with women representing only 14.7% of our legislature.
Years ago I was invited to take part in a leadership course because of my work in the community. My favorite class dealt with politics. I was fascinated – especially by the teacher. He wasn’t a politician but was a servant leader. I wanted to be like Anton, and as we walked out on the last day of class he predicted that one day I’d run.
I knew deep down he was right.
I continued to work in my community with at-risk and homeless families and their children. I became an advocate, and built programs as well as relationships.
A few years later I heard Siobhan “Sam” Bennett speak to a group of female philanthropists. As President and CEO of the Washington-based non-profit She Should Run, Bennett was dedicated to breaking down the barriers to women’s participation in public life and encouraging women’s public leadership.
I listened carefully as she spoke; making notes as she told of her own personal journey to Washington and what she thought was holding other women back. At the same time I had to acknowledge what was holding me back.
Why don’t women run?
Women juggle families, careers, and other responsibilities. And quite honestly, most of the juggling is done behind the scenes, because we don’t want anyone to see us struggle.
When I told my own mother I had decided to run, she told me it would be fine as long as I took my children with me – that way I was spending time with them. My five boys were with me as I filed to run. They walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors with me, and the three oldest have written the thank you notes to campaign donors. As a mother I never wanted them to think I was choosing the campaign over them.
Men look in the mirror and see presidents – women look in the mirror and see imperfections. We tend to second guess our decision to run, or we will wait for someone to ask us. I talked with a long list of people about running, until a friend finally told me to, “pray about your decision, ask your husband, and just do it.”
Bennett cited research about the media and its treatment of women. Women are criticized about our physical appearance at forums and debates instead about what we actually say. During the past months of campaigning I’ve been told several times how “tired I look around my eyes.” I was even told not to use one professional headshot for my campaign because I was smiling and people wouldn’t take me seriously. Seriously?
Women take attacks personally, while men keep moving. I’ve had to watch as my campaign signs have methodically been destroyed. I bit my tongue as another (male) candidate questioned my ability to deal with the “notebooks of information” I’d be given when elected, although I run a successful (multi-million dollar) organization. Random comments or rumors will cause me to lose sleep. The same passion that makes women so perfect to serve also can be a shortcoming, because we exhaust ourselves by worrying.
Why should more women run?
Women, by nature, are caregivers. We take care of our families, our friends, and our communities. We are servant leaders. Women rarely run for office because of boredom, or because of a hidden agenda. We run because we want to make a difference in other people’s lives. Women build people up and want to empower those around us.
Women work hard. We run businesses, we run households, and we run our communities. We are smart, strong, and willing to serve. After all, that’s what it means to hold a public office – you’re there to serve others.
Why did I run?
I ran because of my children. I ran because of your children. I ran because of our future. Win or lose my children have learned a valuable life lesson. They have learned that serving others through public office is a sacrifice, but a sacrifice worth making.
I ran because I have the strength, knowledge and passion to make a difference in the lives of those around me. I ran because I want to empower others – especially other women – to step up and lead.
After all, it’s what women do.