Mother's Day is a time to reminisce and to look ahead. It's a reminder of our childhoods, the memories we have of the important maternal figures in our lives, how much they've done for us and how far we've come. It also reminds us why we find mothers so inspiring: They are the women we look to for love, guidance and leadership.
This Mother's Day, a day that celebrates the ultimate multi-taskers, my goal is to encourage more women to capitalize on their experience as CEOs of their homes, managing household expenses, balancing work (in or out of the home) and children and providing for their families -- often doing it in heels, no less -- and translate those skills into running for office.
Maternal perspectives are essential when talking about issues affecting women. In the Barbara Lee Family Foundation's latest poll of likely voters in 13 key states, we saw that women candidates who identify themselves as advocates for women's health and birth control -- an issue area familiar to 78 percent of voters -- can earn points with the electorate. Who better to share messages about planning a family than women who have personally experienced it?
According to the Voter Participation Center, in the 2008 election, 69 percent of married mothers and 56 percent of unmarried mothers turned out to vote. And advocacy group MomsRising has been lobbying in state capitols and on Capitol Hill to bring attention to issues related to families, such as paid sick days, safer alternatives to chemicals and paid family leave for parents with newborns.
Mothers in influential roles at the highest levels of business and government are proving that their voices are powerful. One of these women, Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, recently discussed what the Obama Administration is doing to help close the gender gap at a Women and Public Policy Program event at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
When I first met Ms. Jarrett a few years ago, her daughter, Laura, was a student at Harvard Law School. I was as inspired then as I was a few weeks ago by Ms. Jarrett's motivation to shift her career to the public sector after Laura was born to make a greater impact in her community. And what an impact she has made. Ms. Jarrett chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, a council that has as its mission to ensure that all federal agencies take into account the needs of women and girls in developing policies, programs and legislation.
Women in government are proving that it is possible to balance being a mom with being in office. Among the young moms on Capitol Hill are Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat and mother to two young sons; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee and mother of three and Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who in 2010, became the first congresswoman to give birth twice while in office.
Among Ms. Jarrett's insightful comments that night at Harvard was one that struck me as indicative of the tact women should take when speaking up for what they want, whether it be a promotion at the office or working toward the Oval Office: Ask for it.
Our research tells us women need to be asked between three and seven times to run for office. Men don't wait to be asked.
So ladies, consider this your first ask.
Mothers are versatile, resilient, and they do it all -- not out of duty alone, but with a sense of joy. These are qualities we want to see in our elected officials, too.
In politics, the message is the power-wielding medium. Included in the list of breakthrough messages with the power to motivate voters is one showing women candidates are in touch with real life. Understanding the cost of food, what it takes to make ends meet and what it takes to run a household resonates with voters. I can think of no one better to deliver that message than mothers.
This is a message that translates across all levels of government. I encourage women to use it to fight for a place in local, state, or federal office. Use your credentials to get into the pipeline to political success now.
This Mother's Day, I salute the first leaders in our lives: our mothers. I hope more of us consider becoming elected leaders, too.
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