I recently had the pleasure of joining Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and a group of female entrepreneurs for lunch. She reminded us that in November, New Hampshire made history by electing women to fill all its seats in the House, the Senate and the Governor's mansion.
This first of its kind all-female delegation includes Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Democratic Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLand Kuster, and Gov. Maggie Hassan. Rounding out the state's team are Democratic State Speaker Terie Norelli and State Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis.
Unfortunately, New Hampshire is the exception. Some 50 years after The Feminine Mystique, political power continues to flatline in mid-management and its bureaucratic equivalent. Yes, women have moved beyond the title of "secretary" but we haven't reached our full governmental stride where the title "Madam Secretary" is commonplace.
With all the movement in the women's movement, the time is ripe to change that. The question is: In which direction should we "move"?
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recommends women "lean in." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urges that we move "off the sidelines."
How did the women of New Hampshire "move" so successfully? How do other states stack up and move in a similar direction?
Informal polls reveal that most people are shocked to learn that a full 30 percent of our 50 states do not have a single female elected to the U.S. House of Representatives nor the Senate. Alternatively, they are unaware that their very own state is devoid of female representation at the federal level.
I'm calling these states the "Dirty Thirty" percent.
Thirty percent! Here is an area where women of both parties should step up. As a member of several of the hundreds of women's organizations in the nation, we must shine a light on getting at least one woman on the ballot for every single office in the Dirty Thirty percent of the states. Having no women in federal office must be rebranded as a badge of shame for the Dirty Thirty percent states.
The Dirty Thirty are: Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia.
Surprised? There is no pattern regarding the womenless states. Parts of the South, the Mid-Atlantic states, Midwestern states, all lack female federal representation. Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota and Vermont have never elected a woman to Congress.
The size of the states and number of people in the delegations seem to have little impact on the outcome. For example, two states with only one member of the House, Wyoming and South Dakota, have elected Cynthia Lummis and Kristi Noem respectively.
In many cases, the extreme red and extreme blue states are equally devoid of women. According to Gallup 2013, two of the "reddest" women-less states are Utah and Oklahoma. Yet Vermont, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island are some of the "bluest" states in the nation. None have women in their delegations.
What about other contributing factors like geography, culture, education and demographics? These factors are not determinative. Why is it that Vermont has never elected a woman to lead and its neighbor, New Hampshire, is represented by all women?
Similarly, Alabama has seven districts, two of which are occupied by women. Mississippi, which is similar geographically, culturally and demographically, has no female federal representation. Research has shown, at least in the political sphere, that when women run for public office they are as successful at winning as their male counterparts. The difficulty is recruiting women to run.
So, on behalf of my sisters, and my enlightened brothers, I challenge the leaders and the rank-and-file members of both political parties, the DNC and the RNC to focus on the Dirty Thirty percent. Break the Lucite ceiling in these states in 2014. Ask your sister, your mother, your daughter, your friend, to run for office. And, on average, you will need to ask her three times!
And when a qualified female runs for office, particularly in one of the Dirty Thirty percent states, support her.
As New Hampshire proves, the door is open for women to lead their states and the nation. Moreover, because of the unprecedented turnover and retirements in the Senate there is also unprecedented opportunity.
The best hope for improving the lot of all women is to close the leadership gap. Simply put, the direction to move is up!
Caren Z. Turner is former Women's Campaign Fund Trustee, National Finance Committee of a Presidential candidate, guest television commentator and CEO Turner Government & Public Affairs. www.turnergpa.com
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