04/02/2012 11:31 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2012

Leading Ladies

I recently took a call-to-action to run for a public office in Los Angeles. I had coincidentally been reading many articles about women in office, or shall I say, the lack thereof. As I announced to friends and family my plan to run, I heard concern and fear of the unknown. Some were not sure I knew what I was getting into too, while others were feeling I would be swallowed alive. After a fair amount of patronization and comments from those who didn't feel I was "fit" for the role, one woman stepped forward and said, "I applaud you for being courageous enough to take a stand to serve the community. We need more leading ladies in office. Instead of talking about it like we tend to do, you are putting your words into action and I think you will be wonderful!"

It wasn't much longer before many others, both men and women, jumped on the bandwagon in supporting me. I honestly never felt one way or the other about those who doubted my ability to fit into the political arena. I figured that if others thought they were any better or had something -- anything -- to offer, they would run against me. It has yet to happen. For me, running for this particular office is about listening, being of service to the community, offering solutions to enhance what is already in place and bringing a vision to benefit the community.

I grew up in Westchester County, NY, just outside of Manhattan. I was extremely shy, kept to myself and spent most of my time involved in marching band, choir and taking piano lessons. I did anything I could not to deal with people and personalities. Sure, I was encouraged to move to the front, but the back line was so much more comfortable and much less work. I was not recognizing my full potential and admittedly settling for much less than I was capable of.

Growing up, my mother, who I am sure noticed my reluctance to lead, would point out women of prominence in an effort to inspire and empower my young impressionable mind. We had a close family friend, prominent civil rights leader Dorothy Height, for whom I worked as the personal assistant. As a young child, I watched a very stylish Shirley Chisholm transform from a teacher to the first black woman elected in Congress and the first woman to run for President of the United States under the Democratic Party. This was a major accomplishment for a woman, let alone a woman of color.

As I spoke with more women about my impending career as a public official, I found it interesting that many of my associates who are intelligent, brave, passionate and have much to offer were put off by the stigma of a place in a public office. This is an opportunity to be of the service that we say we want to be. This is an opportunity to have a voice. Several shared fears with me about a role in office. I have always believed that "fear" is just a word and words only have the power you give them. We so easily let other people's fear rub off on us and miss amazing opportunities along the way.

I'm not sure why we all seem surprised of the content of proposed measures when we have had no input in the authoring. More often than not, I have seen a lone woman with little or no signs of visible support standing to fight a measure that protects our well-being. Where are her sisters-in-need? How many of these measures have an impact on men, their reproductive rights, rights to an inheritance from the spouse, healthcare or domestic violence, etc.? If we want a voice, we have to be the voice.

I recently had a dynamic conversation with Rachel Michelin, Executive Director of California Women Lead. Rachel shared with me how critical it is to let women know it is okay to run and to have a place in public office, especially in voting and vetting on bills and motions that affect women. Rachel is a firm believer that in promoting the processes of women in office, women need to be better planners and understand parameters. In doing so, woman will have an increased success rate. "There still is a stigma attached to women who have the desire to lead. There are still many women who find comfort behind the scenes rather than stepping in front. The more women we get to run, it will be become easier because the stigma goes away."

I agree with Rachel and I applaud her along with many other "She-roes" who recognize the gap that needs to be filled and are making it happen. As women and as the equal partners we want to be, we have to make ourselves available. We have to mobilize, inspire, support and increase our level of representation. Simply put, we need many more leading ladies.

Charyn Harris for L.A. City Council 2013.
California Women Lead