This week, Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene yet again, with Going Rogue hitting bookshelves across the country. Given the work that I've dedicated my life to -- advancing women to lead, alongside men -- I've been asked repeatedly on my thoughts about Palin. Sometimes, I'm reminded of the few things we share: we were both beauty queens, each have five children, one of whom who lives with a disability. Yet for those few things that we share, an infinite number divide us -- and nothing more clearly illustrated this than where we found ourselves, Sarah Palin and I, on Wednesday evening, only miles apart in Michigan.
Of course, Palin was in Michigan to launch her book tour, as an alleged homage to her first public action as a 'maverick' during the 2008 campaign when she spoke against the McCain campaign's decision to abandon the Great Lakes State. Whether the book is a stepping stone to 2012 candidacy or simply another venture to solidify her celebrity on the national stage remains to be seen. But in either case, Sarah Palin's rise has served not to elevate the position of women in American culture and politics, but to stymie their advancement.
The Republican Party did a disservice to itself, to women, to the country, and to Palin when they nominated her in 2008. It was an insult to us all to proceed as though women would vote for gender alone rather than qualification and policy position. Many women were understandably glad to see motherhood -- that much revered, yet unpaid and unappreciated job that still falls mainly on women -- lifted up as a qualification. Yet we are wise enough to know that it's not enough to run the mothership that is our nation, particularly when the woman in question is a champion of policies that do not serve the best interest of women in this country. And it was a cynical move by a party that once boasted remarkable women leaders -- who supported issues that allowed other women to rise -- but has shifted to a reluctance to advance women among its own ranks. Currently, Republican women comprise a mere four of 100 Senators and 17 of 435 Representatives within the U.S. Congress.
On Wednesday, Palin may have launched a national tour which will, inadvertently or deliberately, incite the divisions that exist in our nation, rather than working to heal them. And the publicity she will receive may work to set women back in political leadership, rather than move them forward (this week's Newsweek cover comes to mind). Yet I was still heartened that day - because less than 200 miles away, in beleaguered but spirited Detroit, a wholly different affair was underway. One that brought together true champions of women from across Michigan to bring transformative, positive change to our institutions and government.
Add Women, Change Michigan was a celebration of the women across the Great Lakes state who advanced their own leadership in 2009 and -- along with their male allies -- helped other women to do the same. From Saunteel Jenkens, Councilmember-Elect of the Detroit City Council to First Gentleman of Michigan and Leadership Guru Dan Mulhern, the room was filled with people who were committed to working together to bridge divides, discover workable solutions, and foster communities throughout Michigan were people can not only survive, but thrive. They recognized women's contributions as invaluable to these efforts, and that it will take the work of many, working side-by-side, to deliver the change we need.
At the event, we premiered a very different publication than Going Rogue to the Michigan audience: The White House Project Report: Benchmarking Women's Leadership illustrates the gravity of the task at hand. From business to politics, journalism to film, women are stalled at a paltry 18 percent across the leadership spectrum. Yet Benchmarks doesn't simply paint a dreary picture; it provides pragmatic solutions from top experts to close that gap once and for all.
The most important strategy for elevating women in the halls of power: advancing a critical mass of women in leadership -- not simply one woman, and certainly not a woman who does not stand for what the vast majority of women need and believe here in the U.S. There is much to learn from Sarah Palin, for women especially: her tenacity, ambition, and confidence are to be emulated. Yet the most important lesson to be culled from the Palin phenomenon is probably this: a woman who seeks to lead but does not truly represent the interests of her fellow women will not succeed. Going rogue may garner attention, but it won't get you to the top.