"I'll vote for a woman - if she's the most qualified candidate."
Some variation on the "most qualified candidate" theme has been popping up in election season conversations for generations now, always with the implication that women's experience is smaller, lesser and in need of "real world" bolstering.
Given the challenges before our government today, perhaps it would be wise to reconsider our notion of what constitutes "most qualified."
Research on women elected officials suggests that they add value to governing that may go un-credited in a traditional evaluation of their qualifications. Perhaps because of their different experience, and resulting perspective and priorities, women approach the opportunities and the challenges of governing differently.
For example, one study found that districts represented by congresswomen receive 9% more funding from federal discretionary programs than districts represented by congressmen. That's about $49 million more each year. That should be of particular interest to voters in the storm-ravaged Northeast.
This study also reports that women Members of Congress introduce more bills and engage more colleagues to support them. It further suggested that given institutional barriers, the women who make it to Congress are generally high achievers. These women get things done.
We also know that women legislators are more likely to advocate for open hearings, broader inclusion of underrepresented groups and for greater transparency in legislative proceedings. And women add issues to the legislative agenda that might not otherwise get as much attention: childcare, universal pre-school and public education certainly, but also wage equity, gun violence, clean air, food and water safety and many others.
Rarely are women candidates viewed as adding value simply by virtue of their gender. Yet it is the experience of being female that enables women legislators to see different angles and other dimensions to public policies - like the impact of school closures on single parents, the availability of mammograms or insurance company treatment of domestic violence survivors as having a pre-existing condition.
The point isn't that women legislators are better. The point is that they are different and that difference adds value. Women broaden the institutional view, deepen the well of collective experience and, by their very presence, challenge the status quo.
So when the "most qualified" talk begins this weekend, make sure that the women who are running get full credit for what they offer. Practical, focused and effective, women can be a major force in launching an era of innovative public leadership.
On Election Day, ask yourself, isn't that just what we need?
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