11/20/2012 08:35 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

How to Identify, Train and Inspire Women To Pursue Public Office

On November 14, 2012, I convinced my Irish friend Patrick to join me in celebrating Emerge Massachusetts 5th anniversary training national leaders in advancing women's equality and representation in politics. "You are going to see what it's like to be a fly on the wall in the American women's political locker room there Patty. Wear a suit and tie."

When we arrived at Bingham McCutchen's offices for the party, Patrick was relieved to see plenty of Emerge's male supporters were also in attendance, including Members of Emerge's Men's Leadership Council like John Walsh, Mathew Helman, Ben Schwartz, and others.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that the US ranks 80th in the world out of 190 countries for it's representation of female officials sitting in lower or single houses of parliament. Record wins in the 2012 election cycle for female Senate candidates like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Claire McCaskill in Missouri combined with catastrophic losses for blatantly misogynist candidates like alleged child support dodger Rep. Joe Walsh demonstrate that the work of political training organizations like Emerge America and the Barbara Lee Foundation are paying off.

"The road to elected office for women is different because we are perceived differently and held to different standards than men are. When it came to women's issues the 2012 election cycle, we saw lawmakers and media make the biggest displays of misogyny, idiocy, and buffoonery the American public had ever witnessed," said Emerge Advisory Council member and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral. "The message from voters on November 7th was clear; you can keep us down, but we will vote you out of office."

Cheers erupted from the crowd.

"You can tell Governor Romney that under an Obama Administration, New Hampshire has the nation's has first all female led delegation, not just a binder!" said keynote speaker Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC's "The Cycle."

When Ball ran for Congress in 2010, she was appalled at how many advisors, even other members of Congress, instructed her to run a campaign that concealed her identity as a mother and a woman:

"I was told many times to cut my hair, wear conservative clothing, and stop talking about my daughter. Men are never asked to undermine their core family values this way. Emerge's resources are important assets for female candidates who need support to stay true to their authentic self and get their message out to all voters."


Emerge's 2012 Woman of the Year, Barbara Lee, explained that women are grossly under represented in government because women do not perceive the business of politics in the same way that men do, they are held to different standards, and it's harder for them to get their message funded.

"Funding Emerge was a no brainer when I saw how it would be used to increase representation of women in elected office through strategic advice, candidate training, direct support, and voter mobilization efforts."

Lee says the tide is turning:

"A groundbreaking 20 women will hold Senate seats, which means for the first time in America 20 percent of the Senate will be women. At least 77 women won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives--another record achievement. Women increased their ranks in Congress while breaking barriers."

And Lee should know because her Foundation has helped every sitting Democratic woman governor and U.S. Senator get elected since 1998. Emerge MA Executive Director Judy Neufeld (a fellow Tufts Alum) says that Lee's support is one of the key reasons why 20% of Emerge's all female alumni have run for office, and 53% were elected.


Emerge alumni also benefit from strategic advice from political veterans like Sheriff Andrea Cabral. Since 2004, voters have twice reelected Cabral to what is certainly one of the biggest predominantly white and politically inbred boys club in Massachusetts. When asked for her thoughts on whether there is a double standard for women running for office and the challenges posed by sexist candidates like Missouri's favorite "legitimate rape" theorist, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, Cabral told me:

"I have zero tolerance for this kind of naked ignorance, especially when it's so expressed with the kind of amiable certainty we saw repeatedly throughout the year. When male candidates aggressively defend themselves or their position on an issue, they are "no-nonsense." When female candidates do that, they are called "scolding" or "intimidating" or the ultimate: "cold." That's because women are usually held responsible for how their personalities make others feel about themselves. Men are usually excused for how their personalities make others feel about themselves."

So I asked Cabral how she managed to keep public message focused on her professional accomplishments and off distractions like race or gender bias, which became a centerpiece in Elizabeth Warren's bid for Senate?

Sheriff Cabral says keeping it positive is the answer:

"My campaign slogans were, "The Professional, not the Politician" and "Integrity Matters." We won by 20 points; 60% to 40%... I think people appreciate a female candidate who stands up to that nonsense (in her own way) and keeps refocusing press and voters on the substance of her message; what she knows, what she can accomplish and how. That also works with donors, although if it's not a high profile race, it can be very difficult to raise money. Inexplicably, women generally give less, and often not at all, to female candidates."

Admittedly, it is a myth not only that all women support each other, but also that women can only be effectively represented by other women. Emerge is about improving the quality of leadership for everyone, not simply opposing men. While men may see politics predominantly as a business and means of controlling resources and commerce, their strength is rarely questioned. Studies show that women on the other hand, are also judged on their public appearance, and must prove they are strong and tough enough to hold office. This means that a female candidate who runs on a platform that is more comprehensive and features more prominently day to day issues affecting families will often be perceived as a "weak." These views must be included in the voting decisions of all elected officials, regardless of gender.

Thanks to organizations like Emerge, some female candidates have the tools they need to demonstrate why doing the right thing can be profitable and are more effective and obtaining funding for their winning campaigns.