Like many Americans I'm watching this year's election process with a mix of disbelief and concern. While the increasingly ugly nature of our politics threatens to turn off many voters from participation, it also could dissuade many future leaders from ever pursuing office themselves. This is especially true for women, who are already vastly underrepresented at all levels of government. I'm reminded of research from the Girl Scouts Research Institute that found a the majority of girls already believe that men are more likely than women to be encouraged to pursue a career in politics and run for office, win an election, and be taken seriously as a politician.
Combine that with the misogyny they are witnessing on the campaign trail and on TV each night and girls are increasingly likely to see elected office as an unwelcome and dysfunctional career track. They know they'll face unique challenges if they enter politics. And they're choosing to take their leadership elsewhere.
We can't let that happen.
As mothers, friends, and mentors, it's on us to encourage young women and girls to envision themselves in elected leadership and work with them to mold the political landscape to how they want to lead. It's their leadership that will fix our political system and here's how we can do it.
1. Don't shy away from hard conversations.
We're seeing a lot of misogyny in politics these days. Yes, A LOT. But don't be afraid to swing at the fast ones. Combating gender equality and sexism requires raising our girls so that they know they can overcome the challenges women and girls still face. Carrie Yury, Head of Research of BeyondCurious, shares, "Our open dialog has made my daughter an activist. She wants the world to be fair. She's told me she wants to be President, that First Ladies should get paid, and that she wants to be a director so she can change Hollywood from within. I am so proud of her." Who wouldn't be?
2. Make politics great again.
Maybe you're over it. Over Congress. Over politics. Over this election (can you believe the general is still six months away?!). Over all of it. Heck, politics is our passion and even we are over it sometimes. Hatred of politics is probably at an all-time high and political cynicism is definitely having a moment. But if our snark-o-meter is permanently stuck at 11, it could have a devastating impact on the willingness of girls and women to run for office, both now and in the future. Which would really be terrible because women are a solution to fixing what is broken about our political system in the first place! So, maybe let's all take the public hate for elected office down to a 5? Ok, 6, tops.
3. Use humor. It helps.
In March, She Should Run released See Joan Run, our comical response to the not-so-comical lack of women in elected office. Government isn't the only field notorious for excluding half of the population. Earlier this month, Girls Who Code released a (hilarious!) satirical video commenting on the lack of women in technology. Fighting for equal representation is serious work but sometimes even we need a little comic relief. Plus, humor is a powerful tool for changing hearts and minds: See Joan Run has reached over 60 million impressions online to date!
4. Remind her she can make a difference. Starting now.
At 24, Erin Schrode could be the youngest woman in Congress. Ever. When she initially began to think about running, she looked for guidance from her closest friends, mentors, and leaders in her community. "I talked to a lot of people, I spent a lot of time calling those I respected...mentors, leaders, and expected them to smack me down to size, expected my best friends to put me in my place... I don't fit the mold of what I think of as a politician, but everybody said, 'Do it. We need that voice in government -- that is not represented,'" said Schrode. Preach! Having more women in government injects new perspectives and ideas to solve the complicated issues we face as a nation. We can't expect to make the best policy when we shut out half the population to policy making.
5. Your kids can be the encouragement you need to start your journey to elected leadership.
"After being a stay-at-home mom with her five children, Nancy Pelosi decided to bring her experience as a mother to a new field: politics. 'For me, [politics] was not a change but an extension of my role as a mom, to make sure that we had public policies that gave opportunity to all of America's children,' Pelosi said. "We shouldn't be making judgments about how other people choose to balance career and home. I'm speaking of myself because I went from being a housewife to the House Speaker, a homemaker to a member of Congress." There is no one path to leadership and, just like Congresswoman Pelosi, you can use your personal experience to make an impact--think about it.
6. Give 'em a good shove.
We can't expect young women and girls to aspire to leadership if we don't show them that they can lead on their own terms. Ask your daughter, friend, or mentee what they want to change about the world and then encourage them to be that change, all the while throwing in a super-shameless plug for public office as a way to make that happen. You could be the spark that ignites her passion for public service.
The best part? You can start right now. If you know a girl or woman who you'd like to encourage to envision themselves in public office, ask them today. Our future depends on it.