Do we need more women in politics?
Well, the obvious answer to this question is, of course, yes. We should all be concerned by the fact that while women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, we currently hold less than 25 percent of elected offices in the United States. Although we have a female speaker of the House, and a very viable female presidential candidate, we have made very few gains in the last two decades in female participation in the political process.
Remember 1992 and Bill Clinton's first election? That was touted as "The Year of the Woman" when women took to the polls and elected women like Senators Patty Murray and Barbara Boxer. But since then, we have added only nine women in the Senate, 25 women in the House and six female governors.
Now Hillary Clinton, not Bill, is running for president, and faces a very different environment. Women now make up 58 percent of all college graduates, and account for the majority of graduate students in fields as diverse as health sciences, public administration and education. Women have made amazing progress in economic earning power, and while not at parity with men salary-wise, are definitely closing the wage gap.
Given all of this -- why don't we have more female politicians? If we haven't been able to make great strides with all that momentum behind us -- well, what's the problem?
As a working mother and community leader, I can tell you what I've seen, and what I think can be done about it. I have chaired Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan since June 2005 and have found that working on creating new schools, community centers, playgrounds and parks is one of the most personally fulfilling things I have ever done. If we can encourage more women to consider community and public service as a career, we will start to see those numbers increase.
I do think we need more women in politics, to carry the women's agenda of improved childcare, maternity leave, breast cancer research, better education, to name just a few issues. Whether you're a believer in nature or nurture, reality is that women have different life experiences from men, and different experiences bring unique points of view. Women have first hand knowledge of the economic challenges facing working families today. We need those perspectives in our government, just as much as we need them in business, law and medicine.
And the reality is that women face unique challenges when thinking about running for office. Studies show that women are more likely to be in charge of childcare or elder care, and so thinking about an all-encompassing campaign can be difficult to fathom.
That's why I agreed to be the honorary chair of the Women's Campaign Forum She Should Run campaign. The campaign is looking to get nominations of 1,000 pro-choice women of both parties to encourage them to run for office. Women who may now be PTA President or head of a school board or not-for-profit may not have considered running for office. One of the ways to solve the gender gap is to focus on recruiting, training and supporting female candidates. The online nomination process is designed based on research showing that women are more likely to run if they are asked by a friend or trusted family member. But nominating a woman you know is just the first step in the process. The WCF team is following up with each and every nominee to find out where they are in the decision-making process and what tools and resources they need to make the decision to run for office.
The campaign, which was launched in July 2007, has garnered over 900 nominations thus far. People from across the country have nominated their friends and family members, which has created a rich list of potential candidates that can be our female farm team in the 2008 elections. I'll be writing more about my experience chairing the campaign, and hope to convince you that yes, we do need more women in politics. Starting with someone you know.