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Ask a Woman to Run

March 2, 2022

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One of my granddaughters is a topnotch volleyball and basketball player at her middle school.  Her younger sister is a crackerjack softball player and also a superlative gymnast.  Does this mean these girls might be more interested in running for public office one day than their not-so-athletic friends?  

Perhaps — particularly if they continue playing sports in college.    Research in political science (such as the work of Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox) has shown that women who played college-level sports were about 25 percent more likely to exhibit political aspirations.

Parental encouragement also has a profound effect on political ambition, Lawless and Fox have found.  Half of college students whose mothers regularly urged them to run for office said they would “definitely like to run in the future,” compared to only 3 percent who received no parental encouragement.

Interestingly, the numbers show that when women run for office, they win at similar rates to men.  But women don’t run as often as men do.

Why not?  According to a recent Gender Policy Report of the University of Minnesota, there are four themes that influence women’s decisions to run:  perceived qualifications (“I’m not qualified,” is often the response of women urged to run for office); family commitments; gender-related barriers in the working environment, including pay gaps and harassment; and whether they are asked to run.

Until recent years, party officials often overlooked women as potential candidates, despite the fact that it is usually women who do the unglamorous work of a campaign.  Who makes the phone calls, licks the stamps, knocks on doors, writes the press releases, and organizes the campaign? More often than not, a woman does.

Parties and political organizations play a large role in recruiting, training, and organizing campaigns.  Potential women candidates for office are everywhere, some of them already serving on school boards and corporate boards and local councils. Women hone their political skills, too, as volunteers for local, state, and national organizations. 

 Even so, women continue to be massively underrepresented in government today – at all levels.

 It’s past time for parties and political organizations, not to mention parents and colleagues and friends, to find these female candidates-in-waiting and ask them to run – in 2022 and beyond.  And then help them win.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).

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