Operation Pipeline: Women in Politics

Women in politics: why more women should run for office, and how they can get political support.

By Beth Hawkins
Photograph: Photo by: iStock

Still, the trickle-up approach — waiting for women to show up, run, and win — won’t get us to critical mass. Marie C. Wilson, founder and president of the White House Project says, "We realized that we had to take action to get more women into the political pipeline. We needed to turn the drip into a stream.’‘ And that means attacking a reality that many strategists hadn’t wanted to acknowledge: Even women with the talent, drive, and moxie to clear every hurdle in other fields aren’t as likely as men to picture themselves as political candidates, let alone victors.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, 48, now in her second term, hates the shrinking violet image. "I don’t mean to be stereotypical,’‘ she says, "but it’s not often our first instinct to say, ‘I’m going to run for this office; I’m going to talk about myself; I’m going to put myself out there.’ "
Even as a high-profile prosecutor, Granholm needed lots of encouragement to make her first run, for state attorney general on the Democratic ticket, in 1998. She laughs now, but she says she couldn’t shake the sound of her mother’s voice in her head, saying things like: " ‘Don’t talk about yourself, don’t ask for money from strangers, don’t wear good clothes every day’ — all of which you have to do on a daily basis as a political official."
Sebelius, too, needed coaxing, despite her childhood among politicians and a master’s degree in public policy. And she sees women in their 20s and 30s today repeating the pattern. Ask for volunteers for an exciting new project, she says, and "guys who are as dumb as a desk will have their hands in the air, saying, ‘Take me, I’m ready.’ Women think, ‘When I take the next three accounting courses, then I’ll be ready.’"

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