Research shows that women don’t apply to jobs unless they think they’re 100% qualified. That hesitation also applies to running for political office.
One 2011 study (pdf), released by American University’s Women & Politics Institute, surveyed 1,925 men and 1,843 women in the US whom the authors identified as “potential candidates”—people who were lawyers, educators, business leaders, and activists. The men were 60% more likely than the women to say they felt qualified to run for public office—even though men and women in the sample had comparable levels of experience in policy research, public speaking, and fundraising.
What’s more, 55% of the men who said they didn’t feel qualified to run said they’d consider doing it anyway, compared to just 39% of the women.
In essence, women often count themselves out of the running before they’ve ever taken a step. The new book Represent: The Women’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World aims to help women develop a more confident mentality, with advice that chips away at the anxieties that can make running for office—or achieving any other lofty goal—seem unachievable.
Represent, written by actress June Diane Raphael and Kate Black, a policy advisor at the US Federal Communications Commission and the former chief of staff at EMILY’S List, which recruits and supports pro-choice women running for office as Democrats, argues that women are too quick to discount themselves and the contributions they could make to their communities. The authors have a motto meant to counter that self-negating mindset: “Your experience is your expertise.”
What matters to voters, they say, is how a candidate’s experiences up till now have informed their understanding of their community and the problems they want to solve. The 115th Congress, from 2017 to 2018, included 101 educators, 26 farmers and ranchers, 14 doctors, 16 members of the military or National Guard, nine social workers, eight ministers, and eight engineers. “Hopefully this gives women the feeling that their resume is enough as it is today,” Black says. “They don’t need to wait for that promotion or the next raise or when their parents are feeling better or their kids are grown or they’ve paid off their student loans.”
Campaigning, like angling for a new job or greater responsibility or better pay, usually requires a lot of self-promotion. Many girls, however, are raised to be humble, and learn to shy away from articulating their accomplishments and strengths out loud.
To help readers get more comfortable with self-promotion, Represent offers a seven-day challenge that asks women to share, out loud, with someone else, one thing they’re proud of. “It can be as simple as dropping into a conversation that you just got a raise or telling someone you feel like you were a fucking great mom to your kids during a really tough home week,” the authors write. “Put your wins out there.”
The goal is to make talking about your achievements feel natural, so that when you’re actively campaigning, the words will come easily.
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