Consider yourself invited

“’Women just don’t wake up one day and look at themselves in the mirror the way men quite frankly do and say, ‘I should run for office,’ ”’ said Liz Berry, who recruits many candidates through her role as state president of the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington."

This comment appears in an article by Rebecca Beitsch in Stateline at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Rebecca writes:

"Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, agreed. “Women don’t assess themselves the same way when deciding if they’re qualified for office,” she said. “They perceive themselves as being less qualified.”
Many women agree to run after being recruited, but that requires parties and state legislators to reach out to them. Most party leaders and legislators are white men, and when they look for recruits, they turn first to people like them.
“Women are less likely to run unless they’re recruited, and they’re less likely to be recruited,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.”

To further put into perspective the underrepresentation of women in elective office, of 333 candidates who put their names on the ballot for the Texas primary election in March, just 76 of them are women, according to the Texas Tribune.

What gives?

Most women with whom I’ve spoken can offer countless explanations for the dearth of females seeking elective office. Arguably, the two most common reasons that cause women to demur are: One, many women generally lack confidence, as the comments in the Stateline article above confirm, and two, they don’t feel comfortable making the sacrifice that public service demands, in other words, time away from their families. In large part, men don’t seem to be challenged with either of these concerns, which is why they dominate elected bodies, corporate boards, and C-suites.

The blame for the problem of women lacking confidence can be laid at the feet of our forbearers. It has been less than a century since women were granted the constitutionally protected right to vote. Women have made great strides since then, but there are still far too many misguided belief systems that encourage the subjugation of females. Many religious groups throughout the world have succeeded in persuading both men and women to believe that females are the inferior sex.

If women are taught from an early age, especially in a religious context, that they are inferior to men, how on Earth will they be able to develop the confidence it takes to feel that they can do the same jobs, as well or better, or that they deserve to be paid equally for equal work?

I recently came across an editorial written in 2009 by former president Jimmy Carter, entitled Losing my religion for equality, in which he explains that he relinquished his membership in the Southern Baptist Church because of their insistence, through their teachings, that men and women are not equal.

Carter writes:

“The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us…It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.”

Secular society is equally guilty in contributing to stifling women’s confidence, the most egregious examples being wage disparity and the fact that females may not reach gender parity in representation on corporate boards for another 40 years.

Thankfully, gender equality is a cause that has been taken up by thousands of influencers, like President Carter. Nonprofits have been set up, money raised, rallies held, and anti-discriminatory legislation passed, all in the name of gender parity.

Now that gender equality is all the rage, we should start to see women breaking glass ceilings all over the place, right?

Not so fast. There are other internal challenges that women contend with. Many women willingly acknowledge that there are far more reasons to say no or to defer a decision to run for office than to do what it takes to pursue public service, or even to seek professional success. I am certainly not immune to this line of thinking.

I’ll tell a personal story to further illustrate my point.  I think often of my hypothetical children when making major life decisions, and probably have my entire adult life. For years, I have wanted to join the Air National Guard. At one time I wanted to go into the Foreign Service. But I never even got close to attempting either of those things because of the fear that pursuing my dreams may adversely impact my future family.

This is completely preposterous.

I spent the last decade not doing those things, all the while missing out on great life experiences. I don’t have a family. I’m not even married! So why is my natural inclination still to shy away from making life choices that would enrich and fulfill me in ways that nothing else could? It’s a phenomenon one of my modern heroines, Sheryl Sandberg, calls “leaving before you leave.”

Now that I’m aware of my tendency to use the “but what if I get married and have a kid soon?” excuse, I have made the commitment not to leave before I leave, and to be ok with deciding perhaps never to leave at all. And I can choose never to leave, because, thanks to all those glass ceiling busters who came before me, making a decision to follow my dreams doesn’t inherently have to mean forgoing fulfillment in other aspects of life, like having a family.

The solution to this problem is simple: it lies in reworking our thought process, sitting at the table (another Sandbergism), believing in ourselves, and believing that we can have it all.

In case you're not convinced, I'd like to share a very poignant message that appeared in a recent editorial by a formidable glass ceiling buster in her own right, former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs: "If you're a woman waiting for an invitation to get into politics, consider yourself invited."