The reasons why we have so few women in politics are well known and well rehearsed – the 5 Cs: cash, culture, childcare, candidate selection and confidence. But there is something else too, something that is easy to address if we are all conscious of it: women don’t run for elected office because no one asks them to.
It’s true. Women wait to be asked. And, given that traditionally politics hasn’t been seen as a job for women, people don’t ask them, and so they don’t run, and so it goes on. In fact, it goes right up the chain: US research shows that women are 50% less likely than men to seriously consider running for office, less likely than men actually to run for office, and far less likely to run for higher office (Lawless and Fox, 2005).
Kirsten Gillibrand, US State Senator for New York City has spotted this trend and wants to do something about it, and so she set up ‘off the sidelines’, to do exactly that – ask women to get off the sidelines and make a difference to their community by using their voices to influence the decisions that affect them, big and small, through their vote, their advocacy and their candidacy.
SHE SHOULD RUN
‘She Should Run’ is another US organisation with a similar idea and simple execution: it provides online tools to formally ask women to consider running for office and a combination of resources and supports for women considering running to help them along the way.
The establishment of both of these organisations in relevant to Ireland: with quota legislation coming down the track we need more women coming up the pipeline at all levels of politics. The quota is no good without the women to fill it. From the school prefect and college class representative to the union shop steward, corporate board and local council; each and every one of us needs to start asking women to run for elected office today. Our challenge is to bring balance to decision-making at all levels in society. Let’s start with a simple message: just ask. Ask a woman you know to run for elected office today. You never know, she might just say yes.