Program News and Updates
Last night, I joined an expert group of women on HuffPost Live to talk about Warren Buffett’s Fortune article on the importance of women’s full inclusion into American business, politics, and leadership. Put simply, Buffett argues that women are essential to American growth and success, representing half of the population that has been underutilized (“relegated to the sidelines”) for too long. Stifling half of the country’s talent is not only unethical, he writes, but is also bad business. And, as we know at the Center for American Women and Politics, under-representation of women in political offices is bad for democracy and governance. Our research shows that women bring unique voices to government, as voters, advocates, and elected officials. When in office, women prioritize different issues, build upon unique experiences, and often take a more inclusive and collaborative approach to governing. In the current political environment, it’s women who have provided at least some hope of breaking the paralysis that has characterized our nation’s capital. And, with women still representing less than 20% of Congress and under a quarter of state legislative posts, we have significant “human capacity,” in Buffett’s terms, left to be tapped. How do we capitalize on women’s capacity to lead? Buffett calls on his male colleagues to “get on board” with gender parity, but also urges women not to doubt their abilities nor give in to structural or self-imposed barriers to advancement. There is a symbiotic relationship between structural barriers and self-doubt, however, where women’s experiences with (or within) male-dominated institutions make it hard for them to view themselves as equal players in what remains a man’s world. The change that fuels Buffett’s optimism for the future is reliant on disrupting masculine dominance in public life, and that means altering long-held images of and expectations for public leadership. Buffett describes how, as a young man in the 1940s and 1950s, his floor for professional success was the ceiling for his sisters. In other words, society’s expectations for boys were not only greater than those expectations for girls, but women faced structural barriers that halted their path to leadership before they could even dare to see themselves as heads of communities, companies, or countries. Buffett is right to note that those structural barriers are eroding, but societal expectations of how leaders look and act still fall heavily into a male mold. CAWP has recently launched Teach a Girl to Lead, a campaign meant to change those expectations among boys and girls so that the idea of women’s leadership is not extraordinary, but ordinary – and essential. If we are to be as optimistic as Warren Buffett is about America’s future, we know that it’s imperative that future generations of girls and women not only see themselves as public leaders, but help to shatter the glass ceilings that remain in politics and government. That’s not only good for democracy, but it's also best for our country’s bottom line.
Crystal DesVignes is a graduate student in political science at Rutgers University – Newark. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree and recently worked as a graduate intern at the Center for American Women and Politics. The views presented in this entry are her own.
On March 22, 2013, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) hosted approximately fifty African American women for its annual Run Sister Run program in conjunction with its Ready to Run™ program. As part of the diversity initiative along with Elección Latina, and Rising Stars, Run Sister Run offers campaign and political leadership training for those of the African Diaspora. The program is an opportunity to receive encouragement and valuable insight, and to interact first-hand with other African American women who have either run for elected office, are currently running for a position, plan to run in the future, or are contemplating running for an elected office.
The program is geared toward making sure that African American women who are politically-minded have a space to network and be directed to resources and people who will help them to meet their political aspirations. As a third time attendee of the program, I was already a believer in its importance. But, as the saying goes, the third time was the charm for me in solidifying my understanding of why we need to continue programs like this and expand them around the country.
As I write this piece, I am painfully aware of the issues that women face in our country, even in 2013. We are underpaid for our work in the market place (hence the need for equal pay legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) and undervalued for our work in the home. We were reminded last year of the fragility of our right to reproductive healthcare, and there was even discussion around whether our bodies could “shut down” a pregnancy that resulted from a “legitimate rape.” We were reduced to being included in “binders full of women” in the last presidential election as one candidate sought to prove that he supported gender equality in his gubernatorial cabinet. Despite all of this, and in some cases because of this, we press on and continue to fight for our place in the decision-making process in our country and government.
The road to political inclusion is hard for women, to say the least. But for women of color, and African American women it particular, it can mean being doubly excluded from the political arena due to racialization and gendering. Of 98 women serving in Congress (18.3 % of the 535 seats in the 113th Congress), 30 or 30.6% are women of color. Only 14 are African American women. African American women hold only 241 seats in state legislatures across 44 states, and although New Jersey has an African American woman currently serving as speaker of the State Assembly (the Honorable Shelia Y. Oliver), she is only the second African American woman to hold this office in a state legislature nationwide.
The numbers don’t lie. The people who come to the table to make decisions in our cities, states, and capitals should not all look alike. They should represent the country as we know it. To have a more inclusive racial/ethnic and gendered make-up among our elected officials isn’t just good politics, it makes for better government. We need more representation from African American women. The Center for American Women and Politics provides just a forum for this endeavor in Run Sister Run.
Rachael Luckett (University of Southern Mississippi) was a participant in this year’s inaugural NEW Leadership Mississippi program, held from May 20-25 at the Mississippi University for Women. Rachael chronicled her experiences, reactions, and memories from the program on her blog, luckettmenow.wordpress.com. Highlights from her blog entries are posted here, but please take a few minutes to check out all of her posts (and wisdom!). Be prepared to be impressed and inspired by our partner program and our new alumna! ****************************************************************************************************************** Day 1 and 2 of “NEW” Thirty-three women who attend college in MS assembled for our first introduction, and starting at that first hour I have been very excited and honored to be a part of the inaugural class of the NEW Leadership Program Mississippi. …. Just to sum it up: It’s not easy, breezy, or beautiful; girls need to break the barriers that we think exist and cover the country with our ideas, perspectives, and dedication. …. We have had several speakers over the past few days and these are merely a few things I’ve taken away from them:
- “Challenge yourselves.” - Kate Brown, Director of Center for Creative Learning at the Mississippi University for Women
- “You are the next generation of leaders.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Self-awareness is always included in the definition of leadership.” – Carole Leland, International Leadership Consultant
- “Don’t let yourself think you can’t do something; let your heart tell you what you can do.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Remember three words: be, know, and do. Be who you are. Know who you are and what you stand for. Take action.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “Respect does not come with the job title; you have to earn it.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care” - John Maxwell
- “Be willing to extend a helping hand even if they will advance beyond you.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “You can’t get to second base if you have a foot still on first.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- Don’t be afraid to say “I was wrong.”
- If someone tells you “Good Job”, make them tell you why so you will know what to continue or repeat.
- You may need others’ help to achieve your goals, but don’t forget that others may need your help to succeed too.
- The road to success is always under construction.
- Team sports participation is important because it teaches you that you’ll lose sometimes, but you have to move on and try again.
- God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak.
Day 3 of “NEW” My goals of this program are really to bring my leadership skills back and plug them into the leadership positions that I will be holding next semester, which includes my second semester as Director of Social Awareness in Delta Gamma as well as my new position as Vice President of the Southern Miss Activities Council (SMAC). I’m pumped to share all these leadership skills with my respective organizations and see how much we can grow this year! …. We crammed into a classroom to watch the documentary “Miss Representation” (2011) which focused on the portrayal of women by mainstream media. The focus on women was not on their causes, their intellect, or their successes; it was on their appearance. Many examples were used to show how, no matter when a woman in public service was mentioned, the focus always shifted to their beauty and sexual portrayal. I was shocked quite a few times throughout the film, and honestly… it made me want to be a feminist! Our priority should be to empower women and girls and not send mixed feelings about women portraying non-traditional roles. If you have not seen the film, I highly suggest that you see it. It brings to light so many issues that we see as common day activity, but truthfully no woman in any position should have to tolerate it. …. More advice or quotes of the day:
- “If someone ever tells you something can’t be done, what they’re really telling you is ‘I don’t know how to do it’.” – Neely Carlton, former Mississippi state senator
- “Never ever ever burn a bridge.” - Sherry Vance, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens, and Cannada, PLLC
- “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker
- Challenge people if they say derogatory things about women.
- More people should challenge the world and our traditions.
- Your goal should be to be so good at what you do that others can’t ignore you.
Day 4 of “NEW” When we arrived in downtown Jackson, it was just the same as I remembered it. Busy streets. Beautiful architecture. Church bells ringing. And thank goodness for the clear blue skies. … We met Governor Phil Bryant and took a quick photo with him. We also met Cindy Hyde Smith, the Commissioner of Agriculture, who gave us great insight into her position when she addressed us later. … Well after three hours of driving away from the sunset, we made it back to the W safe and sound (no need to worry, mother). We ate greasy pizza for once this week inside the adorable Puckett House, and I must say… it has been such a phenomenal week. I know we still have half of a day left tomorrow, but when we were eating I couldn’t help but notice how sociable everyone was. From the loud or funny or deep conversations that were taking place, we all seemed like we had known each other much longer than just four days. Before I get sentimental too soon, I want to give you my daily advice/quotes:
- “Women can do what they want; they are made of an indescribable fiber.” – MS Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde Smith
- “If you want a job talked about, get a man. If you want a job done, get a woman.” – Liz Welch, Secretary of the Mississippi State Senate
- “Don’t tell someone no. Just accept the opportunity and become an expert in it.” – Ashley Buckman, Jones/Walker
- Capitalize on the opportunities you are given. They may look small in front of you, but they are huge behind you.
- You can’t put a dollar amount on experience.
- Develop relationships with the people you work with and also those involved with the position you want.
- You can’t be all things to all people. (Amen.)
- Be flexible. Nothing is going to go as planned. Don’t over plan your life. Let life come to you.
- Remember that a small change you make will make a large difference down the line. (Hello, butterfly effect.)
- Never compromise your integrity.
- Keep people’s confidences.
- Always give back. (Hmmm this sounds familiar… http://luckettmenow.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/always-come-back/)
- Always take chances to expand your knowledge.
Final Day of “NEW” All week our group has worked diligently to prepare ourselves to present in front of our “legislative panel”. When each group presented, I could tell how hard everyone had worked to make this day the best that we could. The legislative panel asked a few tough questions, but no one ever froze or became nervous. We worked on our toes and gave our best answers according to what we had learned, and at the end of the day that’s enough for me. There are a lot of times in your life when you should take the time to debrief. So that’s what we did. Some key points were:
- Keep your main themes to remind the people why you are there.
- Show your passion.
- If you say you don’t like/agree with something, make sure to offer a solution or alternative.
- Work together.
- Do your homework.
- Be focused and less vague when speaking on a point.
- Uplift and support your colleagues during the presentation and behind the scenes.
- Be aware of who you are around. Be formal especially when addressing those who have worked hard for the title they hold.
… Before the program began I stuck to my belief that I would never run for any government office. I want to thank Carole because she was determined that I would change my initial thoughts about running for office by the end of the program. I’m not saying that I’m running for President (ever), but I’m definitely not as closed off to the idea of working with government officials in the future. Thanks for not giving up on my stubborn self. In her closing remarks, she also reminded us that we matter to her, and she knows how much we are going to matter to many others in the near future. …. I have been given an incredible amount of advice about leadership this week, which I plan on transferring to my positions that I hold at school. It has also given me even more reassurance as I take my job as a leadership facilitator at the Mississippi Governor's School next month. This experience was priceless, and I feel like my recent posts tell it all. Even though today was the final day of Mississippi’s first NEW Leadership program, it will not be the last for many people. I know we will keep connected with the new relationships we have made this week and will find ways to continue to learn from each other. I also have so much hope in the future of this program at MUW. This program has proven to be an amazing and beneficial opportunity for college women across the state, and I know it will become even more successful year after year. This is not the end. It is a new beginning. ***************************************************************************************************************** For more photos and updates from this year's NEW Leadership MS program, visit the program's Facebook page, and for more information about all of CAWP's NEW Leadership programs, visit www.cawp.rutgers.edu/education_training/NEWLeadership/.