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How To Level The Playing Field For Women In Politics

Women running for office and even president has become less surprising over the years, but with high profile candidate Hillary Clinton making waves — despite a lack of women representation on Capitol Hill — advocacy groups are looking to seize on her success.

“Some women may feel like their vote doesn’t matter, or ‘I just want to vote but not get involved,’” said Deidre Malone, VP of communications for the National Women’s Political Caucus. “But I want them to know every legislative body impacts your life, so you need to make sure the interests that are important to you are heard.”

Despite only making up 20% of Congress and an even smaller number of governors, women actually vote more often than men. The problem, experts say, is they simply don’t have women to vote into office.

“Thirty years from now, we’ll look back and be in a different place, but it will take time to reach parity in office because we need to reach parity in running,” said Kathleen Dolan, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “We have made significant progress; it’s been a pretty steadily slow increase. Is it too slow? Yes. Will we get there eventually? Hopefully.”

Men typically run as a political ambition, it’s just the next step in their career. Women run because they see a problem, they say ‘This is why I want to run and how do I accomplish it.'

Jess McIntosh, EMILY's List
Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina both have hopes of becoming the next president, and if groups like EMILY's List and others can bring more women into politics, Fiorina and Clinton will be the norm, not the exception.

Why aren’t more women running for office? The problem is multi-faceted, but a major reason boils down to simply not having enough confidence in their abilities.

“Women are very slow to advance through the government, so it’s important to encourage women,” said Michele Swers, a political science professor at Georgetown University. “They also need to help women raise the money. They need good resources to help the women.”

Enter organizations that have made it their mission to help empower and educate women to vote, get involved in advocacy groups, and even run for office.

“As we went along, we had a lot of women who were political leaders but just didn’t realize it,” said Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen, founder of the Political Institute for Women. “They wanted to do it but weren’t always trained well. We have a group of courses and help them with how to raise money, put together a campaign, how to navigate a legislative session, and so much more. “

Jess McIntosh, the VP of communications for EMILY’s List said what caused her to get involved in the organization is also what leads other women to run for office: seeing a problem and wanting to fix it.

“Women tend to run to get something done,” McIntosh said. “Men typically run as a political ambition, it’s just the next step in their career. Women run because they see a problem, they say, ‘This is why I want to run and how do I accomplish it.’”
One factor that isn’t keeping women out of politics? The fear of being “held back” by a family. Jennifer Lawless, a professor at American University, interviewed potential women candidates in 2014 and few of them listed family as their reason for possibly not running.

Educating women at an early age is something Mitchem-Rasmussen believes is crucial in order to get more women in office eventually. In addition to founding the Political Institute for Women, she also started the “Girls in Politics” Initiative.

“I’ve had parents say ‘My daughter wants to be a president,’” she said. “When they get surrounded by other girls who don’t want to become pop stars it’s amazing; they just light up. My daughter has a list of friends she can call up and talk about Russian foreign policy with.”

As women make more strides, many are optimistic about equal representation — and 2016 could be the first major step in making it happen.

“We have to make sure to capitalize on years like these,” McIntosh said. “We have to seize it as a moment and hopefully make it a movement.”