It’s no secret that politics is having a moment right now and that getting involved is more important than ever. But after you’ve exhausted the online petitions, volunteer opportunities for local politicians and monthly donations to NGOs, what’s the next way to get involved?
How about running for office?
WomenElect, a four-month leadership development program, helps qualified women do just that. The program was founded in 2010 in Buffalo, New York and is currently working to expand to additional cities, states and countries.
“It helps women to self-analyze their internal strengths and external networks of support,” WomenElect founder Diana Cihak said. “The goal of WomenElect is to simply prepare more women to run for office.”
Cihak is well aware that, despite being 52 percent of the population, women are stuck at having 20 percent political representation. Fortunately, Cihak has a clear reason as to why that is and what needs to be done to change that statistic.
“Women say no to running,” Cihak said. “They want to know that they will be able to maintain their reputation in their community, not strain their family and their finances too much and have a reasonable chance at success when they do run. All of that takes preparation long before a campaign begins.
“Women win at the same rates as men and they can raise money and garner positive media attention just like their male counterparts.”
How does one prepare to handle all of those concerns? With the extensive WomenElect curriculum. Though the order of the courses varies by region, each WomenElect participant learns how to ask for support, community-based endorsements and media messaging. “The program is designed to be taken long before a woman chooses an office to run for,” Cihak said. “It gives her the knowledge and confidence to say yes when the time is right.”
Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, everyone benefits when more women are in office. Cihak believes that women leaders tend to be more collaborative than male ones. During critical moments in U.S. politics, they’re the ones who keep the country running.
“The best example of this is the 2013 federal government shutdown,” Cihak said. “The women of the U.S. Senate knew that the shutdown meant veterans, folks on social security and families of government employees would not be getting a paycheck. That was unacceptable to them. They had a long-standing tradition of getting together for regular potlucks — both Republicans and Democrats — and so they had deep relationships with each other. They used those relationships to have substantive conversations and find a way to a compromise that got the government started again and assured those millions of families would not go without.”
Compromising and maintaining professional relationships aren’t skills that are isolated to politics, they’re applicable to the workplace as well. Political work can assist in honing skills that can help you in your 9 to 5, like developing the fortitude to strive towards your goal no matter what.
“Above all, working in politics requires grit,” Cihak advises. “You can develop many skills by doing political work, but the biggest skill you will develop is grit.”
To Cihak’s credit, one of the courses in the WomenElect curriculum is titled “Grit and Guts” and the need for the course makes sense. Like many of the processes within the corporate world, political systems were designed for men. When running for office, women have a larger of number of hurdles to face — but that doesn’t mean they have to face it alone.
“We are fighting the same battles our foremothers fought,” Cihak said. “By running for office and winning, women can make sure that our government is functioning and protecting the rights of women, girls and families.”