In September 2015, Carly Fiorina found herself in a familiar position – the only woman in the room. It wasn't a corporate boardroom but the big stage of a nationally televised presidential debate. She had been forced many times before in her career to stare down a bully while keeping a stiff upper lip and maintaining professionalism. This time, however, it wasn't just a small group of corporate executives who were waiting to see how she acted, but the entire nation.
The moderator for the evening's event asked her to respond to remarks Donald Trump had made about her in a magazine article: “Look at that face, would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Fiorina replied with dignity and grace, but she also pointed out indirectly what most people knew – that Trump wasn't just criticizing her personal appearance but questioning whether any woman should ever be president.
When a woman runs for public office at any level, she faces barriers and societal stigmas that quickly become clear. Women are criticized more often based on their attire. Is her dress too short or too tight? Are her clothes professional? Does she wear too many pantsuits? Her physical appearance also becomes an issue: she can be pretty, but not too pretty. Women also face a family barrier, having to find a balance between being a wife, mother and candidate.
In 2012, during my first campaign, a gentleman asked me, “Who will keep your child while you campaign?” His question, although innocent, is a question that is rarely, if ever, asked of men.
Then, sadly, there is the financial barrier. When money controls politics, it is an uphill battle for female candidates. The donor base for men tends to be much stronger, thus leading to an inequality of opportunity for women through financial challenges.
If these are all barriers that women must clear, then one is compelled to ask, “Why run?”
First, we cannot expect men to understand the particular public policy needs and interests of women. Just recently, the 13 men crafting national health care revisions attempted to reframe federal guidelines on maternity leave. The backlash was swift and forceful from female elected officials. Without representation, there will be no guarantee that women's voices will be lifted up in important policy conversations.
Second, studies show that women govern differently than men. Women tend to focus more on collaboration, placing less emphasis on hierarchy and recognition, and more on getting things done. One may conclude, then, that more women in office will mean a more effective and efficient government.
In 2014, I hosted my first Women In Politics Forum designed to encourage, empower and educate women, regardless of party, to get involved in politics. We have had women (Republicans and Democrats) share how they overcame the barriers and focused on change. Women have the power to attain equal representation, but we can't get elected if we won't run.
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm made history, becoming the first African-American candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency of a major party; she ran as a Democrat. Before there was Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm, a forerunner for women, years ahead of the times.
Many people opposed her candidacy based on her profile alone; she was black and a woman with all the odds against her.
This was nothing new for her; as the first black woman elected to Congress, she was used to coming up against barriers and she refused to be limited by them. She forged on – proving the only way to make change is to be change.
While she did not receive her party's nomination for president, she paved the way for other women to run with confidence and courage. “You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines,” Chisholm said, “whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
It is this very statement that has empowered me to run and to encourage other women to run as well. Yes, it is risky business, and in some cases it is a long shot, but in the end, it's worth it.
Sharon Tucker is in her first term as Allen County councilwoman for District 1.