Let's begin a year ago.
Fourteen women from across our region stepped up to participate in the first AVOW Women's Campaign Institute. One year later, from these candidates and their faculty, 10 AVOW women are participating in the political process. Two were elected last November, and four succeeded in municipal primary elections in the spring.
The return on last year's investment to Advance the Voices Of Women was priceless.
This weekend, the second Institute is preparing more women to participate in the public square. They are learning from a world-class faculty how to tell their story; overcome self-doubt; raise money; avoid rookie mistakes; bounce back from loss and lows; speak on the doorstep, at the rally and in the media; connect with their political parties; and gain wisdom in campaign essentials.
It is appropriate to ask, “Why does this matter?”
Research bears out what we all know: We need more women at city and county council tables, in the clerks', mayors' and governors' offices, in our state legislatures and in Congress. When more women are in these offices, there is greater consideration for issues related to health, education, the needs of working parents, child care, Medicare, safety and jobs.
Study after study supports that women reach across the aisle to get more done. The institute specifically focuses on teaching civility to women from both parties.
With the clear benefits of more women serving in elected or appointed office, why aren't there more of them? Despite gains last November, the United States ranks 75th out of 193 countries for female representation in government.
Here are five big reasons that more women aren't in public office:
5) Nobody asked
Money: No doubt about it. It takes money, a lot of money, to run for office. Highly qualified women who don't have a money tree in the backyard are often intimidated to launch a campaign. What you might not realize is that there is always money available to support an inspirational woman who wants to make a difference.
Networks: Historically, women have been discouraged from running because they don't belong to high-powered networks. The political parties provide easy avenues to join their networks. Become a campaign volunteer or a precinct committeeperson. Also, more informal networks of women with money and power are embracing female public servants.
Family: Studies continue to support that women take greater responsibility for their families, especially child care. This makes it difficult to run for office, and it is exactly why we need more women in government to enact family-friendly policies. The best thing a family member can do for a candidate is to shoulder domestic responsibilities so the woman can run for office without the burden of guilt.
Training: Women once had difficulty finding open doors to learn how to run for office and serve. No more. The Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, Hoosier Women Forward, Women's Campaign School at Yale and our AVOW Women's Campaign Institute are but a few examples of accessible training for women.
Nobody asked: Women, more than men, wait to be asked to run for office. I'm asking! For all the reasons I've expressed here and more, women in government matter. We need you to reflect our opinions. We need you to advocate for our needs. We need you to model how to disagree without destroying an opponent. We need you to find common ground without needing to win at all costs. We need your voice. That's why you matter.
There is a Chinese quote: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” The same is true for women in government.
Your time is now.
Marilyn Moran-Townsend is a co-founder and chair of Advancing Voices of Women and the AVOW Women's Campaign Institute.