Speaking of Women's Rights: Leaning In To Elect Women

Monday, November 4, 2013

Leaning In To Elect Women

By Liz Berry

Washington’s women have been leaning in politically since our territorial days.

Women were granted the right to vote here in 1910 – a decade before the 19th Amendment was ratified. In 1926, Seattle mayor Bertha Knight Landes became the first woman to lead a major American city. Our state affirmed a woman’s right to choose in 1970, and in 1976, Dixy Lee Ray became one of the nation’s first female governors.

And almost a decade ago, Governor Christine Gregoire and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were elected as part of a history-making trio of women leaders to the top three offices elected statewide.

But instead of moving forward, we’ve slid backward. In the early ‘90s Washington led the nation, with women holding more than 40 percent of the seats in our state legislature. Today, it’s 30 percent. There’s only one woman statewide officeholder, Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Of Washington’s 37 cities with more than 30,000 people, only seven have elected women mayors. 

The impact of this scarcity is fewer women who can ensure our voices are heard on hot-button issues including reproductive parity, health care, education, child care and family planning. Many elected officials don't consider the impact of budget cuts or policy changes to women, simply because they don’t view the world through that lens.

Washington has an incredible pool of talented women leaders. From chief executive officers and executive directors to heads of neighborhood groups and PTAs, skilled women are improving our business climate, education system and communities.

But few of them choose to run for office.

There are many reasons women don’t run – from raising families to lack of confidence in their abilities. How do we change that? It starts with each of us asking a woman to run.  And it must start early.

study published by the Women & Politics Institute (WPI) shows a persistent gender gap in political ambition that starts as early as grade school. That’s why I donate my time and money to organizations like the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), which encourages women to run, trains them and supports their campaigns, and also to Running Start, which gives young women and girls the encouragement and skills to pursue a career in politics. 

The WPI study also found that college-aged women who pursued leadership positions were more likely to run for office in the future. Running Start’s program Elect Her aims to build this pipeline by training college women to run for student government. I am excited that Elect Her is coming to the University of Washington this spring.

For 40 years, NWPC has worked to engage more women in our state in the political process by recruiting, training and electing them. This year, NWPC endorsed more than 60 women candidates in local elections. 

The NWPC recently conducted a survey of its members and found that the most important factor in deciding to run for office is a strong network of support. Women can provide that support through the power of the pocketbook. In 2012, women made up less than 30 percent of political donors. As women, we need to support women candidates with our funding, our growing influence and networks, and most importantly, our votes.

Washington women are leaning in and running for office. Now it’s our turn to lean in and elect them.

Liz Berry serves as the endorsement committee co-chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and on the Board of Directors of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC).  She is an Advisory Board Member of Running Start, an organization that encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in politics. She has previously worked as a campaign manager for women candidates and as Legislative Director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Photo credit:

Top photo:
Celebrating 40 years of the National Women's Political Caucus with (from left): former State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, Liz Berry, First Lady Trudi Inslee and NWPC President Linda Mitchell.

Bottom photo:
National Women's Political Caucus campaign training with (from left) the Honorable Marcie Maxwell, Claudia Kauffman, Lisa Brown, and candidate Jessie Israel.