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Opinion: About that glass ceiling

Are there really so few women working in California politics? This is the question that many women were left asking themselves after a series of conferences were held over the past year that all but excluded women from the panel discussions, and publications giving recognition to achievement in this business rarely found a woman to acknowledge.

We know that the women are out there.   After all, California is the only state in the nation with two female United States Senators running the show, not to mention launching the career of the first female Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. But that hasn’t necessarily translated into success or recognition for the women working in our business, highlighted by a recent viral video called, “The Truth about Women in Politics.”  The reaction to the video was overwhelming – both from women who have worked in this business for a long time, and yes, from men too.  

Now it’s time to ask some more serious questions and engage in a broader, more thoughtful discussion about the problem, as well as present a step toward the solution.  And the only way to address what has become an insidious problem is to shine a light on it.  Here goes:     

Are there women in the game?  That’s the first thing we need to talk about, and we’re looking at you, ladies.  Here’s an exercise for all of us.  Think of your top 50 women working in politics, and it’s not as easy as it seems.  Women need to change how we approach this business, including looking out for one another so we can all continue to climb the ladder.   Not only that, but we also need to push ourselves from supporting roles to leading roles.   We’ve got to keep chiseling away at the glass ceiling – and that’s a lot easier to do when we work as a team.   We don’t need to create an exclusive female version of the “old boys club,” but it sure wouldn’t hurt for women in this business to take younger female colleagues under their wings and show them the ropes.

Are women key players?  Undoubtedly we are. Political operatives are often defined by their skill at either “strategy” or “operations.”  Many women get shuffled into an operational role and pigeonholed there for years – and while strategy can’t work without operations – that skill is consistently undervalued.  Strategists are usually credited with “the win,” but without an operational backbone, the strategy deflates.  Perhaps it’s time to place more value on operational skills, given the amount of time, acumen and strategic thinking they actually require.  And what about those women who manage not to get pigeonholed and engage in strategy at the highest levels, but don’t seem to get credit?  Is there something so inherently distasteful about women working in politics who do important work and then seek credit for it, that we can’t seem to tolerate it?   We think it’s long overdue time for women to start tooting their own horns, whether on social networks or in every day conversations with others in this business, no matter how uncomfortable it feels at the outset.  

Are there women “in the room?” Look around.  Who is writing the stories, and who is setting up the panels?  Perhaps women need to spend more time building relationships with the people “in the room” who are making decisions about who should be on panels and who should be recognized.  And the men in the room need to acknowledge when that room is disproportionately male – and do something about it.   There are those who might belittle the point by diminishing the significance of these panels and lists – but even they must understand that these serve as fundamental components to building and sustaining a successful political business.  These events can make people “relevant” in an industry where perception can quickly become reality.    

And if women aren’t being let in the room, perhaps it’s time to build our own.  

That’s why we have decided to launch www.politicalwomenca.com to help ensure that women get a fair shake when looking to start or further their careers in politics, in California and beyond.   

Our goal is simple: to give women working in politics a place to post their resumes so that employers can find high-quality women to work in campaigns, elections and political positions throughout California, and perhaps across the country. We want to make sure that we have a deep bench of women working in this business, so we continue to take leadership positions throughout the state – and our seat at the table.  This site is only as useful as the content that drives it – so we hope that women will take the plunge and start posting.

Just because we frequently are denied access to the “co-ed” room doesn’t mean we’re going to stop knocking.    

There’s still much more to be done, but we are committed to changing the dynamic and to ensuring that women are part of the equation when people sit down in a room to talk politics.   And we hope others – the women AND men in our business – will join us.

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