Katherine E. Kleeman is the senior communications officer for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Fifty Black women listen attentively as each reveals her personal story—and her political ambitions. After every vignette, the group shouts in unison, "Run, Sister, Run!" For many, it's the encouragement they need to push them toward the world of politics.
This is one of three half-day leadership-development programs created for women from traditionally underrepresented groups by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Run Sister Run (for Black women), Elección Latina (for Latinas) and Rising Stars (for Asian-American women) have attracted businesswomen, attorneys, educators, heads of nonprofits and others who want to make a change through public service. The bi-partisan programs precede CAWP's day-long Ready to Run training, which since 1998 has equipped 1,200 women with the skills, knowledge and networks to pursue their political aspirations.
Between 1998 and 2007, more than 25 percent of the programs' participants went on to run for office; 70 percent of those won the election. When Ready to Run began, New Jersey ranked 39th of the 50 states for its representation of women legislators. Today, the Garden State is 14th.
But it's not just New Jersey communities benefiting by encouraging more women to pursue public-service careers through this program. Similar initiatives are under way or in the works in Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. And thanks to a $345,069 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program will soon expand to Michigan, Mississippi and New Mexico.
"Holding elected office is an important way for women of every race and ethnicity to influence the policies that shape their communities, their states and the nation," says CAWP Director Debbie Walsh. "Our strategy is to develop state-based campaign training programs owned and operated by partnering organizations."
Women Shaping Public Policy
Several CAWP studies have shown that women are more likely to work on legislation benefiting women and families and more likely to foster open, inclusive government. Moreover, women officeholders bring education and work/life experiences to the table that are different from those of male colleagues and offer perspectives that might otherwise be neglected. Latinas and Black and Asian women, in particular, amplify the voices and work to solve challenges facing their communities through public service.
Still, women are less likely than men to consider running for office. According to a survey of business leaders conducted for Union College, just 5 percent of women respondents, compared with 11 percent of men, seriously considered a career in politics.
That's why political leadership-development programs such as this help empower women by offering:
- "How-to" instructions on running for office or working in campaigns
- Fundraising and media skills
- Real-world advice and best practices from experts, including women from their own communities who have "been there, done that"
- Strategies for positioning oneself for public leadership
- Inspiration to launch a campaign
- A better understanding of party politics
For more on Ready to Run, contact Jean Sinzdak.
Black Women in Elective Office
- Of the 90 women serving in the 111th Congress, 12 are Black. Plus, two Black non-voting delegates serve in Congress, representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Find out who's in Congress.
- Among the 73 women serving in statewide elective executive offices, only three are Black. See statewide office.
- Out of the 1,799 women state legislators serving nationwide, 230 are Black. Read here about state legislatures.
- Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, just one has a Black woman mayor. See mayors.
For an interactive state-by-state listing of women in politics, click here.
Source: Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey