Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

OWN IT 2018: Empower Female Candidates for Office, Panelists Say

To help women interested in entering the political arena, leaders should evaluate the structural gender barriers that have historically kept them away, panelists said at the first of three panels at the fifth annual OWN IT Summit on March 25.

The panel, Women Running for Office, included Krish Vignarajah, a Maryland gubernatorial candidate who previously served as policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama. Vignarajah was joined by Amanda Litman, co-founder and executive director of Run for Something, an advocacy body dedicated to helping recruit and support young progressive people running for office. Jessica Byrd, co-founder of Three Point Strategies, a political consulting firm focused on the support of black women running for office, also spoke on the panel.

Jordan Brooks, managing director and chief operating officer of the United State of Women, a national organization that hosts annual summits to amplify women’s voices and promote gender equality, moderated the event.

SHEEL PATEL/THE HOYA Jessica Byrd, left, Krish Vignarajah, Amanda Litman and Jordan Brooks.

Reflecting on her work with female political candidates, Byrd said there is insufficient research on structural barriers for women to enter the political sphere.

“The problem isn’t women’s lack of ambition or vision,” Byrd said. “We’re already leading our organizations; we built this conference, we’re leading student movements, we’re leading marches. What’s happening is what I believe to be a lack of structural analysis about what really holds us back.”

There is value in advocating for women, especially women of color, who want to forge political campaigns, according to Vignarajah.

“I didn’t grow up being told time and time again ‘You look like you could be the next governor,’” Vignarajah said. “People are going to say to you, ‘You don’t look the part,’ to which you just say back, ‘This is what the part looks like.’”

Litman, whose organization Run For Something was founded in 2017 to help young, diverse progressives build a democratic bench for the future, said female representation is crucial to inspire the next generation of female leaders.

“To be able to see someone like you and to see them run and win is so powerful,” Litman said. “There’s that expression, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: If you don’t see any women running and winning, you won’t think you can do it yourself.”

The current lack of representation should not stop women from trying to shape themselves into models for others, Litman said.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t see anyone who looks like you, or if anyone has done it before. Be the first,” Litman said. “There is a community of women who will stand with you and help you and support you in a way that will make it one of the best things you could ever do.”

Litman added that women interested in campaigning should use local politics as a launching point to fulfill their larger political ambitions.

“Local governments really make a difference in people’s lives,” Litman said. “Local offices are things you can run for and win because the number of voters you have to talk to is usually pretty manageable.”

Within Three Point Strategies, Byrd has recently been working with the campaign of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Abrams hopes to become the first black woman to win the Democratic nomination for Georgian governor, despite the structural obstacles for women of color that have played a large role in the lack of black women in statewide governmental seats, according to Byrd.

“There have been very real structural barriers that have kept black women from achieving statewide positions,” Byrd said. “Part of what that means is that people are actually intentionally blocking the path of really viable, genius black women.”

Women candidates have repeatedly proven themselves ready to lead, according to Vignarajah.

“We’ve seen time and time again that when women lead, we have better health outcomes, better schools, more progressive policies,” Vignarajah said. “That’s why I think people should pay attention to women when they run.”

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