The three female political leaders who comprised the panel for the fall semester’s first installment of the Women who Inspire Speaker Series, held Monday night in the Curry Student Center Ballroom, had a clear, collective message for women considering a career in politics: Do it.
One of the biggest hurdles to increasing female representation in the political sphere, they noted, was the difficulty of recruiting women for the job.
“Studies have shown you have to ask a woman at least nine times to run for office before she decides,” said Massachusetts Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. “How many times do you have to ask a man? Once. That is something we have to get over.”
Forry was joined on stage by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark and Jennifer Nassour, founder and president of Conservative Women for a Better Future. The event was moderated by Rhondella Richardson, AS’90, a reporter with WCVB-TV.
Monday’s event, titled “Women in Public Office: Challenges, Progress, and Impact,” was co-sponsored by the Social Justice Resource Center, a hub of justice-minded thinking that works to advance Northeastern students’ socio-political consciousness and productive engagement with contemporary social issues.
“The Women who Inspire Speaker Series was created to inspire the next generation of women leaders by learning from accomplished women–thought leaders presenting their diverse points of view,” Henry J. Nasella, chair of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, said in his welcoming remarks.
Improvements to gender balance in Congress
One hundred and four women are currently serving in the U.S. Congress, including Clark, who was elected in 2013. However, women only account for 20 percent of Congress’ total membership, while they make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.
I really believe firmly that our democracy is stronger when our representatives reflect our country,
“And our country demographics are not reflected in Congress, certainly not in the amount of women or people of color. We need that diversity because that is who we are as a people.”
Progress of women in politics
Forry said women have made progress on the political stage in the last decade, particularly in Massachusetts, where four of the Commonwealth’s six constitutional officers are women.
But she added that there is still more work to be done, noting that women need to ingrain themselves in the communities where they live.
“To the students here, you are going to live in communities outside of Northeastern,” Forry said. “And when you settle in a community it is important to show up. Knowing your neighbors is important. It shows folks that you care.”
Identifying the best opportunity
During the Q&A following the panel discussion, a student asked for tips on building a network and then running for political office in a community or state in which they did not grow up.
Nassour joked that the student must have read her biography, as she was on track to run for the New York State Assembly before moving to Massachusetts.
“You still run,” Nassour said. “Running for office and being involved are about the relationships you make. Ultimately it is about winning, but your heart has to be in the right place. You have to want to be there. And those relationships will outstand any political career you have.”