“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Marie Wilson famously declared about women in leadership. But in the United States, less than 1 in 4 political leaders are women. Among that group of women elected officials, women of color and young women are underrepresented. At Running Start, we bring young women to politics by training them to run for office and introducing them to political role models. But, there simply aren’t enough women in politics to serve as role models for all young women. So, we are asking girls and women everywhere to be their own inspiration by declaring #ILookLikeAPolitician and telling us why!
See how Running Start staff have approached #ILookLikeAPolitician from their unique perspectives!
See how YOUNG WOMEN EVERYWHERE have declared #ILookLikeAPolitician!
What does a politician look like? Well, probably a lot like me. Ok, I’m not an old white man, but I do look like the majority of women who are in office. I’m white, I’m Protestant, I’m over 40, I’m straight, and I own a lot of dresses in primary colors…
But looking the part doesn’t mean you are going to be a good politician. (I mean, I would be, right? But not because of how I look!) Research shows us that that if we want the best decisions made by our leaders, we had better add some diversity to that sea of old white heads that makes up our current Congress. What I want to see are women and men running for office who have strong convictions, a passion to solve problems and a vision for how to change things. And I want them to come from all walks of life and look like the people they serve.
So, yes, I probably already look like a politician, at least like the ones elected now. But I hope to see many photos here of people who may not look like our current electeds, but who are going to run for all the right reasons! #ILookLikeAPolitician
Last fall I was facilitating a training aimed at encouraging college women to run for student government. One of the featured speakers was an elected official who told a story about a her colleague who wasn’t taken seriously as a politician because she had long blonde hair. I knew that research shows a dip in voter confidence when the media focuses on the appearance of female candidates, see #NameItChangeIt, and I understand anecdotally that women are judged incredibly harshly on how they look, especially if they are trying to succeed in politics. Still, that comment hurt. As soon as I was done facilitating, I drove to a nearby salon and chopped 13” of my long, blonde hair off. But, I shouldn’t have had to. Any time women are underrepresented in leadership roles, they feel pressure to tone down their femininity and change their appearance to get ahead. In the United States, less than 1 in 4 of our elected leaders are women. A tiny fraction of these women are women of color and an even smaller number are young women. So, most young women can’t picture themselves as political leaders because they don’t see anyone who looks like them. It’s time for that to change! At Running Start, we are working to get more young women interested in politics and elected to office, but until then we want all young women to be able to look in the mirror and think #ILookLikeAPolitician.
How I present myself is frequently on my mind. As a woman, I face the usual pressures and difficult choices when I navigate what a “woman” is supposed to look like and what is professional and will be taken seriously. However, I recently discovered a further challenge that I know plenty of others have also encountered: I am Latina, and that does not change because I have succeeded. Through hard work and incredible opportunities, I have done well academically and have begun what I hope will be a rewarding professional career. To some, that means I’m not “really” Latina. To summarily dismiss people from a group as soon as they do well is to suggest that the group is inherently underachieving. I refuse to let my identity slip through my fingers because of this perspective, because I know that Latinas have all kinds of experiences, personalities, talents, and skills to offer, including in the political realm. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach for success and we should continue to affirm our identity all along the way so that there can be more role models. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, which is why I want to proudly announce: I am Latina and #ILookLikeAPolitician. (#LatinasRepresent!)