Sound Off: Calling All Women
By Adrienne Lawrence
On paper, Maryland is one of the top states for women in politics, but we’re still far behind the times. Here are some statistics:
- Less than 10 percent of individuals on Frederick County’s Board of Commissioners have been women.
- Six percent of Frederick city’s Board of Aldermen were or are women.
- One woman has served as mayor of Frederick city, whereas 45 men have served. That’s a touch more than 2 percent.
Things are a bit better on the state and national levels.
- About 23 percent of Maryland’s Senate are women.
- Thirty-three percent are women in Maryland’s General Assembly.
- We have one female senator in D.C. (50 percent).
- And there’s one representative in the House (less than 13 percent).
But we’ve never had a female governor. However, at least one woman may run in the next gubernatorial election. Heather Mizeur, a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, is weighing her options.
One of the reasons Maryland is seen as leading the pack (our state is ranked as ninth in the union for the proportion of women in state legislatures, according to the Center for American Women and Politics with Rutgers University), is in part due to the work by the Women Legislators of Maryland (Women’s Caucus), says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for America Women and Politics. The Women’s Caucus was founded in 1972 and was the first in the country designed specifically to support all female legislators, regardless of party affiliation.
However, the truth is the U.S. is ranked as 77th in the world for the percentage of women involved in politics, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This means we’re behind countries such as Cuba (third), Pakistan (57th) and China (64th).
There are several ways people are working to get more women involved in politics. Running Start has developed programs geared toward grade-school girls, which provides them with training, including mentorships. “They see themselves in these women,” says Jessica N. Grounds, executive director of Running Start. “They see somebody who looks like them.”
The programs also help the girls discover their skills and how to best implement those skills in political campaigns. Running Start’s programs are also important because if younger women are involved in politics, then they are more likely to rise higher in the political ranks, Grounds says.
But how can more women be involved now, today? “One way to combat the old network is to create an ‘ole girls’ network and to compete at the same level by supporting each other; that’s very important,” Grounds says. We simply need to support each other.
There’s also a perception of how powerful women are viewed. “As a man gets more successful, more powerful, he’s better liked by men and women. And as a woman gets more successful and powerful, she’s less liked,” Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook, once said to public radio talk show host Diane Rehm. We need to find a way to flip that for women, so as we watch them gain power on the political stage, or really in any career, we recognize that they’re great leaders and are going to make an important difference (instead of being power hungry witches).
Taking all of this in, it’s still unlikely that many women will run for office. And it’s all due to one thing. “We find women are less likely to run unless someone asks them to,” Walsh says. These women are usually driven to make some kind of change in their communities, such as Jennifer Dougherty who wanted to make three important changes during her time as Frederick city’s mayor. She was encouraged by several people to run as mayor so she could do the work needed to put these plans into action.
So now I’m asking: Please run for office. Trust me, we need you.