“I was told by men to wait my turn and many times I was asked to not be in the room,”
– Juana Matias, former member of the MA House of Representatives.
We have walked on the moon, can communicate with anyone around the world at lightning speed, and yet there is still an alarming gender gap when it comes to female leadership in politics. Even more so, women who take the helm of government leadership are often met with disparaging treatment, bias, and closed doors by their male counterparts.
With women voters exceeding the numbers of men at the polls, why is the climb to an equal playing field in government spheres still littered with roadblocks? This past Super Tuesday, we heard from an all-female panel who shared their experiences and theories on winning in politics, HER way.
In collaboration with Impact Hub Boston, the United Nations Association of Greater Boston presented their second UN Perspectives Series: Gender Equality with a specific focus on Women in Politics. A few floors up from Impact Hub’s co-working space, the panelists underscored the vital importance of a woman’s voice in politics. A voice that needs to speak and be heard.
“I didn’t become a mayor to be a wallflower.”
– Mayor Soledad Chapeton, El Alto, Bolivia from the documentary “When Women Rule”
For many of the panelists, their foray into politics was birthed from personal experiences. Jauna Matias, COO of MassINC and a former member of the MA House of Representatives, chose to dedicate her life to service because of her immigrant story. She wanted to advocate for those who didn’t have a seat at the table. For Wilnelia Rivera, CEO of Rivera Consulting and former political campaign strategist for Ayanna Pressley, the issue was getting to the bottom of structural change and the why’s that explained the different pathways taken by herself, her family and peers alike.
But the conversation didn’t center on racial disparities solely, nor on women trying to wrestle power from their male political counterparts. Surprisingly, the panelists drew back the curtain to give the audience an unconventional view of politics where women not only can gain equal footing but soar. How? By being innately female.
Panelist Nicole Menzenbach, Consul General for the German Consulate in Boston, believes the edge women can bring to politics is compassion and empathy. She knows first hand that women have a willingness to listen and collaborate as a team player. Rivera uttered a word that would seemingly contradict the roar of today’s successful woman: compromise. According to Rivera, the big stick of politics is not behind the podium but in the back of the room, where decisions are made. With diversity still more a wish than a reality, she believes compromise can be a vehicle that gets us closer to that goal. Despite the great advancements women have made, Rivera stressed that we can no longer wait for the tide that is culture and time.
When women first began to storm the political arena, many felt compelled to take on stereotypically male attributes to be taken seriously. But as the panelists suggested, winning in politics today doesn’t need to mirror the strategies of the past. A woman can get ahead by being herself. Many initiatives today are being driven by women and are surviving the barriers of sexism and male ego. The bottom line is: women are winning and they are accomplishing more in the polls and for their constituents with less money.
But this is hardly a balm for the stinging reality that it’s those in Congress, mainly men with access to funding, who are making crucial decisions for the poor and disenfranchised. Access that too many women with political titles don’t have. Women still need allies, and many times its men who can offer that seat at the table. In her ascent to State Representative, Juana found that men can be a woman’s greatest ally. She discovered there are some men who are championing a balanced government that reflects the citizens they serve.
While the political realm can seem like a rotating bar to entry for women, the reality is many women in politics are hijacking the “old-boy system” by changing and challenging the administration completely in how they do business. With hurdles still to overcome, female politicians are learning that the “gold” is in curating those unique feminine qualities of collaboration, listening, self-awareness and their passion to build pathways for themselves and others.