Holly Richardson: To get more women elected, we need to move beyond lip service

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Angela Romero - D, Salt Lake, speaks at the panel discussion: Tales from the Trail at the Real Women Run training in campaign management, fundraising and research for political campaigns, Saturday, January 13, 2018.

Heard any of these lately? “We need more women in elected office.” “I wish more women would run.” “More women should run.” I have. The gender gap in politics continues to be large, but interest in women running is on the upswing and that’s a good thing.

Saturday, Real Women Run held its annual daylong training for women who want to run for office, support those running for office or be more involved in the political process.

Several colleges in Utah have held #ElectHer trainings — including Weber State, Utah Valley University and the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah — to encourage young women to run for student government (and more). The Women’s Leadership Institute has two major goals: Get more women on corporate boards and get more women elected. This year’s Political Development Series is the largest to date.

Many business and community leaders have publicly said they would like to see more women run for political office and win. Hooray for that! The verbal pats on the back are encouraging, but sometimes the support stops there. If you truly want to see more women run and win, there are some concrete actions you can take.

First of all, ask them to run! Almost all female candidates had someone they trusted say to them “You would make a great _______.” You should run!” And let’s be honest — you’re probably going to have to ask/encourage more than once. In fact, in 2014, NPR ran a story titled: “Best way to get women to run for office? Ask repeatedly.

Former Utah House member Ronda Menlove was one who had to be asked repeatedly. A college professor at the time, and after many entreaties, she finally decided it would be a “good academic exercise.” She was so sure she would not win, she stayed home the night of the election. But she did win and served 10 years in the House. Her influence is still felt.

How you ask matters. According a Politico investigative piece on what it will take for women to win, it turns out that the way you ask the question makes a difference. When women think of political office as “a way to fix problems and improve their communities,” they become just as willing and eager to run as men.

Next, donate to female candidates. It’s one thing to say you support women running for office and quite another when you actually put your money where your mouth is. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, says research shows that women candidates can raise money competitively, but it takes longer and the pool of potential donors is smaller.

“A man might be able to pick up a phone and raise $1,000 with one phone call. A woman may have to make 10 phone calls in order to raise that same $1,000,” said Walsh.

Further research from Brigham Young University professors Michael Barber and Jessica Preece, with Daniel Butler of Washington University, found that “women tend to ignore gender and give money to the candidate they support most, male or female. On the other hand, men donate almost exclusively to male candidates.”

In addition to making personal and/or corporate donations, please consider holding a fundraiser and inviting your colleagues to attend and to donate. Or, hold a non-fundraiser fundraiser by skipping the event part and simply going to your network and asking for donations for the candidate you are supporting. If you’ve ever raised money yourself, please consider mentoring a candidate in the art and science of fundraising. If you are really ambitious, start a PAC to fund and promote female candidates.

Take the time to introduce female candidates to others in your community and let people within your circle of influence know why you are supporting that candidate. This might be your business, your neighborhood or your friends and family, but it’s a sure bet that you know people she does not. Help her meet people.

Openly endorse female candidates. Endorsements aren’t everything, of course, but they can help. Many female candidates hear things like, “Well, I can’t endorse because I know your opponent(s) — we golf together. But good luck!” Utah is a small state, politically. If you’re politically active, you’re likely to know many people in multiple races. You can still endorse.

Campaign with her. Send emails letting your circle of influence know you support a candidate. Hold a cottage meeting in your home. Knock doors in a candidate’s area. Promote her on social media.

If we are serious about closing the gender gap in political offices, we need more women to run for election. To get more women to run for elected office, we need women to be recruited and asked to run. And they need to know that they will have support, real support, and not just private statements of “Good luck!”

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, is on the board of Real Women Run, a graduate of the WLI Political Development Series and a longtime political advocate and activist. She would love to see Utah climb out of the national basement in percentage of women in political office.