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There are a lot of great articles about the fact that there aren’t enough women in politics and certainly not enough in leadership positions. There is also a dearth of articles with their own theories on why we have this gender gap.

So, I’m going to throw my own hypothesis in: Many women start too late.

It’s hard to work your way up the ladder when others have been climbing it for 10, 15, even 20 years before you hit the first rung. Let’s face it, a young man in politics is a man under 35, a young woman is under 50. I can say this because I’m a young woman, at 35, who gets constant double takes every time someone hears I’m the mayor.

Women wait. We wait for our children to grow up or our careers to have room. But this is not about leaning in or about making time, it’s about understanding what we all lose. We lose the voice of the very people who shape our future because while we raise our children, government is happening to us. We aren’t shaping government to address the problems we face today.

If you have a passion for public service, then pick a way to get involved. Parties are always desperate for young faces. If you sit at your kitchen table bemoaning, “Why don’t they just…,” start asking “Why don’t I…” because the answer to your question may very well be that no one realizes the impact the issue has on real people.

Don’t wait for the right time. Making your children part of the process enhances the community and your service. It shows children the importance of being part of the process. It tells them everyone should have a voice and that our priorities are about building for our future.

We need public servants who are willing to find ways to make career and family work because if only the rich and those with grown families serve, we will always be struggling to deal with today’s real problems while our leaders will be addressing the problems they faced, not what we face today.

But the issue of why we have fewer women in office and even fewer in leadership doesn’t stop there. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a number of articles floating around Facebook and I’ve noticed a theme: there are two types of woman referred to in these articles. Most often, the ones who are quoted talk about how hard it is to get in to the “old boys network.” They talk about how they’ve been pushed aside or how long they’ve been waiting to be let in. And then there is a whole other batch of women, often the pioneers who got through the door whose male colleagues refer to them as “just one of the guys.”

What have I learned from these pioneers is that we need to stop knocking on the door waiting for someone to let us in. We need to stand up, realize the door is going to be heavy and just push our way in.

Will you have to wait your turn? Absolutely. But at least you’ll be in line.

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Cathleen Lewis
Cathleen, the Mayor of Lawrence Township & a full-time Public Affairs professional, counts her best job as being Mommy to Abigail (3 years) and Bridget (6 months ). A New Yorker originally, but Boston raised, Cathleen enjoys the challenge of raising the girls in a mixed household with her Yankee-fan husband Paul. She hopes to make up for the confusion by encouraging the family’s love of Rutgers football. She dreams of sharing her love of beaches, margaritas, music and adventure but is happy to squeeze in a family walk with the dog and a back yard BBQ these days. Formerly an avid reader and writer before work, life and children; Cathleen hopes she hasn’t lost her ability to capture thoughts through the written word but often can’t remember where the grocery list is.

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