In 2011, 89 women served in the U.S. Congress or 16.6 percent, out of 50 states only six were governed by women, out of the 100 largest U.S. cities only 7 had women mayors. In an Inter-Parliamentary Union study of 188 countries, the U.S. ranks 72nd for women's leadership (Rwanda ranks no. 1).
Women make up more than half of the population in the U.S. yet are vastly under represented politically The White House Project aims to change that by filling the leadership pipeline with a diverse critical mass of women to make American businesses, government and media equally represented.
Their dynamic program, “Vote, Run, Lead,” is designed to engage women in the political process as voters, activists and candidates, The White House Project has trained 11,000 women over the last 12 years to take the lead.
These women learned how to break through societal and their own barriers to put their passion into action and make a positive impact on their communities.
Tiffany will join special guest speakers Nina Simons of Bioneers, feminist icon Jean Shinoda Bolen, and author Kathy LeMay at See Jane Do's 2nd Annual Passion Into Action Conference, April 29 and 30, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Express, Grass Valley.
Elizabeth Johnson and Nevada Littlewolf from The White House Project will present a series of workshops at the conference. Their workshops,” Plate to Politics, Blueprint for Change” and “Fundraising in Rural Communities,” are specific to the unique perspectives and needs of women living in rural communities.
What do you plan to discuss in your keynote speech at Passion Into Action?
A lot of what I'm going to talk about is where we are in terms of women's leadership today and the barriers we are facing. Sometimes people are surprised by this information and some are not. I think getting into what barriers there are in our own culture, the barriers women put on themselves, and how to really turn passion into action.
I will say something about The White house Project and our broader vision of creating an ecosystem for women leadership in the U.S. and around the word and how we are engaging the next generation. When I hear passion into action, it really embodies what The White House Project is doing.
We are finding women who already care and are passionate about changing something in their community, and we show them how leadership can be a platform to make that happen.
One of your goals is to offer relatable new leadership for a new generation. What does that look like?
It looks like authentic leadership. Particularly the new generation is looking for leaders who they identify with. Women want leaders that look like them; leaders they can aspire and achieve to be.
What do you think holds women back from taking the lead?
I think there are systematic and individual reasons that hold them back. Despite all the progress that has been made, culturally we still live in an old male paradigm. Look at the reality of our culture, we are still socialized that the women's role is in the private sphere.
All you have to be is a visible pregnant woman to understand this. People only ask a pregnant woman if she is going to stay home with the child, it is never asked of the man. We live in a society where corporations are really set up for a 1950s male model of leadership and work, where a lot of time is spent on the job, and someone else is taking care of the children.
Women also have their own barriers, which we work on, such as not recognizing our ability as leaders.
Women think they need more experience, more education, before they can be a leader, and men don't do that. Women are also not nearly as good in promoting themselves, which is important in leadership or any business.
The White House Project works on creating visibility, aligning one's self, and recruiting mentors and sponsors who can help. Part of the reason we start with policy is to help women to move past their barriers and understand their ability to lead and build a platform to share their case in why someone should invest in them. Women do that for everything and anything, except themselves.
We recently polled our audience asking if they would run for office, many said they felt grassroots activism would have a greater impact on their communities or they didn't want to get caught up in the politics of politics so to speak. How do you respond to that?
I'm not surprised to hear that. It is important for women to understand that to advance their leadership they have to be involved in politics, and politics is involved in every environment.
They need to know how it works, and understand how to operate within it. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to turn this nation and world around and the only way we are going to really accelerate social and economic change is to involve more people. Give us the opportunity to put people in front of you that look like you, listen to their stories, and I'm certain more women will step up.
In 2007, The White House Project launched a rural leadership initiative. What are some of the challenges and advantages of working in rural communities? And what role do they play in the bigger picture of national and global politics?
Being a nonpartisan organization has been an advantage working in rural communities. One of the disadvantages has been the distance between women. It has been a challenge and also an opportunity and helped us to see the importance in leveraging social media to bring them together.
There are a lot of issues that we often take for granted in urban communities that women in rural communities bring to our attention, for instance access to broadband. In many ways the voices of rural women shed light on the equities that women continue to face including poverty and violence.
How do you stay positive in the face of such staggering statistics?
There is a poster in our office that shows the U.S. ranked 72nd in women's political participation in the world, and it asks how many women we would need to train to change that number to bi, 1 in my lifetime and my daughter's lifetime.
The number is 8,000, which doesn't seem like a lot, but if you ask Liz and Nevada that is a lot of women. That is 800 to 900 women a year, but because I know the answer to that question and have an organizational strategy, it helps make that statistic seem less daunting. When you have an answer, it helps you sleep at night.
What is the single most radical thing a woman or girl could do?
Have a really strong case for why someone should invest in her, and distinctly and clearly articulate that case and be able to give to anyone at any moment.
What is your message to woman around the world?
You already have everything that you need to be a phenomenal leader and to make an impact in the world. It is not outside of you, you don't have to go it, and it is already within you.
See Jane Do is a multimedia program capturing the stories of everyday women doing extraordinary things for the planet. Catch the one-hour talk radio program on KVMR 89.5FM the first Wednesday of every month from 1-2 p.m. For information, visit www.seejanedo.com.
Click here to register for the Passion Into Actin Conference.