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Women in Politics

How Do Women Get in the Room?

Unlocking the door to political decision-making

by Marie Della Mattia

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” Aaron Sor- kin was right on The West Wing. Decisions are made by voters who show up to the polls. They are also made by those who show up to plan the campaigns of political parties. But political backrooms of the past and present have not been the most gender balanced places. And many people think it’s essential to change that. But

is showing up enough? Here’s some advice for women who want to get in

the room. Hopefully you can shake it up a little once you’re there.

Don’t try to blend in. On the contrary, stick out. Don’t mistake your audience for the boys in the room. Sometimes in our attempts to prove our-

selves to our colleagues, we forget that our real audience is the voter. When you cultivate the ability to step away from the ‘inside baseball’ game of politics and see what matters to everyday voters, it’s a strength, not a weakness. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You know stuff not only because of the intelligence and expertise you bring to the table, but also based on your experiences and priorities as a woman. That’s a great selling point as to why you should be there. And one of the many ways in which your presence will make a difference.

Plan a contribution that’s designed to win votes. Getting in the room isn’t just about balance and fairness, it’s about getting the job done for your

team. If you have ideas for where to find more voters and how to win them over, I’m listening. What matters to young voters? Are you connected to a particular ethnic group and their experience? What did you learn working a minimum wage job alongside other target voters? How

44 Campaigns & Elections | Canadian Edition

can that help our campaign win their votes? When you bring voters’ voices to the table, your opinion carries more weight. But don’t forget to do your homework and think it through. I want a credible plan, not just a wild idea.

Be confident in what you do know. As a young organizer, you may not know what happened in the 1993 campaign and the lessons learned there, but you can and should speak con-

fidently about the things you do know. Because women are almost always more likely to be undecided than men in elections, the perspectives of women are particularly valu- able to any campaign strategy. You know more about these target voters than any guys in the room. A campaign that doesn’t speak to women won’t move the voters it needs to win. To make that happen, I want you to speak out in meetings. Make sure you intervene regularly, and be deci- sive in stating your views.

Know what you don’t know. Nothing fails faster than assumptions, guesswork and cocky arrogance that’s not borne out by re- sults. When you know what you don’t know, you’re

more likely to ask questions, investigate, and seek advice before making decisions. As a young organizer, I had a boss who asked me to double-check almost everything I did. It drove me crazy at the time, but I now see what a gift it was. I made fewer mistakes as a result. That is until he wasn’t looking over my shoulder...then I learned that assumptions are dangerous. Today, I spend a lot of time inflicting the same discipline on others. (I’m sure they’ll thank me later.)

Know when you have nothing to lose. Guts are rewarded in politics and women are often cautious. While that caution can keep us from making mistakes (see previous tip) it can

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