For the most part, politics is still a man’s thing. And the numbers from the National Women’s Political Caucus support that (disappointing) claim: Of the 535 Congressional seats, only 18.5 percent, or 99 members, are women. Adding to that, in 2013, only 24.1 percent of the 7,383 state legislators were female.
These statistics are exactly what the Women’s Campaign School is trying to change. Since 1994, this nonprofit has been teaching women the skills needed to run a successful political campaign.
So how did the school start? Well, it can be all traced back to 1992, which was dubbed the “Year of Women” due to the record number of female candidates. But the momentum couldn’t be sustained, and the following year saw a staggering decline in the number of female candidates.
So a number of powerful women — Patricia Russo, head of the Commission on the Status of Women; Conn. Rep. Rosa DeLauro; former Conn. Rep. Nancy Johnson; former Yale Law School Dean Guido Calabresi and others — held a meeting to discuss the future of women in politics. Prior to the gathering, Russo had spoken to New York Times reporter Andree Aleion Brooks who offered a solution to the problem: a campaign training camp for women.
Russo took that idea to the meeting, and with the full support of Calabresi, the Women’s Campaign School emerged.
Through the years, it’s more than proven its worth. In 20 years, the school has trained 1,400 women (about 70 to 80 per year) and boasts graduates such as Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York and former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Most important to the school, though, is its emphasis on being non-partisan and issue neutral. The school wasn’t designed as a forum to debate the hot social topics, but rather, to educate women on how to run successful campaigns in real time. So class topics include organizing, budgeting, polling, fundraising, public speaking, staffing, and working with consultants.
And it appears to be working — many graduates are holding local level positions, such as sitting on municipal or education boards, while looking to expand into the state legislature.
While funding remains one of the biggest challenges facing female candidates, the school is providing these women with a chance to do something different: nonpartisan compromise.
Through the school, women are able to communicate across party lines and know each other as individuals, not as a party color. And women are bringing this practice into the workplace also, as shown through the efforts of Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Wash. Sen. Patty Murray during the last sequester.
“Susan Collins approached Patty Murray, saying, ‘I can’t sit through another meeting where nothing is going to be resolved. Will you sit with me, and let’s put a plan together. At least put something on the table for the others to consider,’ and that became the deal that ended the sequester. So that’s the power of women in public office, and there’s a reason why we need more women running and women winning,” says Russo when describing the situation to Fast Company.
And that’s just one example. If the Women’s Campaign School keeps churning out candidates, who knows what a little touch of femininity can bring to our government.