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Op-Ed: How to ask a mom to run for office

Photo via Getty Images

By Erin Loos Cutraro, Founder and CEO of She Should Run

The global pandemic is shining a light on what we look for in leaders. And no surprise, many who have been hailed as exceptional are, drum roll, please…. moms. The large majority of women in the US identify as moms and 1 in 4 are raising children on their own. From healthcare workers to homeschoolers to entrepreneurs, moms are bringing their problem solving, adaptability, resilience, and empathy to the forefront in this crisis. And it just so happens, these are the exact traits we need to see more of in our elected officials right now.

But examples of moms in office are not always easy to point to. Less than 5% of women in Congress are mothers. And that reality affects who we see step up to lead – even where the vast majority of offices exist in the US – at the local level.

Moms who are teachers, CEOs, stay-at-home caretakers, or any other profession can run, and they should. Because those who take action and keep charging forward—understand the needs of Americans more than anyone else.  

It’s time that we get more moms to run for office.

So how do you go about successfully encouraging a mom in your life to run for office? This isn’t new territory for She Should Run—in fact, since She Should Run was launched nearly 10 years ago,  “how do you ask a woman to run for office” is the most-asked question we get from those who care to see more women serving in roles from city council to Congress. Even when we know a woman who has what it takes, we struggle to say the simple words, “you should run.”

Relatability is Key

When there are a limited number of women, and especially women who have children, leading in office, it can be difficult for a mother to picture herself in that role and her own path to get there. Thankfully we are beginning to see mothers show what it’s like to serve as elected officials.  Women like Representative Katie Porter, a single mother of three, Senator Tammy Duckworth, a multitasking mom of two, Delegate Kathy Tran, a mom of four including an infant, and Representative Jaime Herrera-Butler, who has been known to regularly campaign with her three children since she was elected in 2010, are just a few examples of leaders who serve as role models showing there isn’t one way to get it done. And women like Michelle Love-Day remind us that running, even if you don’t win, still shows the next generation of girls what is possible. Bringing relatable examples to the table when encouraging moms to run is key.  

Be Ready for the Awkwardness

The reality is that politics continues to be a topic that most people feel allergic to. Unless you’re talking to someone who considers themselves a political activist or can quote Quinnipiac Polls, it’ll likely feel uncomfortable. You might get a response that’s impassive, sarcastic or even fearful. But we can break down the barrier to talk more plainly to the moms in our lives who are friends and family, neighbors and doctors, teachers and booksellers about why they would make excellent leaders. 

Try not to make any assumptions about a woman’s willingness to engage in the topic of conversation. If she gives you the cold shoulder, it’s definitely not personal and it might not have anything to do with her willingness to consider the point. Sometimes it can be hard for us all to envision because we have more questions than we have answers to. (Keep reading.)

Do Some Research About the Process

Start your conversation by telling your mom or your mom friend that it’d be great to see her as an elected official. Tell her which office she’d be great at holding and give her the reasons why. You might get hit with 8,000 reasons why not, as it’s the inclination of many to jump into all the reasons why that’s an insane idea and how they don’t have the time, that they don’t want to be in the spotlight and so on. So come to them ready to thoughtfully challenge their questions. Expand your own knowledge about the process and look into resources such as She Should Run’s Ask a Woman to Run Webinar and Role Call Quiz, and explore the conversation further with her. Not sure which role she’d be a fit for? Don’t worry, you don’t need to have all the answers. Come at it from an honest place and simply tell her why you thought of her — but don’t hold back: “I know you are an amazing problem solver. Seeing all the complex problems our community/state/county is facing makes me know we need someone like you in charge, in office.” 

A lot of people have a very limited way of thinking what an elected official can look like, sound like, think like, be like. But a politician can show up in crisis and remind everyone that the Easter Bunny is an “essential” worker. A politician can wear bright red lipstick and share homeschooling tricks (and failure!) videos on Instagram live. A politician can wear a hijab on the House floor. A politician can have a baby while in office, be a war hero, and a double amputee.

You get to decide what a politician looks like. We all get to. And it’s up to all of us to ask every mom we think would be a good leader to give it a shot

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