Keys to Elected Office

Essential Guide

This new edition is a dynamic look at what it takes for women to run for office and succeed based on 25 years of research.

Based on 25 Years of Research

For 25 years, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied every woman’s campaign for governor on both sides of the aisle, including real-time polling on voters’ views and post-election interviews with candidates and campaign staff. We know running for office as a woman is different than it is for a man. Why? Voters have higher expectations for women candidates which create obstacles and some opportunities. And even though voters say it is important to have more women in office, it doesn’t always mean they will actually vote for women. Findings from BLFF research show:

  • Voters have a stubborn “imagination barrier” when it comes to picturing a woman as executive-level leaders, after years of seeing white men dominate in those roles.
  • Women candidates have to prove they are qualified. For men, their qualifications are assumed.
  • Women face the double bind of needing to show competence and likeability. Voters will support a male candidate they do not like, but for women – this quality is non-negotiable.
  • Voters accord women candidates a “virtue advantage,” seeing them as more honest and ethical than men. This advantage can be dramatically reversed if voters perceive a woman candidate to be dishonest or acting unethically.
  • As more women run for office and are elected, voters question how women can serve constituents and take care of family responsibilities at the same time. Voters recognize a double standard for moms, but actively and consciously participate in it.

Our Keys to Elected Office: The Essential Guide for Women offers the most direct, must-know advice we’ve gleaned for women elected officials and candidates running for office, and this newly updated version is a timely, concise look at what it takes for a woman to run and succeed. From establishing qualifications to fundraising, handling sexism, and running as an incumbent or as a lieutenant governor, this nonpartisan guide shows that the challenges women face are surmountable—and they are often countered by strategic advantages.

I hope you think of this as an invitation. If you are already running for office, use our research to shape your strategy; and if you are thinking of running, I hope that our research provides you with the encouragement and inspiration to go for it! —Barbara Lee


The Essential Guide is broken down into three essential sections to serve as an at-a-glance resource on every step of the campaign trail. In Preparation, we look at what it takes for women to lay the groundwork for a run for office—the necessary traits and resources, and how to acquire and convey them. In Substance, we break down the essential issue areas to master and how to do that, from establishing qualification, to owning an economic plan, to contrasting with opponents. Finally, in Presentation, we lay out the importance of using messages that resonate, having a style that is professional and approachable, and possessing the ability to bounce back from mistakes or a campaign loss.