Speaking with Authority (2001)


It Costs More For Women To Pay Their Dues

“When you’re positioning a woman to run for office, you show that she has held jobs with huge responsibility, with huge challenges, and acquitted herself brilliantly in dealing with these challenges and overcoming them.”
– Media Consultant

What Preparation Qualifies a Women to be Governor?

Voters need more information to conclude that a woman is prepared to be governor than they need to draw the same conclusion about a man.

Focus group participants wanted to see specific financial, crisis management and political credentials when evaluating whether a woman could handle the complexities of running a state. For instance, voters surveyed felt more confident in a candidate who had been a state treasurer when they were told that as treasurer she got the state out of debt than they were in a candidate who did not mention her accomplishments as treasurer.

In contrast, men were assumed to be qualified to lead their state if they had a resume that simply listed positions of leadership and service.

“You have to prove a lot more than the man does,” reflected one candidate. “You have to prove that you’re fiscally responsible, you have to prove that you are a visionary, you have to prove that you can lead people, that people respect you…”

What Experience is the Right Experience?

When evaluating whether a candidate was very qualified to be governor, voters rated previous experience as attorney general and lieutenant governor 10 points higher than other political offices, such as big city mayor and state legislator, and 20 to 30 points higher than civic or corporate leadership positions.

Focus group interviews reveal that voters give men credit for experience outside of public service, but don’t give equal credit for women’s comparable private sector experience. Male voters, in particular, fear that a woman will not have the skill to manage her state’s finances, especially in times of trouble, regardless of her previous business experience.

“My opponent tried to paint me as someone who had no managerial experience,” offered one candidate. “And I think women are more susceptible to being viewed as not being capable of managing.”

Voters still give women candidates some credit for non-political experience. Civic and nonprofit experience complement a political

Of the 15 women who have served as governor since 1974, five served as secretary of state or assistant secretary of state, five served as lieutenant governor, three served as state treasurer and one was the director of her state’s board of public utilities.

“The thing you see over and over again when reading the paper is: [the female candidate] is looking spry in her Spring suit…and you don’t read [the male candidate] in his dashing Brooks Brothers coat,” noted one candidate.

Elective Services Speaks for Itself

Successful gubernatorial candidates have built solid foundations for their political careers, which engender respect and acceptance from both political insiders and the general public.

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards was a well-credentialed Democratic candidate who built a solid record of practical and financial expertise. She started her political network early through involvement with the Young Democrats. Richards founded community groups and served in local elected positions. She worked on campaigns and in state legislative offices. In 1982, as a high profile county commissioner she successfully ran for state treasurer. In 1990, she ran for governor, and won. Governor Richards built a solid, broad foundation of public service that established strong credentials before winning the keys to the state’s top office.

For Candidates

  1. Build a solid political career. To prove that they are qualified, women must move up the elective ladder mastering increasingly difficult challenges. Be prepared to seize each opportunity, especially those that allow you to develop executive qualifications. Don’t hesitate. Term limits, reapportionment, early retirement and administration appointments guarantee openings.
  2. Demonstrate financial expertise. Budget, Appropriations, and Ways and Means Committees of the legislature provide the opportunities, but you must take a risk. Challenge a “sacred cow” in the budget, broker a compromise to an impasse or offer a more efficient accounting system.
  3. Manage a crisis. A teachers strike or a prison riot represents a crisis. If you are positioned to help, do it. Move quickly. If you want to be a leader, lead.
  4. Take credit. If you take the risk and overcome the budget impasse or negotiate the strike settlement, take the credit. Of course, you will recognize those with whom you worked, but down the road, your claim of leadership must ring true. It will be credible if voters can recall your successful efforts.
  5. Deal with media stereotyping at the source. Call up the reporter and privately ask him or her about their choice to write about your hair or dress. If the subject comes up in public, handle it with humor.