We all knew they were running. But now that they’re winning, is the world ready for a wave of elected women in the corner offices of Washington DC? And is the political industry ready for the change that’s certain to come as a result?
For some, it’s “The Year of the Woman.” Others call it “The Pink Wave” or “The Trump Effect.” Call it what you will, but this year has seen a rise in the number of women running for public office, and it’s not a small bump. It’s a surge.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said “We’ve never seen anything like this.” And she’s right. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, more than 50 women filed to run for Senate this cycle, more than 450 for the House, 60 women for governor, 52 for lieutenant governor, and plenty more in down-ballot races. In a space where many female voters have never had the chance to vote for more than one woman at a time, this is a fierce change.
Going back to the 2018 cycle’s first big primary day on May 8, women reigned supreme in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio. More than 60% of female candidates won their House primary races, meaning women will make up one-third of House nominees from these states. That’s quite a milestone when you consider that more than 80% of all the candidates running were men.
Since then, we’ve seen other historic victories for women: Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania, Amy McGrath in Kentucky, Lupe Valdez in Texas … the list goes on and on. We still have the general election looming, but if we all ride this wave there will be a large group of boss-women headed our way.
The reality is change is hard, and it takes time. Will five months be enough time to get a city dominated by men for hundreds of years on board with women in those corner offices? And given what’s happening at the ballot box, how quickly will the political campaign industry adapt to more women-led campaign teams? We’re about to find out.
Let’s be honest: the industry we work in is no stranger to gender bias. Men have dominated political consulting since its inception, and building teams with lots of female representation is still the exception. And it’s not just men that hire men; women do it just the same.
Politics is a highly competitive business, and every opportunity to get work is met with someone else trying to cut you down. The default assumption seems to be that there isn’t enough room for too many female voices on a team, so we female consultants are all jockeying to be the one, token woman.
The undeniable significance of what’s happening on ballots across the country this year is it shows we’re getting to place where women won’t simply be tokens on the floor of Congress. That makes it inevitable that we won’t continue to be just a rarity on campaign teams. Progress will be unavoidable.
NBC News’ THINK asked men and women to talk about how #MeToo has changed work environments. Suffice it to say, there is still a lot of work to do. Men have reported they are minimizing their interaction with women, and changing who they work and meet with. Women have doubled down on their ability to roll with the punches. One woman said, “I’m not oversensitive about ‘rough’ language, dirty jokes…”
Speaking truth to the reality of what’s taking place this cycle is one thing, but changing behavior is the real challenge. At this year’s United State of Women, former First Lady Michelle Obama masterfully described this problem, saying women need to do more than just get and keep their seat at the table—they need to start taking risks when they get there. Women must be able to “fail up,” like men have always done.
To this end, more female members of Congress, more female Chiefs of Staff, more examples of women running things inside the government will trickle down. Moms, wives, single women, and professional women will start to see faces like theirs on the nightly news and on the front pages of their newspapers.
And they won’t be there because of scandal, or because they are the only woman doing something, they will be there as a normal occurrence of leadership and government. A woman’s face will become unsurprising, and that will be the most hopeful, significant change.
This town has no choice, and neither does our industry. Women have always been here, often behind the scenes. It’s clear more are on the way, to lead, win the work, and make gender discrimination in the nation’s capital a quaint and boring relic of the past.
Kelly Grace Gibson is a partner at the Democratic media firm Hamburger Gibson Creative, and she’s the co-host of the “Dame It All to Hell” weekly podcast.