A busy Parliament Week 2017 saw us deliver workshops in Liverpool, Lincoln and at Bradford Women of the World festival. In the space of three days we heard the experiences of Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South, Paula Sherriff MP for Dewsbury and had the privilege of sharing a #Vote100 panel at Lincoln University with former Liberal Party parliamentary candidate and co-founder of The 300 Group Lesley Abdela, Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at Birkbeck and author of The Good Parliament report, playwright Hannah Davies, local MP Karen Lee and Dolly Theis, Conservative candidate and #AskHerToStand mentor from the 50:50 Parliament campaign.
After delivering our workshops to more than 500 women over the last 18 months and hearing the candid stories of so many women politicians Parliament Week presents a timely opportunity to reflect on some of the key things we hear about that make the difference to women getting selected, and getting elected. All of the pathways into politics we hear about from women are unique, and as varied as their male counterparts yet there are some features that stand out for almost all.
1. #AskHerToStand. There is always a clear moment when someone specific, or often a group of people, distinctly took the time and conviction to tell a woman she has a contribution to make and should stand for office. The #AskHerToStand campaign from the 50:50 Parliament project and our own postcards are great, simple ways anyone can make a difference to the representation of women in politics.
2. Demystify the process. Time and again we hear from speakers and women attending our workshops that they had no understanding of how the process of getting selected as a candidate worked until they directly sought out that information, either from an individual or at a workshop like ours. And while navigating the formal process of assessment and selection needs to be understood, it is essential to also understand the ‘softer’ process of getting known, building influence and gaining support within the party.
3. #BeReadytoRun. The list of things that potentially need to be considered when thinking about a career in politics or running for office can appear endless - everything including time, commitment, relationships, children - current & future, older family members/ caring responsibilities, career, finances, where to live and the impact on friends and family members to name just a few. Thinking these things through and having a strategy is important but we also know from our speakers that when opportunity strikes, women need to seize it. There’s no such thing as being ‘perfectly ready’, #readyenough is all that any woman ever is when she runs.
4. Build a team. Every woman politician we hear from accounts for their election as the result of a team effort. Having those around you who are committed and provide the political, emotional and practical support you need is essential through selection, election and a political career. Teams may be big or small, they are all varied but all of them do require women to know what help they need, and importantly to get used to asking for it. Building purposeful networks with those who share your vision for creating change enables women to do this, and avoid what are often perceived to be more traditional, self-serving networks of support solely focused on gaining election and power.
5. Know political purpose. We hear time and again about the negative impacts of a career in modern politics - be they the impact on friends and relationships, the horrific deluge of attacks on social media or other sacrifices that are made. Yet all the women we hear from talk about the privilege of having a role that enables them to make the difference they are passionate about - both in specific issues and in line with their fundamental values. Politics is a long game requiring a massive amount of resilience - the most important thing is to stay focused on why you are doing it and what you want to achieve.
In the next few weeks we will be launching further support resources based on these lessons to help more women on their journey to get elected - so WATCH THIS SPACE!