Rebecca Sive has spent her career as a political strategist trying to get women not only on the ballot, but into office. She lays out guidelines in her book Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House.
Morning Shift talks to Sive about the history of women in politics and more.
What do you think women need to think about in a different way than male candidates?
In the first place, it’s harder for women to get in. It’s kind of a cliché but they really have to have a lot of grit, and they really have to want it. What the historical experience has been is that men get asked and women don’t. Men have the experience of “Gee, you really ought to think about this.” And, “We’ve put together a group of guys who are going to put some money together for you.” There are a series of things that male candidates experience that women don’t.
One guideline you give is “Just show up.” Why is that important? And how does that help a woman who’s thinking of running for office?
I think the most important thing — whether it’s a man or a woman — is people have to like and trust you. It sounds sort of idiotically simple but it’s fairly profound. Because people — if they don’t see you, if they don’t get to talk to you, if they don’t hear you speak, if they don’t see you at neighborhood or community events or whatever it is where you just show up — they’re not going to have that sense that you are their person. For most voters, that’s really the initial, compelling view. “Do I want to know further about this person? Do I want to consider voting for them?”
I think that just showing up shows that you care. And at least in my book, the reason to be in public office is that you care about the common good. And how can you show that? You show that by participating, by listening, by being at meetings. It doesn’t matter what you’re running for.
What is your sense about how women in politics are treated and discussed elsewhere around the world?
I would say that looking around the world, the U.S. ranks pretty poorly. Whereas in Britain there is now a woman prime minister, [and] in Germany, [and] in Brazil there’s a sitting woman president — although we don’t know what’s going to happen there.
What’s interesting, I think, in terms of how the world has changed: If Hillary Clinton is elected president, women will run the three largest western economies, as well as the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve. Just visualize that. And visualize that for girls. Here will be these five women sitting around a table, and that photo you’ll see above the fold in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune will be utterly different, just as it was utterly different when Barack and Michelle Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. It gives me shivers to think about what that does for young people who say, “Yes, I see this and therefore I can do it, too.”
It is highly symbolic. But as we know, in this election cycle there are women out there who are clearly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.
There are. There is never a 100 percent vote for a kind of person. Whether it’s a woman candidate, or an African-American candidate, or an Italian candidate, or an Irish candidate, voters have a diversity of views. So there’s no rationale for holding women to a higher standard. There are policy positions of every candidate and you evaluate those and decide what you want.
But I do think what is different is that women bring different personal experiences to the decision-making table than men do. And that is really important. Because when you’re thinking about a complicated topic and you’re trying to figure it out, at least it’s my belief [that] the more different perspectives at the decision-making table the better the decision is going to be.
How does Chicago fair?
As your listeners no-doubt know, we’ve had one woman mayor. We’ve never had a woman governor. The city council has had a significant amount of women for a long time. There have been two women presidents of the county board, Bobbie Steele and Toni Preckwinkle, Toni being the first elected woman. And I think that particularly in her case since she’s now in her second term: She’s running the 19th largest government in the United States. She’s demonstrating exactly what we talked about earlier, which is that women can hold high executive office and do a good job.
So I think that we have a ways to go in Chicago but we certainly have examples in front of us that are useful to women who are thinking about running.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.