Preparing women for office

Keys to Elected Office
The Barbara Lee Family Foundation

By Danielle Herrera


The Barbara Lee Family Foundation, located in Boston, began in 1998 as a non-partisan organization dedicated to helping women get elected into office.

Since the founding of our nation only 36 women have ever been elected as state governors. The U.S. ranks 68 in the world in women’s leadership, and according to statistics from the U.S. Conference of Mayors of this year, there are 245 female mayors out of 1,392.

Erin Souza-Rezendes, communications director for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, said its goal is to increase these numbers by giving out free information every two years in the form of how to’s and guidelines to any female candidate who is considering running for office.

“The goal is to highlight the challenges but also be pragmatic about the solutions.” Souza-Rezendes said. “We know these barriers exist for women but what can we do about it?”

Souza-Rezendes along with staff have studied every female gubernatorial candidate since 1998. This past year, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation created “The Keys to Elected Office, The Essential Guide for Women,” a 45-page document giving advice on three categories: preparation, substance and presentation.

According to “The Keys to Elected Office,” the main takeaway for women candidates is that qualification and likeability are directly linked; if a voter doesn’t like you they won’t vote for you. This is why women must be prepared before they publicly announce their plans to run for office.

According to the foundation, voters punish women for on-the-job learning as a candidate and for campaigns that take time to ramp up because it erodes the sense that the women are qualified.

“We know from our research, qualification is one of the hallmarks of electability for women, its a non-negotiable.” Souza-Rezendes said.

Female Politicians
Female candidate traits from The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s guidebook, “The Keys to Elected Office The Essential Guide for Women.”
Male politicians
Male candidate traits from The Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s guidebook, “The Keys to Elected Office, The Essential Guide for Women.”

The best way for women candidates to prepare is to highlight their experiences and professional accomplishments first before sharing their personal experiences. Showing you’re qualified first immediately makes you more likeable to the voters which isn’t the case for male candidates according to the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Another huge part in running for office is a woman’s personal presentation. In “The Keys to Elected Office,” personal appearance is important in every aspect of campaigning.

“These women are going to be under a microscope, their appearance is going to be under scrutiny way more than men so our guideline gives advice on how to minimize that.” Souza-Rezendes said.

Voters decide whether a woman is ready to lead, in part, based on her personal presentation and place a big emphasis on personal style. In order to combat this, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation advises women candidates to dress for the occasion; don’t wear heels to a casual affair and don’t wear jeans to a fancy dinner.

Tone of voice is also important. The guidebook recommends that women must project confidence through their speeches, speak with authority, make eye contact and command respect.

“There is a saying, ‘dress poorly and they remember the dress, dress well and they remember the woman’ so we advise female candidates to keep it simple, authentic, practical and appropriate.” Souza-Rezendes said.

Substance is another component to campaigning and the bulk of “The Keys to Elected Office.” It points out that one important trait a female candidate must have is the ability to stand up for herself. One instance where this would be challenging is when her gender comes into the conversation. “We’ve found that answering sexist questions by calling them out as such is helpful.” Souza-Rezendes said.

Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, refusing to back down, answering tough questions, speaking for herself, connecting with voters and reminding them of her results and accomplishments are other crucial components for female candidates in “The Keys to Elected Office.”

“All of our findings seem so straightforward but there isn’t a playbook for women before this like there is for men.” Souza-Rezendes said. “There are so few examples for female candidates to look to on how to do it right so we want these guidelines to help women have the same advantages as male candidates do in their campaigns.”



About Danielle Herrera 3 Articles

I am a journalism graduate student at Emerson College in Boston, MA.

I grew up on Long Island, New York with my mom, two brothers and two sisters. I graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2012 with a Bachelors degree in English-Creative Writing and a minor in Communications and Media.

I am a multimedia journalist with experience in news production, and news writing for both radio and television broadcast as well as long and short form print.

I have worked with Final Cut Pro and Final Cut X, Adobe Audition, Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Audacity, HTML, Wordpress, Drupel, Adobe Muse and more.

After I graduate in May 2015, I hope to be a multimedia journalist, writing and telling stories about real people and real news on the local, national and international level.