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The latest report from the Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls (RCWG) is out. Wisconsin Women in Public Life ― Elected Officials sheds some light on women in public office, the various pathways they took to achieve success, and the challenges they overcame while running for office and serving as an elected official.
In the fall of 2020, the RCWG surveyed 98 women who held public office across Wisconsin in partnership with the Strategic Research Institute of St. Norbert College. The non-partisan survey’s findings included:
- Most women who run for office do so if the possibility is presented to them by someone else or if they feel competent in fulfilling the responsibilities that accompany the job of public office.
- Participants reported considerable experience with gender-based issues in their campaigns, though the experiences were by no means universal, and reports of specific concerns varied by both the ages of the elected officials and their years of elected service.
- Support networks were reported as one of the primary resources needed when running for public office, whether that was support from other women, other candidates, elected officials, or their political party.
The findings were then used to develop questions asked during in-depth interviews conducted in 2021 with some of the respondents. The findings from the qualitative interviews include:
- One-third of the respondents reported gender bias concerns and experiences.
- A quarter of those interviewed reported a feeling of sacrificing “personal safety” by running for office.
- Despite challenges, women commonly mentioned their own personal values ― including diversity, honesty, humility and service ― as their inspiration to persist.
- Creating pipelines for women to become elected officials was identified as an important need. These pipelines should include formal networks, training and mentorship.
Based upon the study’s findings, the report also offers suggestions for empowering women to run for public office. These include:
- Encouraging political ambition early in life
- Increasing understanding of opportunities in public life, including volunteering in the community
- Sustaining political ambition for women
- Confronting sexism which may disrupt a girl’s or woman’s confidence in her ability to serve in public office
- Improving inclusivity
“What I hope the current report makes clear is that we cannot take democracy for granted; democracy is foundational to the well-being of all communities, and women’s voices are vital to that well-being,” said Lindsey Harness, Ph.D., director of the Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls. “It will take all of us working to ‘build the bench’ in order to ensure that all women are equally represented in political office. Without a diversity of voices, our democracy does and will suffer. It is for this reason that RCWG seeks to listen to and amplify the voices of women and girls, especially those who may face marginalization beyond their gender. Thus, it is RCWG’s hope that this report is seen and experienced as a call to action.”
The full Wisconsin Women in Public Life ― Elected Officials report can be found at www.alverno.edu/Research. The project is sponsored by the State of Wisconsin Women’s Council and the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee.
The Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls is a center devoted to taking scholarly research that applies to the real world where it can inspire, transform and support initiatives that improve the lives of women and girls in Wisconsin and beyond. The center also partners with community agencies to foster discussion about important issues and identifies emerging research topics that can make a difference in women’s lives.
About Alverno College
Founded in 1887 by the School Sisters of St. Francis, Alverno College promotes the academic, personal and professional development of its students in a collaborative and inclusive environment. Undergraduate programs for women are offered in more than 60 areas of study, and graduate programs in education, nursing, community psychology, school psychology, music therapy, music and liturgy, and business are open to women and men.
A leader in higher education innovation, Alverno has earned international accolades for its highly effective ability-based, assessment-as-learning approach to education, which emphasizes hands-on experience and develops in-demand skills. The college, Wisconsin’s first Hispanic-Serving Institution, ranks among the top schools in the Midwest for its commitment to undergraduate teaching and innovation by U.S. News & World Report. For two years, The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education named Alverno the country’s most inspiring college.
Based in Milwaukee, Wis., Alverno College is a four-year independent, Catholic, liberal arts college.