IT TAKES COURAGE TO OPEN YOUR LIFE TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY WHEN RUNNING FOR PUBLIC OFFICE. SOME PEOPLE SPEND YEARS BUILDING A RESUME, KNOWING THEY’LL STEP INTO A LEADERSHIP ROLE AT SOME POINT. SOME ARE INSPIRED BY JUST A SINGLE EVENT. FOR SOME, THE IDEA DOESN’T OCCUR TO THEM UNTIL SOMEONE ELSE SUGGESTS IT, AND THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR WOMEN.
Research has shown that women are significantly less likely to be encouraged to run for office than men. Self-doubt often plagues women, and despite shifting traditional gender roles, women still tend to take on a greater share of domestic management, making it more difficult for women to envision what would happen to their families through a campaign and an elected position.
BRINGING WOMEN TO THE TABLE
As the population of southeast Minnesota grows, serious issues like affordable housing, availability of child care and living-wage jobs need to be addressed. According to Olmsted County data, 24 percent of households with a female single parent are below the poverty level, and that number grows to 34 percent when there are children in the home under the age of 5. Women must be at the table to discuss economic growth, transportation, infrastructure investment, parks and public space and other important political issues.
In southeast Minnesota, there are incredible women who have stepped forward, dedicating their time and making sacrifices to ensure that the perspective of women is present in discussions about important issues in our community. They serve on city councils, school boards and at the state Legislature and lead organizations, commissions and other boards. However, women are still vastly underrepresented.
INSPIRED TO STEP FORWARD
Jamie Mahlberg, candidate for House District 25A, is a political newcomer. She says, “The most encouraging part of my campaign so far has been the support of women. Women initially encouraged me to run. Individual women have stepped up to volunteer and donate, and women-led organizations have provided some of the best guidance I’ve had.”
Mahlberg’s mantra is: “Show Up. Be Kind.” Her openness to new experiences has resulted in her serving on a city commission as well as building new relationships within diverse groups in the community. She adds, “The moral of this story is that all you often need to do is ask directly or through your social network and doors will open.”
An educator at Rochester Community and Technical College for over 10 years, Mahlberg is well-networked and understands the people who make up the Rochester area. As she notes, “I witness every day that policy decisions affect people. I’ve built relationships with students and friends who won’t leave the country for fear of not getting back in. I’ve helped students explore options when a $100 barrier keeps them from continuing their education.”
SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE
We must encourage and support women like Mahlberg who are dedicating themselves to serving people so that their contributions aren’t taken for granted or lost in the male-dominated narrative in politics. Let’s follow Jamie’s advice, and reach out to our networks to encourage more women to share their talents and perspectives to make the community better. Then let’s make sure we support them.
Anna Richey is the Southern MN regional manager for conservation, chair of the Rochester Energy Commission and co-chair of More Women on the Move.