By Guest Blogger Annette Taylor
Women come from every industry to run for public office or dedicate themselves to public service work. They are business entrepreneurs, health care workers, nonprofit volunteers, executives, scientists, government employees, housewives and more—their backgrounds are as varied as one can imagine.
Political decisions are often made with small business in mind, however, so an understanding of how business operates is very helpful. Raleigh’s own Mayor Nancy McFarlane, for example, is the owner and founder of MedPro Rx, Inc., an accredited specialty infusion pharmacy that provides infusion medications and services to clients with chronic illnesses.
Sometimes women may start out as a volunteer with the school system before launching themselves into public office. They might be homemakers who have volunteered their efforts to their local neighborhood association. One county commissioner in Hillsborough grew tired of the unfinished buildings she kept seeing on the roadside, so she began asking around to find out what the issue was behind these eyesores. Someone suggested to her, “Why don’t you get on the planning committee?” and that became her start. After her advocacy led to some changes, she left for vacation one day, and when she returned, the mayor asked her to run for office!
To serve on appointed boards and commissions or win an appointed or elected office, women must have a passion for a particular issue. That is the true ticket to public service. It takes understanding of how to turn that passion into action in order to take advocacy to the next level. If you want change to happen, you must be a part of that change.
From a practical viewpoint, though, it often takes a mentor for a woman to succeed in public office or public service work. Many women do not know that programs such as ours exist. The North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service (NCCWPS) is a nonpartisan organization that prepares women to seek and serve in elected and appointed office, advocates for systems and structures that facilitate women’s involvement, and promotes the value of women’s participation in governance.
We offer two major programs:
- Women on Board Workshops – A one-day interactive workshop in which participants are prepared to seek and serve in appointed positions. Individuals learn about the barriers women face, how to navigate boards and commissions, and develop strategies and next steps to appointed office.
- Women in Office Institute – A six-day residential intensive leadership academy where participants gain knowledge about the political process and gain the confidence to explore or pursue governmental leadership. Participants hone their leadership skills, prepare for political campaigning, and develop tools for effective and ethical public service.
Of the 103 graduates of the Women in Office Institute since 2004, 50 percent are now directly involved in public service through either an appointed or elected position, 22 percent have run for or been elected to office, and 31 percent have secured appointments. More than 200 community leaders have participated in the Women on Board workshops, and approximately 15 percent have reported pursuing a local advisory board appointment.
In our workshops, one of the most exciting segments is the panel discussion, which features three female elected officials who share their public service experience and answer participants’ questions. An ideal audience size for the Women on Board workshops is about 25 women, but we have hosted as many as 40. Women must submit an application and $30 fee to participate in workshops. For acceptance into the Women in Office Institute, an interview process is expected. The ideal class size for the Institute is 16 to 18 women. Ideal candidates will indicate a commitment to public service, express clearly their passion for an issue or cause, as well as interest in addressing the societal problems that exist.
We teach women all the fundamentals of political campaigning, ethics, public speaking strategies and, communications—including social media—and fundraising. We believe that appointed boards and commissions are the springboards for elected office. Before we go into a town and hold a workshop, we do our own research and find out what vacancies exist on the boards or commissions, and we provide workshop attendees with that information.
Through building the involvement of women at all levels of governance in North Carolina, the NCCWPS helps women channel their passion, find their voice, expand their support network and ultimately get elected or appointed to a position where they can be an influential leader and make a real change through public service.
Annette Taylor is executive director for the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service (NCCWPS), a nonpartisan organization that prepares women for elected and appointed offices statewide. For more information, call (919) 832-9996 or visit http://www.nccwps.org.