By Ramin Rajaii
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
In its current state of affairs, disparities exist in the proportion of men to that of women in public office. This past Saturday, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs sent 37 of its graduate students to Mount St. Mary’s College for the “Ready to Run” program, a nonpartisan campaign training program for women aiming to increase female entry into the political realm.
Although to some, this may not seem as pressing of an issue as other obstacles afflicting the nation, statistics reveal the true nature of the situation.
“Fifteen years ago, there were 30 women in the California State Legislature," said Torie Osborne, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor. "Today, there are still only 30.”
According to Osborne, one of the most significant barriers impeding the entry of women into public office is a fundamental lack of confidence.
“What you’re seeing is that [numerous] men have the confidence to throw their hats into the running, whether or not they have the experience," she said. "Studies show that women have to be encouraged seven times – on seven different occasions – before they even consider running for office.”
As further affirmation of such incongruity, Osborne recounted that, while there are currently 15 seats on the Los Angeles City Council, and only one of them is held by a woman.
A pair of student leaders for the event from the Social Welfare department – second-year students Khiet Ho Jenkins and Dorit Iacobsohn –possessed a similar perspective on the persistence of gender inequality.
“There is no reason that women make up half of society and over half of the voting population," Jenkins said, "yet only 12 percent of state governors, 19 percent of the House of Representatives and 20 percent of Senators.”
Nevertheless, women, with their diverse priorities, perspectives and life experiences may largely alter government policies and the direction in which the nation is led.
“Women’s priorities are different from men; they care more about the economy, jobs, education and healthcare – the ‘kitchen table issues,’” Osborne said. “Men tend to care more about law enforcement, war and the military.”
These issues, in her eyes, have been largely overemphasized for years.
“We want the Luskin School, which is fertile with potential
leaders, to actually be a launching point for us and other students,”
Jenkins said. “The School of Social Welfare is 90 percent women, many of whom
who are of color, who identify as queer, who have a mental illness or physical
disability, who have extensive experience working with immigrants, who
understand the criminal justice system, who work in failing school districts,
and so much more.”
“We want to be at the table," she continued, "we want to make the policies that will protect us and other vulnerable communities. … [But in order to do so], we need more training to be as ready and qualified as possible.”
Both Jenkins and Iacobsohn have aimed to make UCLA Luskin into this training ground for future women leaders in the government. As such, they drove UCLA’s involvement in the Ready to Run conference.
Created by the Center for American Women and Politics, the
conference featured two separate tracks: “You’ve Decided to Run … Now What?”
and “I’m Not Ready to Run Yet, But …”
The first is designed for women who have decided to run for political office in the immediate future, but who may need a hand. The latter is meant for those simply interested in getting their foot in the door of politics.
Each track consisted of a panel of experts, followed by a question and answer session. According to Osborne, the primary difference was that in the first track, it was about “putting [one’s] campaign together, utilizing social media and managing a database” while in the second, the message consisted of “decoding the game – how to network with politically active organizations and to understand the rules of what [one’s] about to enter.”
Val Zavala, Vice President of News and Public Affairs at KCET, also presented at the conference regarding how to put one’s best ‘face’ forward in the political realm. Entitled “Conquering the Camera,” her presentation included how candidates can best portray themselves to the media, communicate succinctly and look their best in less than ideal conditions.
“From what I saw,” Zavala said, “all of the women were so bright and energetic. Every one of them is in a great position to be running for office – they are so lucky to receive this information now. I know that in 10 years, a great number of them will be [leading change] in office.”
The Luskin Lecture Series is designed to enhance public discourse on topics relevant to today’s societal needs. Bringing renowned public intellectuals and scholars together with national and local leaders, the Luskin Lecture Series presents issues that are changing the way our country addresses its most pressing problems. For more information on upcoming Luskin Lecture Series events, please click here.