What more can we do to achieve greater parity? — A UK Perspective

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Kristin Hughes, a Running Start Advisory Council Member, reflects on her recent experience facilitating an #ElectHer training at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University.

“Never assume it’s somebody else’s job.” Wise and frank advice given from Heidi Allen, MP South Cambridgeshire to the students of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge during the first ever Elect Her symposium to be held in the UK. The event, which aims to encourage young women to engage in public life with the hope that some of them might consider running for elected office, was aptly timed as it occurred the same week the country celebrated the centenary of women’s victorious campaign for the right to vote.

The sixth of February, 2018 marked one hundred years since women first won the right to vote, and while it was a huge achievement, the fight for equality is far from over. The U.K. ranks 39th in the world for representation of elected women officials. Even today women make up a paltry one-third of those sitting at Westminster. As we celebrate the work of the suffragettes, it is important to consider what more we can do to achieve greater parity. At a time when bullying and abuse is making the headlines for politicians, how can we inspire more women to engage in politics?

Organisations like Running Start have an idea. Running Start was designed specifically to provide the foundation for young women to engage in the political process; to encourage and equip young women considering a life in public service; and to lend support for women looking for an entry into politics. Running Start partnered with Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge to launch the inaugural Elect Her symposium in the U.K. to inspire young women to engage meaningfully in politics and to consider a move into political life themselves.

Barbara Stocking, President of Murray Edwards College noted she was “pleased to invite Running Start to the College for their first-ever symposium in the U.K. — especially during the week of women’s historic triumph of winning the right to vote.” Dame Barbara is optimistic the symposium will equip her students with the confidence and other tools they need to pursue leadership roles throughout their lives.

Councillor Jessica Powell also participated in the forum, addressing the students not only as the Mayor of Torfaen but also as an alumna of Murray Edwards College herself. President Stocking commented, “We were pleased Mayor Powell was able to address and motivate the students by describing her own political journey from reading History at Murray Edwards College to being elected Councillor in Wales. Our aim at the College is to support and promote women in all facets of life and we would be thrilled to see more of our alumnae in elected offices.”

Thanks to events like the Elect Her symposium this weekend at Murray Edwards College, Running Start believes that more young women will find the courage and the inspiration to consider a life in politics. As Ms. Allen aptly explained during the workshop, it is important for women to recognize and embrace the idea that these roles belong to women rather than assuming they belong to someone else; elected positions can be women’s today as they can be — and indeed must be — the roles of the women of tomorrow.

#ILookLikeAPolitician #ElectHer #Askhertorun


Kristin Hughes is an external engagement executive who advises international businesses, government and non-governmental organizations in designing and implementing sustainability, public policy and corporate social initiatives. She is an accomplished writer and speaker and she is passionate about the environment, social change, economic development and inspiring the next generation to embrace the positive impact they can have in society.

Training All Young Women to Run for Office

At Running Start, our nonpartisan political leadership trainings are for all women. To make that clear, we encourage women to create #ILookLikeAPolitician posts on social media to flip the script on our idea of who looks like a serious candidate. But we also know that our trainers need to be part of our message that all young women can run for office. We’re looking for new trainers from all kinds of backgrounds and party affiliations to be role models for politically ambitious young women. Learn more about our September 16th facilitator training here.

The hashtag and our facilitators work in a surprisingly similar way. We love #ILookLikeAPolitician because it shows that there isn’t one kind of person who can lead in politics. In fact, part of why we train young women to run for office is that we know it matters to have diverse voices participating in our government. Women bring their particular experiences and leadership styles to the table. The hashtag is a fun way to get that message out there and show that women are the new face of leadership.

Women, however, are not a monolithic group! We come from all backgrounds and have varying perspectives, and at Running Start, we want to train all of them. Our programs have always included diverse groups of young women: women with different ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, religions, family incomes, educations, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and more. In keeping with #ILookLikeAPolitician, our more serious approach to creating that same role model effect is that we aim to have speakers and trainers who mirror the young women they train and inspire.

One of our best facilitators for our Elect Her program recently shared her own experience with this. She said that one of her favorite parts of teaching college women to run for student government and future political office is how the women of color in the audience gravitate towards her when the workshop is over. That’s not to say that they are the only ones who enjoy her training and want to talk to her! But there is something powerful and important about a woman of color telling the younger women of color in the audience that they can lead on campus and in public office. Women of color make up just 7.1% of Congress (compared to roughly 19% of the population). It’s hard to be what you can’t see, but this successful, confident, facilitator is telling them that they can do it.

We want that magic to continue as we grow our programs, so we are holding a special facilitator training on Saturday, September 16th. Running Start is looking for new facilitators from all the different backgrounds and ideological perspectives our participants have. Sign up for the training here. If you can’t make it to DC, look out for highlight videos we’ll post soon after.

Young women might have trouble finding someone like them to look up to in politics. But Running Start is about to turn a brand-new network of leaders into the very role models young women need.

Sara Blanco is a women’s empowerment advocate. She graduated from Swarthmore in 2012, where she studied English literature and gender and sexuality studies, and joined Running Start soon after. Currently pursuing a master of public policy at the George Washington University, Sara served as a co-chair for their Women’s Leadership Fellows Program. Sara lives in her hometown, Arlington, Virginia. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of Running Start.