“This isn’t the right time.”
“I’m not the right person for the job.”
“I don’t think I can balance the demands of traveling and being away from my family.”
That’s what I often hear from accomplished, talented women when I suggest they should run for office, and I understand why those are their concerns. That’s because before I was first tapped on the shoulder by my own mentors to run for office, I was focused on my fears of failure and the unknown.
In other words, I hesitated. Just like you might be doing right now.
But when the time came to start my campaign, and after a few more persistent taps and shoves of encouragement, I jumped. I announced my run for Congress, and I won my election—becoming the 200th woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It wasn’t until I was in Congress that I met my husband, Brian, and we had our three kids. Most people are surprised to learn that about me—that I gave birth three times while in office. That’s right, I chose to start having kidsafterembarking on one of the most public-facing, high-pressure career paths out there.
While here, I’ve earned the trust of my colleagues, who chose me to represent them on the House leadership team as their Conference Chair—a position I transformed into a comprehensive messaging operation to ensure each House Republican is using the best strategies to reach Americans and their families.
My first piece of advice to other women who are considering running for office is: If I can do it, you can do it. Be confident. If you start knocking on doors, telling your story, and listening to your neighbors, you can earn the trust of your community and go on to make a difference for those you serve. Women, after all, are naturally suited to be effective legislators. We are good listeners, trustworthy problem solvers, and we want to get things done.
Right now, we have a record 111 women in Congress (including delegates). We have moms, daughters, entrepreneurs, veterans, educators, nurses, farmers, and everything in between. What unites us is that we are all trailblazers giving women a bigger and stronger voice in representative government.
“We are outnumbered by men, but this is about so much more than filling a quota.”
Of course, that’s only 20% women—when the population of this country is 51% female. We most definitely still need more women in Congress. We are outnumbered by men, but this is about so much more than filling a quota. It’s about the values that come with those numbers because women bring a unique perspective that we need in our public policymaking.
Women care about national security, finance, health care, education, and much more.
So, my second piece of advice is to harness the confidence you’ve built to win your election to then make sure all policies are written with women in mind. Speak up.
Take tax reform, for example.
When we got to work on overhauling our tax code, I wanted to make sure it reflected the needs of the modern workforce, where women are making history in myriad ways—like opening their own businesses at record rates, for example. That’s why I’m always thinking about how we can give women more choices, freedom, and flexibility to juggle the demands of their careers and families. For working moms like me, that is especially important.
With that in mind, we doubled the Child Tax Credit to help working moms with the cost of raising children. In addition, because of tax reform, companies like Starbucks, Walmart, Dollar Tree, Lowe’s, CVS, and many more businesses have expanded their paid maternity and parental leave benefits. That means a new parent can take more paid time off to be with their newborn baby and have more flexibility to do things like take their child to the doctor.
For moms like me who are raising a child with a disability, we expanded ABLE accounts with two bills I championed to allow our kids to explore the workforce and save more of what they earn. It’s marking a new chapter for people with disabilities to find a job that affirms their dignity and empowers them to reach their full potential.
With women making up47% of the U.S. workforce—and42% of working momsfunctioning as either the sole or primary breadwinner in the home—it’s about time a major economic policy was written for us and our families.
But tax reform is hardly the only opportunity for women to make our voices heard. Our perspectives are necessary in every conversation about the way this country is run. Right now, I’m encouraged to see more women are stepping up and running for office in their communities.
Like me, they are probably being asked how they are making it all work as they run campaigns, share their stories, and also worry about sending that last email before rushing off to their kid’s recital. I’ve been there, and admittedly still struggle sometimes to find “work-life balance” or, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos prefers to say, “work-life harmony.”
“We can’t make change if we don’t show up and find ways to make all of our voices heard.”
Yes, the demands of a campaign can be daunting, but it reflects the challenges and fears that women everywhere face when we have the opportunity to explore something new that will benefit our careers, our families, or our communities. We can be our own worst critics and won’t commit until we feel we are 100% prepared. That attitude is holding us back. When an opportunity presents itself, seize it! Follow your heart and don’t let the fear of failure stop you from taking a risk.
We can’t make change if we don’t show up and find ways to make all of our voices heard. That’s exactly why it’s always the right time for more women to run, and why I’ll keep tapping them on the shoulder and encouraging them to go for it.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash) is the Chair of the House Republican Conference. She is the highest-ranking woman in Congress and the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. She and her husband Brian are the proud parents of Cole, Grace, and Brynn.