When I started my career, I could count on one hand the number of women lobbyists I knew. The South Carolina Senate had no female representation and the SC House of Representatives had a small Women’s Caucus. Despite working in predominantly woman-led fields (social work and nonprofits) — policy and advocacy, on the other hand, was not a place where women were typically seen.
Had it not been for good mentors who coached me along the way in those early years, I would have struggled to make sense of the unfamiliar world that is the legislative process. Those early days were filled with confusing rules and procedures, a completely different language, and intimidating meetings run by all-male committee chairs.
Fortunately, I had female counterparts and confidants who I could turn to and who answered my questions, generously made introductions to key staff and legislators, and edited my drafted proposals. These allies helped to solidify my desire to continue advocating for the clients and organizations I served, and encouraged me to keep going in the most difficult of days.
Fast forward to 2020.
Today 27 women serve in the SC Legislature. And while the legislative process is pretty similar to what it was then, the players have definitely changed. What once was a lonely time spent standing in a predominantly male-filled State House lobby has been replaced with groups of women, there advocating for both professional and personal interests.
Legislative hearings are packed with women observing and those taking a more active role in testifying. On the other side of the table, women-lead committees listen to the impassioned pleas of their constituents.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are countless men – both elected officials and lobbyists – who I deeply respect and still rely on as trusted resources and champions for issues that are important to me and the organizations I work with.
However, for the first time, I can look around and see a world that for once, looks like me. A world where the people I’m sitting beside have similar lived experiences, and although we may not always agree on solutions or strategy – we have a connection as women.
It seems appropriate — if not long overdue — that 100 years after the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote, we will have a national election that has more women on the ballot. And even more women are expected to show up to the polls.
Forever the optimist, I am excited about our collective voices being heard, knowing that it will take all of us to bring about changes that are important to us, our families and our communities.
Professionally, I continue to walk the halls of the SC statehouse, meeting and educating lawmakers for the various causes and organizations I have the honor to represent through the work we do at North.
Personally (and professionally, because the entire North team believes as I do that we have to continue to break down barriers for women in all fields) I continue to champion and encourage more women to run for office or support those who are. We can make a difference and there is no better representation than when it comes from someone who has walked in your shoes — especially if those shoes happen to be a pair of heels!
*Footnote — Want to hear more from the North ladies on the importance of being involved in politics? Check out our Boss Talk podcast Episode 7 with special guest Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan!