PULLMAN, Wash. –- Washington State Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane conveyed the lessons she has learned while holding political office to the attendants of the National Education for Women’s Leadership Inland Northwest Summer Institute at Washington State University last night.
WSU is among nine institutions nationally that met to help young women conceptualize a future in politics, either in elected office or grassroots activities. The institute, which lasts a week, is a means to help familiarize young women with politics by introducing them to women who are making their voices heard in today’s political arena.
Political observers say young women rarely consider a future that includes political involvement. NoÃ«l Sturgeon, chair of the WSU Women Studies Department and one of the WSU program organizers, said it is hard for young women to aspire to enter politics when they do not see women currently working in the political arena.
In 2001, women held only 22.4 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Only five women served as governors.
Brown, who represents the heartland of the downtown Spokane area, has served the state of Washington in elected office for 10 years. Although Washington State has the highest number of women holding public office, Brown said most of the leadership positions are still held by men.
Brown said society hasn’t made it easy for women to balance family and public life, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. She urged women to not try to achieve the “superwoman” status, but to not sell themselves short either.
As a single mother, who entered the political arena when her son was an infant, Brown spoke from experience. She said running for office wasn’t easy, but she was able to rely on a strong support system of friends and family members. “It’s absolutely true that life is full of trade-offs,” Brown said. In order to manage her hectic lifestyle, Brown said she schedules all aspects of her life and treats family life and professional life equally.
Brown also recommended the participants become involved with issues they are passionate about. In fact, she said many women first become interested in particular issues and then follow those issues into the political realm. She encouraged the young women to get involved in local and university issues.
After attending the institute, the participants will be better able to become actively involved in such issues. Sturgeon said the institute also includes skill-building workshops that focus on things like public speaking, conflict resolution, and political strategy. The goal is to help participants better prepare for political careers.
Fe Lopez, a senior in social sciences at WSU, said the conference intensified her interest in political life. Lopez, of Grandview, hopes to attend law school and work with farm worker rights.
Brown further emphasized building relationships with others to succeed. “I absolutely rely on the people who work with me,” she said. She also encouraged the audience members to maintain relationships with friends and mentors.
The summer institute has been a training ground for this type of relationship building and networking. Renee Smith, a WSU Vancouver alumna who recently graduated with a degree in human development, said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of women. “The level of sharing and vulnerability that has occurred at the conference is amazing,” Smith said.
Brown first served in the Washington State House of Representatives and currently holds a seat in the Washington State Senate. She is the chair of the Ways and Means Committee and is a member of the Economic Development and Telecommunications Committee. Brown also is an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University in Spokane.