AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst Department of Political Science has announced a new program to encourage and help prepare new generations of women for roles in public leadership.
The UMass Women into Leadership (UWiL) program aims to reduce the gender gap in public service through a series of annual, hands-on workshops beginning spring 2015. The program, which will be open to all undergraduate female students at UMass Amherst regardless of class year or major, is organized around three central components: to raise awareness of the existence and causes of gender disparities in public service, to provide leadership training that will prepare women to enter public service careers, and to create mentoring and networking programs to help participants launch their careers in public service.
“As the state’s flagship campus, we have a responsibility to prepare students to move into public service careers where they can serve as leaders for the Commonwealth,” said UWiL executive director Michelle Goncalves. “UWiL is designed to provide the tools and experiences necessary to jump-start the political careers of those students who are less likely to actively consider public service, but who have important experiences and qualifications that make them excellent candidates for the public sector.”
The organizers of UWiL note that women remain significantly underrepresented in American elected office. Less than 19 percent of U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives are women, women hold only 23 percent of statewide elective executive positions, and only 24 percent of state legislators are women. Only one-in-four Massachusetts legislators are women, and Massachusetts only elected its first female U.S. senator in 2013.
“The impetus for UWiL really occurred a few years ago when the Department of Political Science hosted a networking event with alumni in elected office and undergraduate majors who were curious about political careers,” explained Goncalves. “As we waited to start the event, one of our alumnae asked me where all the women were. The lack of women in attendance made it clear to me that the gender gap in politics and public service was something we really had to address before our students graduated. The college-aged years are the ideal time to make sure women are made aware of—and encouraged to pursue—public service careers and elected office.”
Goncalves says that research demonstrates that women’s underrepresentation in public office is not due to inherent characteristics, qualifications, ability to win an electoral campaign or other commonly cited factors such as family responsibilities or fundraising. Instead, women’s socialization, aversion to risk, propensity to evaluate themselves more harshly than their male peers and tendency to wait for someone to ask before considering service all contribute to the dearth of women in the political pipeline.
Participants in UWiL will be exposed to the realities of gender disparities in public service at every level of government and will learn the social, economic and political consequences of those disparities. The program will provide the necessary support and training to make participants more likely to consider running for public office through practical training in and discussions around public speaking, professionalism, marketing, campaigning and fundraising. UWiL will also provide participants with an initial network of mentors upon whom they can call for advice and information about internships and training workshops around the country that focus on women, activism and political careers.
“The world needs more female political leaders at every level of government and who better to help develop those leaders than UMass Amherst?” said Micaelah Morrill, co-chair of the UWiL board of directors and a former legislative aide. “UWiL combines UMass Amherst’s academic excellence with local, state and national political experience, and offers a program that will help young women succeed at every political level, anywhere they want to take it. UWiL has brought together talented women from across the political spectrum to equip UMass students with the tools and skills to be tomorrow’s political leaders, and we are just getting started. It is an honor to be a part of UWiL and I am thrilled with the opportunity to work with my alma mater on such an important issue.”
Funding for the UWiL workshop program comes from the UMass Amherst Department of Political Science, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and individual donations. A fundraising reception will take place Sept. 23 with a keynote presentation by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark. Further details will be released in late summer.
More information about the UMass Women into Leadership program, including ways to donate, can be found at www.umass.edu/uwil.