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The three female polit­ical leaders who com­prised the panel for the fall semester’s first install­ment of the Women who Inspire Speaker Series, held Monday night in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room, had a clear, col­lec­tive mes­sage for women con­sid­ering a career in pol­i­tics: Do it.

One of the biggest hur­dles to increasing female rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the polit­ical sphere, they noted, was the dif­fi­culty of recruiting women for the job.

“Studies have shown you have to ask a woman at least nine times to run for office before she decides,” said Mass­a­chu­setts Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. “How many times do you have to ask a man? Once. That is some­thing we have to get over.”

Forry was joined on stage by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark and Jen­nifer Nas­sour, founder and pres­i­dent of Con­ser­v­a­tive Women for a Better Future. The event was mod­er­ated by Rhon­della Richardson, AS’90, a reporter with WCVB-​​TV.

Monday’s event, titled “Women in Public Office: Chal­lenges, Progress, and Impact,” was co-​​sponsored by the Social Jus­tice Resource Center, a hub of justice-​​minded thinking that works to advance North­eastern stu­dents’ socio-​​political con­scious­ness and pro­duc­tive engage­ment with con­tem­po­rary social issues.

“The Women who Inspire Speaker Series was cre­ated to inspire the next gen­er­a­tion of women leaders by learning from accom­plished women–thought leaders pre­senting their diverse points of view,” Henry J. Nasella, chair of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, said in his wel­coming remarks.

Improve­ments to gender bal­ance in Congress

One hun­dred and four women are cur­rently serving in the U.S. Con­gress, including Clark, who was elected in 2013. How­ever, women only account for 20 per­cent of Con­gress’ total mem­ber­ship, while they make up more than 50 per­cent of the U.S. population.

“I really believe firmly that our democ­racy is stronger when our rep­re­sen­ta­tives reflect our country,” Clark said.

“And our country demo­graphics are not reflected in Con­gress, cer­tainly not in the amount of women or people of color. We need that diver­sity because that is who we are as a people.”

Progress of women in politics

Forry said women have made progress on the polit­ical stage in the last decade, par­tic­u­larly in Mass­a­chu­setts, where four of the Commonwealth’s six con­sti­tu­tional offi­cers are women.

But she added that there is still more work to be done, noting that women need to ingrain them­selves in the com­mu­ni­ties where they live.

“To the stu­dents here, you are going to live in com­mu­ni­ties out­side of North­eastern,” Forry said. “And when you settle in a com­mu­nity it is impor­tant to show up. Knowing your neigh­bors is impor­tant. It shows folks that you care.”

Iden­ti­fying the best opportunity

During the Q&A fol­lowing the panel dis­cus­sion, a stu­dent asked for tips on building a net­work and then run­ning for polit­ical office in a com­mu­nity or state in which they did not grow up.

Nas­sour joked that the stu­dent must have read her biog­raphy, as she was on track to run for the New York State Assembly before moving to Massachusetts.

“You still run,” Nas­sour said. “Run­ning for office and being involved are about the rela­tion­ships you make. Ulti­mately it is about win­ning, but your heart has to be in the right place. You have to want to be there. And those rela­tion­ships will out­stand any polit­ical career you have.”

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