On The Critical Importance of Supporting Women Leaders

Ayanna Pressley2

In January of 2018  “Ayanna Pressley willfully broke the longstanding code of Massachusetts politics—the one that forbids Democrats from challenging incumbents from their own party,”[1] when she announced her decision to run for Congress against longstanding US Representative Michael E. Capuano.  Her announcement rocked the political establishment and positioned her in the spotlight as “the veteran congressman’s most serious challenger since he won the seat in 1998.”[2] Her decision to take on this difficult fight has distinguished her as someone willing and unafraid to face what many have been too quick to dismiss as “mission impossible.”  

In taking on Capuano, an incumbent political powerhouse, Pressley, who became the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council in 2009, is walking her talk.  She has built the foundation of her career on empowering women and girls to confront stereotypes and dissect the critical issues that serve as obstacles to leadership and self-realization.  “I am running for Congress to continue the work I have dedicated my life to,”[3] she states on her campaign website.   Her work, rooted in eradicating poverty, building healthy communities and empowering women and girls, serves as the foundation for delivering on the promise of the Democratic Party.

Skeptics say that with her bold decision to challenge a favorable incumbent, Pressley is making enemies and potentially damaging her long-term political career. Yet, if Pressley were a white man, would she be subjected to the same criticism? Often women, especially women of color, must carve their own way through challenging terrain because their turn never comes. Pressley shouldn’t be penalized for disrupting the status quo.  On the contrary, she should be lauded and we should be thankful to have two strong people from which to choose in this upcoming election. This is, after all, what democracy is all about.

“Contemplating change — what Thomas Jefferson called “rotation of public service” — is healthy and wise.” [4]

The past two years has seen a significant increase in the number of women running for political office, a promising shift towards diversifying the leadership landscape.  In a recent discussion at Simmons College, Michelle Obama made an excellent case for the importance of identifying, investing in and promoting women leaders who have a passion for the work that government demands.

“First we have to cultivate young women as leaders. We have to find them, because getting into the political arena is complicated…[5]  I certainly know which way I want the country to go.  I want to continue to build a country that’s based on empathy and compassion, generosity and good will.  I want to be in a nation where we give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Where we have open arms and we’re full of inclusion.  But, we’ve got to fight for that vision.  It just doesn’t happen (on its own).  And we can’t take it for granted.  A lot of what we’re seeing now, is what we see when we take things for granted.  We’re here, again, because a lot of people didn’t vote.  People sat out, hedging bets.  Women, sadly were uncomfortable voting for another woman.  We have to own that reality.  The deeper question is, what happened?  What’s going on inside of us, where we’re still afraid to embrace a different vision of leadership?  We need to see more women in the State House, in Congress, in the Governor’s house…  We have to start building that [leadership] pool from the bottom.  And then, we have to support them through it.  We’ve got to be willing, when we find qualified people, to vote for them.” – Michelle Obama

It is our hope at YW Boston that people of all genders, in leadership positions, who have the authority to help build a leadership pipeline for women, take it upon themselves to not only pose for pictures, shake hands and say nice things, but that when the time comes to help create change, stand up, take risks and help make the seemingly impossible, possible.

As Barak Obama once reiterated in a commencement speech,“Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”  We have an opportunity in the state of Massachusetts to stop making excuses for why things are the way they are and start looking toward what might become of us if we invest in diversifying leadership circles, not just in the political arena, but across all communities of influence.  We have a responsibility to build the best future possible for ALL, and that means sharing leadership opportunities with women who were born to make a difference and who will not be deterred by the opinions and short-sighted beliefs of those who cannot see that the arc of history does indeed bend toward justice.  Whether you’re for it or not, women leadership is on the rise. 

[1] https://www.wgbh.org/news/2018/01/31/explaining-mystery-why-ayanna-pressley-running-congress

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/01/30/ayanna-pressley-challenge-michael-capuano-primary-for-congress/BxOGmFtBk9uOLFbQO2d9YI/story.html

[3] https://ayannapressley.com/

[4] https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2018/02/05/ayanna-pressley-challenges-status-quo/Y5faxi9ppLUaIQGgE5IEfK/story.html

[5] http://www.simmons.edu/news/leadership-and-change/2018/april/leadership-conference-2018


*** Please note, this post is not a candidate endorsement ***