DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA The third installment of the Elect Her women’s leadership conference featured keynote speaker Penelope A. Gross.
DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA
The third installment of the Elect Her women’s leadership
conference featured keynote speaker Penelope A. Gross.

The Georgetown University Student Association and the American Association of University Women hosted Georgetown’s third annual Elect Her Women’s Leadership Conference on Saturday morning in the Healey Family Student Center.

Elect Her is a program that encourages young women to run for student government and other leadership positions on college campuses.

“Women in leadership is a win-win, and that is something that has been proven time and time again. When more women are in politics or any other leadership position, there are so many benefits that have been proven,” Jessica Kelly, the program manager for AAUW’s campus leadership program, said.“Women tend to be able to reach across the aisle to each other better, and they compromise.”

Research shows that women who run for elected positions earlier in their careers are more likely to run years later. Today, 54 percent of women in Congress once held leadership roles in their own colleges’ student governments.

Since only 18 percent of United States Congressional representatives are women, the U.S. ranks 77th internationally in women’s representation in the federal government.

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle when women don’t see female representatives, so [women] don’t think they can run for office either,” attendee Jordan Hughes (NHS ’18) said.

The conference invited female leaders on Georgetown’s campus to participate in a panel. The panel included GUSA Vice President Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15), GUSA Undersecretary of Sustainability Mandy Lee (SFS ’17), Georgetown College Academic Council President Parnia Zahedi (COL ’15) and GUSA Senior Adviser Chandini Jha (COL ’16), who is also the chairwoman of GU College Democrats. The panelists explained why they decided to run for office and how they focused on specific issues during their campaigns.

“I noticed a lot of things that made me feel surprised about Georgetown. … I really wanted to do something about the lack of sustainability efforts on campus,” Lee said. “I worked with the Office of Sustainability, which is a university office, but then I realized I wanted to help mobilize students behind important issues. Change would not just come from the administration, but from pressure of students as well.”

The panel also addressed how they handled criticism as female leaders while running for elected positions.

“I realized that it’s not like you’re doing it for your own self-aggrandizement. You have ideas and things you want to change around campus,” Jha said. “Something that helped me while I was running [for GUSA] was not letting myself talk me down. Taking the time to keep telling yourself that you are a capable person who has ideas and wants to help people. You shouldn’t devalue yourself because the world will perceive you in the way that you see yourself.”

Following the panel, the conference leaders asked attendees to brainstorm an issue about which they were passionate and write a brief elevator pitch, or a short speech to give while introducing oneself to voters. After creating their elevator pitches, participants delivered them in a campaign simulation, meant to help them practice presenting to potential voters.

“It focused on empowerment as opposed to the issues in society with women not holding leadership positions. We were focused on solving the problems and getting down to business,” Hughes said.

After two rounds of the campaign simulation, three attendees were selected to participate in a final round. Each candidate delivered her brief elevator speech, and then all of the attendees voted on a winner.

The conference also included keynote speaker Penelope A. Gross. Gross represents the Mason District on the Fairfax County, Va. Board of Supervisors. Her speech outlined her path to office, the support and mentorship she had along the way and suggestions for how to successfully run for office.

“Campaigning is fun. It’s government that’s hard,” Gross said. “You must balance opinions, and if that decision is up to you, then make it.”

After several experiences working on campaigns and for elected officials, Gross successfully ran for office.

“You must have confidence in yourself since girls are often being told you can’t do something. Fortunately, I think that’s happening less for today’s women, but I still think it’s one of the biggest hurdles for female candidates,” Gross said. “Most importantly, you have to like people, listen, have confidence, find mentors, build trust, understand the time commitment and have fun.”

Elect Her member Sarah Rabon (COL ’16) said that this year’s conference evolved to include a broader leadership focus.

“I think there was less of a focus on GUSA this year and more of a focus on general leadership skills,” Rabon said. “We had a different set of panelists and a different keynote speaker who brought in a different point of view, which is good. This year we had males participate in the training, which we haven’t in past years.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Christine Hernandez was the facilitator at the Elect Her Conference, while it was Jessica Kelly who facilitated the conference. All quotes originally attributed to Hernandez belong to Kelly.

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