UPDATE: We originally said Rebecca Sive is the co-founder of the Illinois Human Rights Commission; however, she is actually the co-founder of the Midwest Women's Center. We apologize for any confusion this has caused.
Rebecca Sive, a longtime advocate for women in politics, co-founder of the Midwest Women's Center, and contributor to the Huffington Post since 2011, is stopping by Seattle's Town Hall tomorrow to promote her recently-published guidebook for women running for office, Every Day is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House.
In her book, Sive interviews women in the public sphere—from Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to U.S. senator Debbie Stabenow (D), Michigan's first female senator—who share some insights about their successes. She spoke with PubliCola about her book, the obstacles that still face women running for office, and the political climate in Seattle.
PubliCola: Your new book, Every Day is Election Day, aims to empower women who seek to take action as political leaders. What inspired you to write it?
Sive: I really was inspired by the fact that, at the point at which I thought I was really going to dig in and write the book, there had been a couple of generations of women who had really made remarkable strides in the public sector and therefore had advice to share and stories to share about how they did it and what it takes. And so I just thought, well, now is the time to get this advice out there, now is the time to make a handbook available to any woman who wants to be a public leader.
PubliCola: What would you say is the main takeaway?
Sive: The goal was to write a how-to, a primer, but to back that up with the real stories of real women all over the country who’ve held various jobs and come from various family backgrounds. It just demonstrates that any sort of woman can do this if she wants to.
PubliCola: Your book has been called "the Lean In of the political world" on Amazon (a reference to the best-selling book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that encourages women to strive for their full potential in leadership positions.) How would you say your book compares to Lean In?
Sive: What’s important to me, and I really appreciate Sheryl Sandberg doing this, is leaning into what you want. Lean In provides guidance to businesswomen who want to get ahead, and likewise, my book provides guidance to women who want to get ahead as public leaders. And so in that sense they’re analogous and they’re also analogous in the sense that they both advocate pushing power, leaning in, trying to make a difference by asserting your perspective, your knowledge, and your expertise.
PubliCola: What do you think are the primary obstacles facing women in politics today?
Sive: Historically, the obstacles have been, for instance, that women wait to be asked, whereas men just say, hey, I want to be a state rep, I’m running. To some extent, women have had a concern about being able to raise [enough] money, they’ve worried about work and family issues. I think that while those challenges remain, what I really found in the course of the research on my book, and in the conversations I’ve had with people about the book since it’s been published, is that thousands of women just sort of look at those challenges and say, I’m going to figure out a way through this because my dream is to be engaged in the public sphere, in the public sector.
PubliCola: What would you say about the political climate of Seattle?
Sive: From my direct experience, what I can tell you—which is absolutely thrilling and very special—is the fact that after Town Hall invited me to speak, [former deputy mayor and onetime Seattle Storm co-owner] Anne Levinson invited a number of women officials and leaders in Seattle to, so to speak, co-host my event—and there’s 30 of them. And so that was just a signifier to me that Seattle is so vibrant, and that there is this commitment to advancing women, however slow the process has been. There’s great energy here, there’s great commitment, and part of my goal is to catalyze the conversation.
PubliCola: What about in national politics?
Sive: I think the climate is very positive. I’ve seen articles naming several potential women presidential candidates on both the Democratic and the Republican sides. The fact that that’s being discussed, the fact that a bipartisan group of women senators came together and said, here’s how to resolve this impasse—let’s make a plan here. Those are both important signifiers of the fact that women are engaging at the highest levels of government and engaging in a positive way. So I think that the climate then looks right to other women who may be considering office.
If you'd like to catch Sive while she's in Seattle, you can see her at Town Hall Seattle tonight, the Seattle Girls' School on Thursday at noon, and the Center for Women and Democracy on Thursday at 5:30pm.