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Empowered women inspire DRC students

During spring break, instead of spending time on the beach or sleeping in, I was trudging through snowbanks in a dress and high heels. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Last week, I hit the road with an amazing group of women from Douglass Residential College to attend a Women and Congress seminar in Washington D.C. through the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN).

The PLEN program connects female college students from across the country with professional women in the political world for networking, policy briefings and hands-on skills workshops. From directors of non-profits to press secretaries to professional fundraisers, we networked with women from every section of the political process.

Yet the VIP guests weren’t the only ones worth talking to, as the seminar attendees were all rising student leaders, activists and future lawyers. If you set our names and positions out on a map, you would have a network of ambition and professionalism stretching coast to coast, and everywhere in between.

The most inspiring point of the week for me was when the executive director of “She Should Run” came for a two-hour workshop that focused on why each and every one of us in the room should run for office.

Student government, state government or anywhere at all — the reason we have so few women in the upper echelons of government is because we wait to be invited, or we assume there is someone more qualified than us to take that step. Actually sitting down and developing our platform and message was eye opening. The name of the movement says it all: she “should” run. And “I” should run too.

One of the most striking overall aspects of the seminar was how it harmonized views across the partisan divide — the focus of our sessions was on female representation in politics, and Democrat and Republican women alike can agree that we need to do more to build up the next generation of female leaders.

The focus was on giving advice, illuminating how the industries work and teaching us the skills we’ll need to survive in a competitive world. About half of the speakers that I especially enjoyed and learned from shared my political affiliation, and the other half were so far on the other side of the aisle I was impressed we were in the same room!

This speaks to the dysfunction in our political dialogue: these women are intelligent, experienced professionals, so why am I surprised to be learning from them? Even for those of us that consider ourselves open to new opinions, we may be startled to realize how quickly we tune people out once we hear them use labels that are contrary to our own. That mental silencing might cause us to miss out on all that we do agree on, like the importance of nurturing future women legislators.

The PLEN program exposed me to a number of new experiences and views. I came out with a whole new crop of friends and business contacts, a yearning to make a name for myself and enough humility to put myself in check when I assuming I’m being ‘tolerant’ of contrary views. For aspiring women leaders who missed out, I say don’t fret: the next opportunity is just around the corner for you.

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