6 Barriers to Women Running For and Serving In Public Office

Posted by Terri McCormick On March - 21 - 2014

Terri McCormick Sarah PalinAccording to the research conducted by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, there are six identifiable barriers to women who aspire to serve in public office.

From their publication Cracking the Code, “Political Intelligence for Women Running for Governor” (2004), these barriers are:

  1. Executive Leadership: Given the few examples of women chief executives in the public and private sectors, women candidates for governor must be able to demonstrate successful executive experience in order to win voter confidence.
  2. Preparation: Women need to provide more evidence than men of their financial and crisis-management skills to persuade voters they are as “qualified” or “ready to serve.”
  3. Outsiders with Insider Connections: Women are presumed to be “outside” the harsh push and pull of politics, but they must have inside connections to mount statewide campaigns.
  4. Outsiders with Insider Know-How: Women are expected to be “honest,” but in voter’s minds that raises the question: Can they make the necessary deals?
  5. Management Style—Tough but Caring: Women must walk the line between seeming “tough enough” but not “too tough,” and compassionate but not weak.
  6. Family Matters: Voters are curious and make assumptions about women candidates and their families. They wonder who will come first—the candidate’s family or the public, and how she will juggle both.


Research on women governors has described them as being willing to take on the corruption in their states. Republican governor

Sarah Palin of Alaska was quoted on October 15, 2007, as stating, “It’s time for Alaska to grow up and end its reliance on pork-barrel spending.” Shortly after taking office, Palin canceled funding for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a $330 million project that Senator Ted Stevens (R) championed in Congress.

The bridge, which would have linked the town of Ketchikan to an island airport, had come to symbolize Alaska’s dependence on federal handouts, as it would serve fifty people. Governor Palin, instead, would rather prove that Alaska can pay its own way, developing its huge energy wealth in ways that are “politically and environmentally clean.”

Governor Palin recognized that “if we had the same good old boys serving, nothing would change. We needed some new blood. [She] also recognized that you had to be the top dog to make those changes.”12 Palin was seen as a golden girl of the Republican Party, a hardworking, pro-business politician whose friendly demeanor (evidenced by that Palin smile) made her palatable to the typical pickup-driving Alaskan man.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) of Kansas further proves the research right on women leaders. She blurs the partisan divide by describing herself as a post-partisan who is focused more on solving problems than pointing fingers. Named as one of the nation’s five best governors by Time magazine in 2005, Sebelius is described as someone who “really loves studying policy.” She is a self-proclaimed risk-taker who has learned from her father. “You have to be willing to fight for something and risk taking the loss.”…To continue reading this book, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican” in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

About the Author:

Terri McCormick is an author, policy expert, educator, and former state representative to the Wisconsin State Legislature. Today, she offers her expertise in public and government relations through McCormick Dawson CPG Ltd., a trusted consultancy of independent contractors.

Ms. McCormick serves as president and CEO of the company, drawing from more than two decades of professional experience, a strong educational foundation, a host of industry-related publications, and a multitude of accolades, awards and formal recognitions. Holding a Master of Arts in administrative leadership from Marian University, and a Bachelor of Science in political science and public administration from the University of Wisconsin, Ms. McCormick received both degrees with high honors.

“What Sex is a Republican?” is sold on Amazon in both the paperback edition as well as Kindle edition.  Read reviews on Amazon here.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts