As the Director of Political Parity, Marni Allen sees a need to bring about equal representation in U.S. politics. She is passionate about social justice and has devoted her career to equality in leadership. Read on to find out how she’s inspiring the change at this year’s National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO next week.
Q: Tell us a little bit about you.
I’m the Director of Political Parity, a non-profit program working to change the face of U.S. politics through the elevation of women into leadership roles. Just as in the business sector, women are dramatically underrepresented in the most important decision-making roles in the political sphere, holding less than 18 percent of Congressional seats and only six governorships. With our government consistently mired in gridlock, women represent the best chance for progress. Collectively, women bring new perspectives to policymaking and wield a more collaborative approach than men alone.
I’ve been an advocate for women’s political representation since my college days. The longer I work in this field, the more I’ve realized this is far more than a question of equality. If we want our society to advance, we can’t continue to engage only a subset of our population in setting policies. In politics and business alike, the different life experiences that women bring offer the possibility of creative new solutions to entrenched problems. Our best future will be one that invites, encourages and enables more inclusive leadership.
Q: What’s next for you and your organization, and how will you get there?
We’re in the midst of a historic election season—there are three women running for president, and the Congressional elections promise to bring new diversity to Washington as well, with women of color considered front-runners or serious contenders in half a dozen U.S. Senate races. This is an excellent moment to consider why it’s so important to increase women’s political representation. Political Parity is focused this election cycle on sharing the stories and demonstrating the impact of women in Washington. Through quantitative and qualitative research, we’re exploring the difference that women make—on policy outcomes, tone and tenor of political debate and motivation and inspiration to others.
Q: What are some things you’d like to see changed for women entrepreneurs?
As in politics, women continue to be judged by unreasonable standards. We’re described as being “pushy” rather than “strong,” “calculating” rather than “clever.” We’re also compared with an outdated male model of leadership. It’s time for women’s characteristics to be considered on their own merits, and as an equally (if not more) valuable expression of leadership success.
Q: We live and work in an environment of constant change…how have you learned to embrace change?
Change can be terrifying and unsettling. In my experience, it’s also almost always positive. My work is all about disrupting the status quo, bringing in new voices to politics and new approaches to problem-solving. When I’m struggling with an unanticipated change, I embrace the attitude of change that I advance in my work, backed up by a belief that we can do better only when we’re willing to step into the unknown.
Q: What’s one change you’ve recently made or been part of, and how have you been positively impacted by it?
Our board of directors recently decided to complete our program at the end of this election cycle. This has forced us to develop a plan to put forward only our best and most impactful work, thoughtfully reflect upon and share widely all that we’ve learned, and consider succession planning for our initiatives. Rather than limping ineffectually forward, by concentrating our efforts we have the opportunity to dramatically impact the landscape for women in politics for years to come.
Q: Why is a conference like this one for women entrepreneurs critical?
When women work collaboratively, we wield tremendous influence. We draw strength from shared experiences and thrive on learning. This conference provides an opportunity to strengthen the collective voice of women entrepreneurs and, hopefully, to encourage women to make their individual voices heard more often in the political arena.
Q: If women walk away from your presentation with one thing, what do you want it to be?
Don’t be afraid of change. My husband always tells me that “everything will work fine,” which makes me crazy, except that he hasn’t been wrong yet. Each time I’ve been faced by an overwhelming challenge, or even a smaller yet unanticipated change, it’s given me the opportunity to regroup, readjust and move forward in a stronger, more deliberate, more satisfying manner. Women are resilient, creative problem-solvers every day; we need to bring more of that energy to our political process.
You won’t want to miss Marni and all the other amazing speakers who will be at the National Women’s Business Conference, September 27-29 (Leadership Boot Camp on the 27th and the Conference on the 28th-29th), in San Antonio, Texas.
View complete conference agenda here.