Increasing Women’s Leadership Roles is a Top Priority
By Robert Menendez, U.S. Senator for New Jersey
I was heartened to read a letter on Midnight Minds from two of my constituents about the #RepresentHer campaign (“Women Have a Positive Impact on Government”). When it comes to tweeting my support – consider it done. However, I wanted to take a moment to discuss these issues in greater detail, as increasing women’s representation in government and in leadership roles across our society has been a top priority of mine throughout my more than four decades in public service.
I believe we need a dual-strategy to boost women’s representation in elected office. First, we must demand the continued advancement of women in every field. That’s partly why I hold a Women’s History Month celebration each year to honor trailblazing women from across New Jersey. Among the more than 40 leaders recognized over the past seven years are extraordinary women like Tawanda Jones, founder of Camden Sophisticated Sisters; Michellene Davis, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Barnabas Health; and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, the first African-American woman to serve as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. We must celebrate and elevate women leaders across our society so that political parties, activists, and organizations can recruit, support, and elect more women candidates.
Secondly, if we want to empower more women to run for office we must fight for gender equality in our economy. In 2014, I conducted a Corporate Diversity Survey that revealed that white men comprise nearly 70 percent of senior executives at Fortune 100 companies, while women – and especially women of color – remain vastly underrepresented in management and in boardrooms. Male privilege in the private sector carries over into politics as well. Research shows that men are more likely to enter politics early in their careers, while women often wait until their children are grown and they are further along professionally before running for elected office.
By fighting for paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and other policies that promote economic security for working families, we can further level the playing field and give more women from more diverse backgrounds the opportunity, resources, and support needed to become candidates.
As the Senior Senator from New Jersey, home of Alice Paul – I feel a profound obligation to honor our state’s legacy of advancing equal rights. That’s why I’ve sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment at the start of each Congress, voted to pass the landmark Fair Pay Act, and fought to include coverage for contraception and maternity care in the Affordable Care Act. That’s also why I will continue to resist this Administration’s efforts to undermine women’s access to health care, threaten reproductive rights, and roll back protections against wage discrimination.
Yet this commitment stretches back to long before I served in government. Growing up in the tenements of Union City, I watched my mother – a hardworking immigrant from Cuba – take on more and more responsibility at the factory where she worked without ever receiving equal pay for equal work. Today, as the father of an accomplished daughter, and more recently as a grandfather to the world’s cutest baby girl, I feel more compelled than ever to fight to ensure that women and girls across America and around the world have the opportunity to pursue their dreams without limitation.
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.