Senior Staffers: Why We Need Women Running Campaigns
Updated: Oct 3
As women have fought for more of a voice in the American political system, there has been the need to break barriers in every area of politics. Yet another glass ceiling that women are working to shatter lies in the arena of working on campaigns. Campaign staffers - from field organizers just starting out to press secretaries to campaign managers - play an integral role in every campaign. No matter what level, a candidate needs a strong team to count on through all the ups and downs that come with an election cycle.
However, there is still a huge lack of women running campaigns or serving in top campaign roles. Often, women working in politics still are cut out of strategic decisions. It is still hard for them to be taken seriously - on both sides of the aisle and in a wide range of jobs (1). The importance of female campaign staffers cannot be understated and we need more women in these senior positions. For one, having a diverse staff highlights the understanding that America’s demographics are shifting and that the candidate wants to reflect that growth. Secondly, having staffers who are women and people of color results in including those voices in decisions for the campaign. Including women in the campaign structure can positively influence candidates’ policies regarding women’s issues and build a stronger movement (2).
Democratic organizations like EMILY’s List and Emerge are working hard to combat the issue from the candidate side. They recruit, encourage, train, and endorse women running for office. That being said, more work needs to be done to build a bench of female staffers. The National Democratic Training Committee offers free training for people who want to either run for office, work on a campaign, or be a local leader and volunteer. The work these organizations do is hugely important because people need help getting into politics and running successful campaigns. These organizations also work to lift up leaders who actually represent the American people.
In the 2020 election, we have seen a huge increase in female candidates and staffers. During August 2019 of the huge Democratic Primary, the six women who ran for president filled almost 60% of their senior leadership positions with women. The top polling men at the time (Biden, Buttigieg, and Sanders) had over 50% of central roles filled by women (3).
Many women like to learn as much as possible about the field they’re entering. Putting faces to names of some of the women who have served in senior roles on campaigns is one way that we can encourage women to enter the world of being a political staffer with more confidence.
Luckily, at this point in American politics, we have amazing women role models that newbies can look to for guidance and understanding. Examples of these role models include women who served in senior roles in the wild 2020 primary like: Arianna Jones (Deputy Campaign Manager, Sanders), Lily Adams (National Communications Director for Kamala Harris), Lis Smith (Senior Communications Advisor for Pete Buttigieg), Maya Rupert (Campaign Manager, Julián Castro), Rebecca Pearcey (National Political Director & Senior Advisor, Elizabeth Warren), Sabrina Singh (National Press Secretary, Cory Booker; currently: Harris’ National Press Secretary), Symone Sanders (Senior Advisor, Joe Biden - still on in this capacity), and many more (4).
Sabrina Singh (5) Rebecca Pearcey (6) Lis Smith (7)
Since March, Jen O’Malley Dillon has served as Biden’s Campaign Manager. She previously worked for Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign and served as President Obama’s 2012 Deputy Campaign Manager (8). When her new role was announced, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, Robby Mook, said that “she comes to this with all the different pieces of the tool kit. The best campaign managers are talented and prepared, and she is coming with both” (9).
These gains are amazing, but there is still so much room to grow. Not only do candidates need to be representative of constituents, but those running the campaigns do as well. Debbie Walsh, the Director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University said that campaigns that hire and pay women and people of color equitably are sending important signals to the American people (10). Representation and mentorship matters in each position, which I touched on in this article about Michelle Obama and female mentorship in male-dominated fields.
Despite the strides we’ve seen, there are still major hurdles for women within campaigns. I hope that as more women take on positions of power, they will lift up other women with them. Having women at the table to help make decisions is crucial for any campaign that wants to succeed and reach women. I encourage checking out the amazing female candidates running for election in your state this year. When you’re deciding who to vote for, look into who is working in the campaigns. Candidates hiring women for senior positions are going to be listening to and valuing women’s issues.