OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: White House Project Q&A with Linda Tarr-Whelan

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the White House Project panel: White House Project Training Session - Q&A with Linda-Tarr-Whelan. Erin Vilardi, VP of Program and Communications at The White House Project introduced Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan who has an amazing bio. She is an author and she's a blogger! They sat down for a brief Q&A due to scheduling changes at the BlogHer and The White House Project event. She was set to be on a panel later in the day but was unable to stay all of the day.

"People who blog are able to step and express your own ideas. People already think of you as leaders because they go and read what you say, and that is a set of skills that we just desperately need."

Appointed office may be a very useful route - particularly for women with children.

Erin asked the Ambassador how to talk more about appointed roles in government.

If you are passionate about the environment, you can find a way to play a public role. Every governor's office has a list of boards and commissions, and the state level is an area where women have typically not applied. At the local level, there are also commissions and boards.

One woman on the Ohio state legislature began at a local wastewater commission. It can start anyway.

Don't lessen your own abilities. Take a look at the other people on these commissions and their experience level. You will find most commissions are heavily frequented with people who have conflicts of interest. Business interests, in particular. One of the first commissions I was on - in New York State I was appointed by the governor - it was a commission on student loans, but I was the first person to ever sit on this commission who wasn't a banker. You have a point-of-view that is really valuable. I had young kids through most of this period. Commissions meet on a regular basis. It's a good fit.

Erin asked her to go on about how blogging can accelerate getting more women into public office (elected or appointed).

"We have only begun to utilize those avenues to get more women at the table." Women need to be there to open doors to other women. Women are going to graduate school more than men, we are the consumers… there's a lot of strength we have to offer. Statistic shared: 3/4 of the Fortune 1500 companies have no women on their boards of directors.

Women bloggers or women in the media feel like we're listened to because we have an echo chamber where people are listening, but it's also important not to be fooled. We are 71st in the world in terms of our representation. It is great we have Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and it's great we have 17% of Congress are women, but it's still not enough.

Erin points out that while some are calling this year the "year of the woman" but there are still less women running than in 1992.

The ambassador says working at the community level is a great way to get involved at the ground level. Blogging is a great avenue, but we must also force parties to change. Many countries have done it by quota or via constitutional amendments. You may have noticed we haven't been able to pass the ERA. So what we must do is like guerilla warfare. We must convince other women to run and we must push the political parties that it's not acceptable not to have women running. This isn't just about equality. This is about having a better country, having better decisions, and making sure we are in fact utilizing all of the talents we have, not just part of it. "Leadership is not gender-determined."

There are not enough women at the policy tables. There are only 2 countries in the world without paid family leave and there are very few countries left without paid sick leave. There are few countries that don't have affordable childcare for their children. The United States doesn't have these things, largely as a result of a male dominated landscape. Rwanda had so much internal strife that they decided to change the entire landscape in their country and they are now doing the best economically and with respect to development, schools, and more. They have moved way beyond the rest of the African countries. It helps to have an international lens to look at global problems, and that is also helpful.


Q) Carrie from Philadelphia: I have been working on electing women for 35 years. It used to be the case that Republican women voted with moderates and that's no longer the case. The Republican women now are the most conservative ever, so the White House Project in the age of Sarah Palin looks a little different to me than it once was. In this country, the gender gap in voter demographics pales in comparison. Now I want to get more young people in office and I'm less concerned about the gender because of this problem. What do you think about that?

A) I'm a Democrat too; I've been appointed by Carter and Clinton, so my politics are not something I hide. What I know from other countries and from watching Congress: there are a lot of issues where partisanship trumps everything else, but I also know that some of these issues we've been fighting the same fights since I started 40 years ago, and we're not making progress, even with Democratic men in office. There are still some Republican women who work across the aisle and make things happen. The people stepping across are like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. I still think there's room for reaching across.

Marie) I'd like to add to that. When I started, our programs came out of our work from the Ms. Foundation, but we're aiming at women who support a wide range of health options for women and other priorities like that. Women who support the issues that allow other women to get in are important. We are recruiting women of all parties who hold those values. There is a lens through which we look at gender.

Erin) There are really only a small number of these women who are to the extreme right. "You have to do quite a bit of work to get noticed." We need to get more diversity in the Republican party. It's hard for moderate women to get ahead in the Republican party, particularly nationally. Also the Democratic women tend to get pigeon-holed on certain issues and we need to move beyond that as well.

Ambassador) "This is the most highly partisan time I have ever witnessed." For women in the parties, sometimes the only way to get ahead is to be the voice either from the right or from the left vs. from the middle. But women are in general more likely to work more toward consensus as a style.

Q) What are the blocks that stop us from taking these steps to move forward?

A) The super individualism of our own country. There is also a prevailing attitude that it is only the mother's responsibility to raise children. Not a village, not both parents, not others in the community, but solely the mother's. Taking time off is still a huge problem. That is another area where we must make changes. The reason other countries, particularly those that are socially democratic, have moved forward is there is a social compact that we must take care of each other. We are out of step and we aren't demanding what we need in comparison with other countries like Japan.

(Continued.) I was at a Southern university to talk about my book and a woman came up to me afterwards, saying as she was a scientist, she never thought there was any difference in her career because she was a woman - until she had a child. She said, "when I came back from maternity leave, I'm on a committee at the university and I suggested we need childcare and the chair of the committee said 'oh dear, we must go on to the important topics.'" That's what happens when there's a lone woman voice. We need more.

Her book: Women Lead the Way, by Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan.

Next up: Your Campaign Blueprint, led by Kathryn Poindexter and Erin Vilardi of The White House Project.

Related links: