There has never been a better time to be a woman looking to make a difference in the public sector than today. More doors are open to us than ever before, yet women are woefully underrepresented at nearly every level of elected office.
A recent study found only 40 percent of women feel they are qualified to serve as an elected official, while more than 60 percent of men consider themselves somewhat qualified to very qualified to serve in office. But the same study also found that when a woman or a man is asked to run for office, an equal 70 percent say they will consider putting their name on the ballot.
So we need to do a better job of asking, and then, when women say, "Yes," getting them over the finish line as winners.
The Republican State Leadership Committee's Right Women, Right Now initiative, of which I'm proud to serve a cochair, is leading the way. As part of the Future Majority Project to recruit, train, and support women and diverse Republican candidates for office, last cycle Right Women, Right Now identified 191 new Republican women candidates from 36 states. We spent more than $3 million to help elect 84 new Republican women to state office in the 2011-2012 cycle.
We are on our way to accomplishing our 2014 goals of identifying 300 female first-time candidates and electing at least half of them. Over the course of the past 10 months, we've made more than 30 state visits to cement our efforts on the ground. So far, Right Women, Right Now has identified at least 200 new women running for office as Republicans in at least 35 states, many of whom are women of diverse ethnic descent. We're proud that as we hit filing deadlines nationwide we are seeing record recruitment successes.
In Arkansas a record 24 Republican women filed for the state Legislature. Of these, 17 are first-time candidates. In Montana, a record 30 Republican women have filed paperwork to run in the state House and state Senate, including 27 new candidates. Two are Native American Republican women.
Together with our allies we are helping these women candidates by connecting them with tools, technology, education, mentoring, and financial support so they can win.
We have a long way to go, but we are proud of our success. In 2014, Republican women hold 37 statewide elective executive offices across the country. Republican women hold six of the lieutenant governor seats and have been elected secretaries of state in six. Republican women hold over 635 state legislative seats across the nation.
Our women lead with distinction. Not only do our four Republican women governors consistently grow a pro-business culture in their states, my fellow lieutenant governors — like Sue Ellspermann of Indiana and Kim Reynolds of Iowa — are helping lead a Midwest economic resurgence. Sue and Kim are growing manufacturing in their states and spearheading education reforms that are creating a better quality of life in the Midwest.
In Washington, Secretary of State Kim Wyman is the only Republican elected to statewide office on the West Coast. She leads coalition efforts in Washington to grow the party, and under her leadership several first time women and ethnic minority candidates are running in competitive districts. Veteran legislator Beth Harwell of Tennessee is her state's first female speaker of the House. Beyond helping to create a business-friendly tax climate for the Volunteer State, she is a national voice leading the charge for a federal balanced-budget amendment to keep our federal books in order like Republican women work hard to do in the states.
These are just a few outstanding female voices for our party. But we cannot deny another truth: There is a serious challenge facing Republicans, and more importantly, facing our nation, when it comes to addressing our shortcomings in connecting with and representing women.
Though women are credited with making 85 percent of this nation's consumer household decisions, the majority of the people making governing decisions that affect us and our families are men.
That's why we're trying to do a better job of identifying, recruiting, and supporting talented women. These mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives belong in the pipeline of leadership if we hope to achieve gender parity in elected offices. And we should, because when we invite everyone to the table to solve problems, we get better results.
It's incumbent upon us to not only recruit, train, and support new women to say "yes" to run, but create a culture of support for women elected officials once they are in office.
We want women to say "yes" to the call to mentor and support each other and run for public office. We want women who will say "yes" to help our party to adapt, grow and innovate, lead, and to win.
It's time for Republicans to get to work to find the right women to run, ask them to run, and convince them to say "yes."
And we need to say "yes" to helping them.
Rebecca Kleefisch is the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. She serves as cochair of the Republican Senate Leadership Committee's Right Women, Right Now initiative and is on the executive committee for the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association.
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The Next America welcomes op-ed pieces that explore the political, economic and social impacts of the profound racial and cultural changes facing our nation, particularly relevant to education, economy, the workforce and health. Email Janell Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook.