Girls in Government – How Running for Office is Similar to Getting Ahead in the Business World


I think most people can agree that those who succeed in the business are driven individuals with a passion for what they are doing. But what happens when determination and a commitment to your aspirations aren’t enough?

Instead of pointing to a female trying to succeed in business, let’s look at openly lesbian, former New York City mayoral candidate with a tough, go-getter personality: Christine Quinn. Going into the race, Quinn knew gender and sexuality would play a part in her campaign but believed her platform could outshine them. As she told The New York Times, “I don’t get up in the morning thinking about how I’ll approach this as a woman or a lesbian; I think about the issues.” As admirable as this statement may be, those in her inner circle criticized her naïve attitude. Quinn was running for office in a city known for its progressive mindset and liberal attitudes that is known for championing strong women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Anna Wintour. Yet Quinn’s advisors knew voters would have difficulty embracing a woman candidate, let alone one who could become New York’s first openly gay mayor. Why?

Just like Hillary Clinton in the presidential election in 2008, Quinn received criticism on her appearance – disapproval males rarely ever receive. Quinn attempted to downplay her gender as much as possible while emphasizing her ability to get things done. It was only after her dramatic fall in the polls did she make gender an issue in a last minute plea. But it didn’t work. Exit polls showed Democratic women voted for her opponent Bill de Blasio more than two to one. Ester Fuchs, a professor at Columbia University, said “part of the problem is that…women are almost never vote as a bloc in city races, in which issues like abortion figure very little.” Fuchs also pointed to a lack of a powerful ethnic affiliation left Quinn without a base. Gloria Steinem, a support of Quinn, added “If you’re tough enough to run New York City, you’re too tough to be considered acceptably feminine.”

So how does this tie to business? Running for political office is very different from advancing in a corporation. But there’s a similar message. Women can’t always rely on other women for support in obtaining career goals. Moreover, women are held to different standards. Unlike men, their appearances actually play a role in how they are viewed by others. Quinn’s strong demeanor, while an asset to working in government, ultimately lost her support among voters.

While women still have many obstacles to overcome in pursuing larger goals in the business and political realms, Quinn’s run for office ultimately created hope for the future. Standing in front supporters at her post-primary election party, she said, “This may not be the outcome you wanted, but there’s a young girl out there who was inspired by the thought of New York’s first woman mayor.”

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Stephanie Ostroff

Washington University in St. Louis


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