notes-cracked-ceiling.jpgThis week's book review is Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win by Anne E. Kornblut.  Why review a book about politics on an entrepreneurial site?  For three reasons.  

  1. Having written and spoken a lot about what the heck happened here in Massachusetts, it became clear to me that running a campaign is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Governing is a completely different skill set.  

  2. When we see a new candidate hop into the ring these days, he or she seems to be coming from the entrepreneurial and business world.

  3. Kornblut's book focuses on the unique challenges women face in politics, and these struck me as not very different from what women face in business, too.
The following are a few lessons learned from recent campaigns outlined in Cracked Ceiling from which women entrepreneurs and future political candidates might benefit.

  • One woman's uber-success can set other women back. Whether it's Hillary Clinton or Meg Whitman, the media will take that one shining example and use it to proclaim equality and "The Year of the Woman" when it's not the case for all women. Men and women shouldn't be misled into thinking one woman's success represents equality for all.
  • Women will always have to field the "mommy question." Whether you are running for office or running a business, the "mommy question" will always be there. While I had no problem openly questioning Sarah Palin's ability to govern, I was appalled by the people who would question her abilities based on her being a mother. Even Whitman has been questioned about her ability to govern and care for her kids . . . and they're grown and out of the house. However, this was an often-overlooked highlight of the Martha Coakley campaign. Not much was made of her choice not to have children. She was neither praised nor panned for it. That's a step forward.
  • Looks affect the public's perception of women more than males. "There's a tipping point--when a woman gets too attractive, she gets downgraded on leadership and intelligence," says Lee Sigelman, a political science professor at GWU who is quoted in Kornblut's book. Sigelman created a test where he showed people two photos of California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird--one before a makeover and one after.  People liked the prettier Bird, but respected her less.
  • Women candidates are more accountable for their husbands' behavior than male candidates are for their wives' behavior. It seems that the public views a "first man" as an integral part of the package, whereas a "first lady" is more of an appendage.
  • Women candidates need to "speak softly and carry a big statistic." Women need to overcompensate in areas that are deemed to be more male: i.e., the economy, national security, crime, etc. This is true for women in business, too. However, women can't run solely on professional accomplishments. Examples are Claire McCaskill in her first failed race and, more recently, Coakley in Massachusetts. McCaskill won her second race by painting a more personal portrait of herself. This is a lesson from which Coakley might have benefited.
  • Women candidates cannot expect universal support from other women.  There is still a generation gap among voters. Younger voters don't feel that boomers share their values and, vice versa, older women don't trust younger female candidates. Even boomer women have issues with their peers because there are still women in their peer group who feel a woman's place is home with her children or supporting her husband's career.
Boy, that's a lot for a female candidate to think about in addition to the actual issues related to running and governing. But I'll add one more lesson learned from my experience in Massachusetts:

  • One difference that has occurred since Kornblut wrote her book is that women now outnumber men on most social networks.  Women need to leverage this advantage because there's not a single lesson listed above that social media could not have helped make less of an issue for Coakley and other candidates. For more about that, see my earlier posts on Coakley and Scott Brown regarding the new campaign playbook.

Top Shelf Bottom Line: Entrepreneurial ventures are a good training ground for running a campaign. There's a lot of raising money, guerrilla marketing and passion required. I hope we see more entrepreneurial women running in the future. But, remember, you don't have to start with a governor's race. No matter at what level you run, from school committee to selectman to president of the United States, Kornblut's book, Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, is a good starting point. While it doesn't provide much in the way of problem-solving (probably due to the fact that we haven't yet solved the problem culturally), it will at least make now and future candidates aware of the gender issues involved in politics.Here are some other resources for women interested in running for office: