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Women today represent only 12 percent of mayors of the largest American cities, 10 percent of governors, 19 percent of congressional seats, and 20 percent of senate seats, according to areport from the Center for American Progress. For women of color, these numbers are even lower. Why does this matter?

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Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will
welcome It's Time 2015 to Baltimore

In January, I had the privilege of addressing the Women Mayor’s Caucus at the 83rd annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

While it was an honor to be in the presence of leaders who work tirelessly in communities around the country to “get the job done,” I couldn’t help but notice that men continue to far outnumber women in mayoral positions, like most elected offices in the United States.

A study recently commissioned by the Women Donors Network found, for example, that white men hold 63 percent of elected offices in our country, even though they represent only 32 percent of our population. While women have certainly had some important political wins in recent years, the total number of women in leadership positions is not increasing rapidly, and in many cases has stagnated.

Women today represent only 12 percent of mayors of the largest American cities, 10 percent of governors, 19 percent of congressional seats, and 20 percent of senate seats, according to areport from the Center for American Progress. For women of color, these numbers are even lower.

“At the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country,” the report says.

This is unacceptable.

Day to day, women continue to advocate for reform yet remain unable to break through the structural barriers that have limited their success throughout history and into the present day. While individual women’s organizations have done outstanding work, the full empowerment and leadership of women and girls faces backlash, backsliding, and formidable obstacles.

It’s time to shift the imbalance of power and significantly grow the numbers of women in leadership positions. It’s time for women to work in partnership with men and exercise collective power across all sectors.

That’s why from May 1st-3rd, we are hosting It’s Time 2015: The Partnership Summit to Elevate Women’s Leadership in Baltimore. The summit will highlight the substantial progress made in women’s leadership, while also identifying the additional visibility and resources needed to accelerate more significant progress.

We’ll be joined by many of the mayors with whom I met last week, including Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who will officially welcome our convening during our opening session. Representative Donna Edwards from Maryland will speak about the need for more women in Congress.

The summit is not just focused on women who hold the highest leadership or decision making positions. We are growing a national network to unite all people, including men, who want gender equality, and are working hard to achieve it– from the grassroots level to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies to the Senate Chambers and everyone in between.

Local participation and support is critical because it is at the ground level where progress really begins to take place. So much positive change begins locally because people experience the world through their immediate surroundings and care about making things better for their communities.

It is in our city leadership where the rubber of democracy truly hits the road. Our mayors are the first to respond when disaster strikes. They help fix potholes and broken streetlights on our roads. And they work tirelessly to improve our local schools and social services. With the real time services and responses our mayors provide, they are some of the most important leaders in our country.

If women can’t break through the barriers that limit their power locally, how will we ever influence change on a larger scale?  In speaking with women mayors throughout the conference, I was not surprised to find many felt a double standard in how they were perceived as leaders in their cities. If they were assertive, they could be viewed as pushy, while men were seen as authoritative. If they were decisive, they could be seen as heavy-handed, while men were viewed as strong decision makers.

Their perceptions don’t stray far from how the average American perceives female leadership, according to a recent survey.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans, both men and women included, said that is easier for men than women to get elected to esteemed political offices and promoted to top executive positions in business– even though they believe women make equally good leaders. While answers differed as to why women face these obstacles, 40 percent of those polled said women are held to a higher standard than men and there’s a limited willingness to promote or elect them.

Change needs to happen faster. To address our 21st century challenges, we must have the representation of all people at the decision making tables throughout our country. But to create change, we must work together across all divides and all sectors to achieve it.

Please join us in Baltimore on May 1st-3rd at It’s Time 2015: The Partnership Summit to Elevate Women’s Leadership. Together, we can mobilize women and men to protect and evolve a democracy that works for all of us and provides everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. It’s Time!


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