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The Girls' Club

After spending time with the hundreds of women at the Business School’s 27th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference in February, I left motivated and inspired to find my next career. As I crossed Memorial Bridge back into Cambridge and to my own school, the Kennedy School, I grew ambivalent.

On Saturday, April 28, the Kennedy School hosted its first Women in Power Conference.

Why is this prestigious school of government only now joining the club?

It took 227 years since George Washington took office for Hillary Clinton to become the first female major party presidential nominee. Many hoped Clinton would break the presidential glass ceiling. But is it fair to expect we’d be ready for a female U.S. President when women are neither provided encouragement nor adequate training nor supported by their female peers to serve in these roles?

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While a record-number of women are running in the 2018 elections, we still need to create more programming to encourage even more women to run.

Some such programs already exist. She Should Run aims to have 250,000 women running for elected office by 2030. Ignite hopes to get young women into politics through conferences and student-run organizations. Even HKS has an initiative, “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office,” run through its Women and Public Policy Program.

But although these steps are in the right direction, they do not get us far enough.

The next step is for women to unite in the face of male political dominance. We showed our latent political power when we banded together to fight sexual assault in the #MeToo movement and to fight wage discrimination in the equal-pay movement. The problem with these efforts, however, is that ultimately, they are only reactionary. These efforts came in response to women being victimized and treated unfairly.

Don’t women lack positive reasons to unite? Why does it feel like our wins have to be at the expense of men?

More importantly, why did it take Clinton’s loss for those of us at the Kennedy School to realize something may be off? As much as you slice and dice the data, she did not receive unanimous support from women.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came under fire for saying that there’s a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” We shouldn’t feel forced to support a woman simply because she’s the only woman there, but we need to get better at supporting and building morale and camaraderie among women.

A Harvard study that looked at entrepreneurs’ pitches found that when a man and a woman gave investors the exact same pitch, the investors preferred the pitches made by male entrepreneurs over the female entrepreneurs. Firms such as Female Founders Fund and Plum Alley combat this bias by pairing together female investors with female entrepreneurs.

Even then, financial support can only go so far.

So what should women do to increase female representation in positions of power?

We hear time and time again about the “boys’ club” in politics, business, and even academia. Having worked in finance, I’ve heard too many stories about women not getting invited to all-male golf outings or for after-work drinks. In a perfect world, we should be able to do all the things men can do, but the reality is that it’s much harder. Why not band together, embrace our femininity, and proudly form a “girls’ club”?

My proposal goes beyond forming an official women’s network or mentoring group. Women need to serve as both formal and informal mentors and sponsors for younger female colleagues. Women need to step in when our sisters get shut down in a meeting. We need to speak out for each other in good and bad times. I’m tired of hearing how women are our own worst enemies. We need to provide one another moral support.

Let’s get together as women to celebrate both the big and small victories. Let’s elevate one another and remember to pull other women forward as we advance in our own careers.

Only then can we really achieve the dream of being women in power.

Jenina S. Soto is a third-year master in public administration candidate at the Kennedy School. She was the Marketing Director for the Kennedy School’s Women in Power Conference.

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