The annual Fairbanks Symposium on Friday, March 6, presented by the Institute for Civic Leadership & Mayoral Archives at the University of Indianapolis and Indiana Humanities brought together women from across government, politics, philanthropy and the business world to talk about women in civic leadership. It’s hard to distill all of the advice and insights our panelists shared, but here are a few ideas we’re still thinking about:
1). Integrity. Dedication. Caring. Inclusive Collaboration. We asked our morning panelists Kathy Cabello, Mel Raines, Deborah Daniels and Angela Smith Jones to introduce themselves with the quality or characteristic they saw as most important for great civic leaders. “You rarely do this work between 9 and 5,” Raines noted. “You have to be bold,” Smith Jones told us. Changing boards and diversifying civic leadership is deliberate, long-term work, Daniels observed; it doesn’t happen accidentally. Cabello says she feels hopeful about the future because she sees young women she’s mentored stepping up.
2) You don’t need prior political experience to run for office, but if you want to build your skills and your networks, there are two great organizations in Indiana to help you. The Lugar Series, celebrating its 30-year anniversary, helps Republican women polish their political skills, while Hoosier Women Forward does so for Democratic women. But we heard from City Councilor Kristin Jones and former candidate Adrianne Slash that a commitment to serve the community and a lot of sweat equity are the first and most important things you need. Women run to enact change; Anne Hathaway (The Lugar Series) and Amy Levander (Hoosier Women Forward) are waiting to hear from you.
3) Mentorship matters. “Be the person you wish were on the other end of the phone,” Slash said. If you’re young, don’t be intimated to reach out and ask for guidance, and know that here in Indianapolis, experienced and powerful women really will pick up the phone or meet you for coffee.
4) Women wait to be asked to run for office or step into other civic leadership roles, and they measure themselves against an ideal rather than reality. Men rarely do, Dr. Laura M. Wilson noted during the keynote INconversation. This is part of the reason fewer women are in office, even though data shows that women who do run win at rates equal to men. Daniels recommended The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman if you’re looking to build your self-assurance.
5) Just because you lose doesn’t mean you don’t win in the long run. Slash called running for office a “public job application” because it lets people see what you care about and what you want. From there, other opportunities follow, even if you don’t win your seat. Our morning panelists noted how important it is to let people know you’re looking to get involved, so practice that 60-second elevator pitch!
Thank you to moderators Anne Hathaway, Leah Nahmias and Rima Shahid for guiding the day’s powerful conversations, and thank you to the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation for their support of this crucial discussion. We hope to see you at future events!