The Bipartisan Policy Center Hosts the “Women as Leaders Forum”

On November 5th, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit research, advocacy, and outreach organization, held a panel discussion entitled the “Women as Leaders Forum” sponsored by its Commission on Political Reform. The panel featured former Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), former Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), former Clinton Administration Budget Director Dr. Alice Rivlin, and former Bush Administration Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Each panelist shared their experiences, gained during the time they spent pursuing their passions and serving in their positions.

Historically, there have never been as many women holding seats in the U.S. Congress than there are currently. The panelists recognized this reality and Senators Snowe and Lincoln emphasized that their shared experience, and the struggles it took to get to Congress, catalyzed and allowed women legislators to come together and forge relationships that allowed them to move beyond their political differences and work together to find solutions to issues facing the American public. Secretary Veneman said that in fact it was women in positions of power who led the effort to bring an end to the recent government shutdown. She noted that the shutdown reflected poorly on America’s image abroad and “set a bad example of what democracy ought to look like.”

More women in leadership positions is “important for the country” because “governing institutions [should be] more reflective of society as a whole,” said Senator Snowe. Senator Lincoln added that diversity brings different perspectives to the table that often lead to better policy solutions and overall outcomes. However, like society, people within governing institutions must work toward establishing relationships outside of their immediate comfort zones and parties. Dr. Alice Rivlin proposed developing “affinity groups” based on “something in common that’s not political” that can then be “taken to a wider level,” and then leverage that understanding and relationship to facilitate dialogue. Senator Snowe agreed, and highlighted the relationships formed between women Senators from both sides of the aisle during their informal dinners- dating back to the 1990s- emphasizing that “listening is half the battle.”

The panelists agreed that in seeking to end the partisan gridlock that is preventing the return of regular legislative order, it is important for elected leaders to collaborate, listen to, and reach out to each other. “We cannot start from the extremes, because all you do is argue. You need to start in the middle where you agree and [then] work out [from there],” said Senator Lincoln while responding to a question about what qualities make women good leaders. The panelists went further, noting that by working alongside and listening to each other elected officials can help shift the focus from conflict to compromise, from campaigning to legislating, and from dispiriting the public to inspiring them. Senator Snowe added that leaders must listen and demonstrate the “value of bipartisanship and compromise” to succeed in changing the current dynamic in Congress.

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