26 Common Barriers to Running for Office

And How to Overcome Them

At She Should Run, we motivate women from various backgrounds and experiences to explore the possibility of public office by identifying and tackling the barriers to elected leadership. We recognize the various societal and individual barriers that keep women from considering a run for office. Systemic racism and structural inequities faced by women of different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, sexual orientations, and religions mean there is often not a one-size-fits-all answer. Women should be equally represented in office, and you should have the opportunity to see yourself there. We’re here to provide you with the pathways to take the first step toward considering a run for public office.

There are many questions women have about considering a run for office and common reasons they may cite why they shouldn’t run for office. This guide is meant to answer those questions and encourage you to consider a run for office by dispelling myths you may believe about running for office.

Here are 26 common beliefs women have that can stand in the way of pursuing public leadership, taking risks, and eventual success:

I don’t feel qualified or confident enough to run for office.

We have a saying at She Should Run: If you care, you’re qualified. If you’re asking yourself, who is going to fix my community? It’s you with your unique story and experiences. You might think you need a certain degree, a legal background, tons of money, or that you have to be a political guru, but actually, the only “qualifications” you need to run for office are meeting the residency and age requirements.

Confidence is a trait that can be built, and projecting confidence helps build credibility and trust. Confidence in learning and growing is just as important as confidence in any other area. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation shares, “It’s critical for women to use action-oriented language to show how they got results.”

I don’t see myself in any elected officials/ I don’t look like a politician.

We’re not surprised. Women make up 51% of the population but are only 24% of Congress, 28% of state-wide executive seats (think governor, lieutenant governor, etc), 29% of state legislatures, and only 27% of mayors of the 100 largest cities in America. Those numbers go down for Black women and women of color, Republican women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities. Additionally, political parties are less likely to encourage women to run for office than men, leading to fewer women considering a run. But all of this is why we need your voice and you to consider running for office. Real change comes from everyday people.

I don’t want to be judged for who I am.

Systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and other forms of discrimination are real barriers for women of multiple identities will face when running for office, but your unique experiences are exactly what makes your voice valuable. Women of all backgrounds are running and winning elected positions, and plenty of organizations are interested in supporting you! She Should Run works to show women of all walks of life that elected leadership is a possibility.

I can’t afford to be a politician.

If you don’t have access to wealth for fundraising and serving in elected office, that’s okay! Most local races don’t require millions or even $20,000 to run for office. In fact, it can cost as little as $1,000 to run for a local position like city commissioner. Fundraising is a key part of running for office, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from running. When you ask someone to contribute to your campaign, you’re asking them to believe in your vision for making your community a better place. Many former candidates have fundraised on a grassroots level and have had small donations sustain their successful campaigns.

It’s important to know that at the local and state levels, you don’t make a lot of money depending on what state you live in. Asking questions like, “Does this pay? Will I need to quit my job? If I need to quit my job, how will I find supplementary income if the position doesn’t pay a lot?” is a good starting point in deciding to run for office.

Tip: Your local city clerk or state’s secretary of state’s website can usually tell you how much an elected office pays.

Tip: To see how much it may cost to run for a local office in your community, look up the office you’re running for, your town, and “campaign finance report.”

I don’t have a huge network.

You would be surprised how many people you know and how wide your network is once you start mapping it out.

Even if you don’t have a huge network or feel like you don’t “know the right people,” when you announce your run for office, many people will want to rally around you and your vision for your community. It’s not about the volume or having access to a wealthy network — it’s about a passionate network of people who share your vision and are ready to work towards making it a reality.

I don’t know where to start.

You’re in the right place! Considering a run for office alone is your very first step. She Should Run provides you with an approachable starting place to start considering your potential in public leadership. We recommend starting with our Values Clarification worksheet to get yourself grounded. Then, sign up for our audio course to help you identify your “why.”

I don’t know what actually goes into being an elected official.

Check out our short video on Civics 101 and our Public Office Profile Suite on what it’s like to be a Councilwoman, State Legislator, Mayor, and more to learn about the roles and responsibilities of elected officials.

Tip: Check out your local elected officials’ websites to see a list of their accomplishments in office or what issues they want to address to get an idea of what they’ve done or might be doing in their elected position.

I don’t like public speaking/public speaking is a fear of mine.

The fear of public speaking is a widely common fear among Americans. While public speaking is a key part of running for public office, you don’t have to be an expert in public speaking to run, and many current elected officials share a fear of public speaking. Even the best public speakers experience anxiety before speaking, but there are many methods they employ to power through or use the anxiety to their advantage and still deliver a powerful message. It’s important to remember that speaking to the public at events, town halls, debates, and on social media are ways you share why you want to run for office and how voters get to know you better.

There are various ways to get more comfortable with public speaking before announcing your run. For example, you could join a Toastmasters club or attend and speak up at a local city council meeting about an issue that matters to you.

I have skeletons in my closet.

Elected officials aren’t perfect. No one is. Flaws make you real and genuine; more and more people are looking for authentic elected officials. Amanda Litman, Co-Founder of Run for Something, shares, “Anything you might imagine is a deal-breaker probably isn’t. Are you in student debt? Do you have to refinance your house?… None of those are deal breakers as long as you and your team know about them.”

Nowadays, everyone has a social media presence, and when we first started out, we may not have known what should and shouldn’t be shared. If you’re worried about something on social media from years ago, learn how former congressional candidate Krystal Ball dealt with scandal when she ran for office.

Tip: It’s common to watch the media pick apart mundane and insignificant flaws of a candidate and blow them out of proportion. A skill that’s important to develop is being able to identify when people call out things that are unrelated to the work you are trying to do and have professional responses to dismiss them and move on.

What if I don’t win?

The idea of running for office and then losing your election can make anyone not want to run for office. It’s important to remember not to take rejection personally. Voters may have decided they preferred the other candidate for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. And it may mean this wasn’t the right race or time right now. Many elected officials have lost their races before becoming the powerhouse names you know now, including former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Arizona Senator Martha McSally. Additionally, just by running for office, you are making a difference by holding your leaders accountable and providing a different perspective on your community’s issues.

I don’t know how to campaign.

If you’ve never volunteered or worked for a political campaign, the thought of running your own can be intimidating. There are TONS of online and in-person campaign training workshops that help you master the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. We recommend checking out your state political party to see what training they offer.

Tip: The best way to understand the ins and outs of a campaign is by joining one yourself! Check out a local candidate near you that aligns with your values and see their volunteer opportunities.

I’m not that into politics/I don’t really know a lot about politics/policy/politics aren’t that interesting to me.

If politics aren’t interesting to you, we want to challenge you to consider why that may be. Politics and government affect every aspect of your life and community, from the streets you walk on to the restaurant you dine at. The perception of what it means to be “into” politics varies from person to person (not everyone wants to listen to NPR Politics every day!), and exploring ways you want to help your community through serving in elected office can be helpful. How you participate in politics and with your local government is the door to having a voice and having your seat at the table, so make it authentic to who you are.

Also, you don’t have to be a super political person to run for office. All you need is your reason for running and your commitment to running. Politics is often expressed in our passions. Most people run for office to follow a passion for making change, serving others, and being more involved in their communities. Running for office is a personal experience that often connects deeply to your values. Examples of why you might want to run can be as simple as seeing more streetlights installed in your town to improve safety or adding more parks to your neighborhood to provide more value to your community.

It’s important to remember that no one expects you to be an expert on every single policy, especially on the local level. If you feel like you need a civics 101 lesson, check out our video. You can build your knowledge of the political landscape in your community over time and figure out what issues you want to solve as you explore a run for office.

I think politics is dirty.

The Pew Research Center found that the “level of division and animosity – including negative sentiments among partisans toward the members of the opposing party – has only deepened,” so it’s no surprise that many Americans have a negative view of our government and politics. But that’s why we need you to consider running for office! Political affiliations aside, women tend to act differently in elected office. Numerous anecdotes and preliminary research suggest that women have been more effective legislators recently. Women seem better at finding common ground and extensively using cross-partisan women’s caucuses. We need more everyday Americans who understand the problems that their communities face and want to solve them. Voters like real, authentic people, not politicians.

I have a family. How do I balance spending time with my family and still supporting my community?

Running for and serving in office is a balancing act, no doubt. Having a family shouldn’t be why you don’t run for office. In fact, it is a reason you should run for office. Being a parent means you have a unique perspective in your community, and it’s important to include your children in your decision-making process. We spoke with Murray City Councillor Kat Martinez of Utah on balance, and she shared that getting buy-in from your children is important. When her children ask her, “Why are we staying after school an hour for the community council meeting?” her response is, “ Because I care about your education, and I want to make sure that these decisions are going to benefit you and your brother and sister at this school.”

It’s important to help your immediate family understand your role in the community, why it’s important, and the trade-offs you must make to share your voice. Additionally, involving your children in your campaign is a great way to expose them to the importance of civic involvement and demonstrate leadership to them.

What if I don’t have a thick skin?

As more and more women become political leaders, we’re beginning to see more examples of strength in showing professional emotion. After the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, Slate shares how Jacinda Ardern’s response “illustrates how in addition to wise policy-making, democratic governance requires the mediation of public emotion to promote the flourishing of political and social life.” Showing vulnerability is important in connecting with your community and leading them through difficult times.

There’s no getting around it: Running for office is tough and requires building resiliency. But we can help you get comfortable putting yourself out there by practicing taking risks and building up your mental toughness. And when you run for office, it’s important to have people on your team who you can go to for emotional support on the tough days.

I don’t have the right career background.

Pause: What do you think is an elected official’s “right” career background? Answer: There is none! We need women from all backgrounds: STEM, the business community, freelancing, academia, medicine, construction, the arts, and women who are stay-at-home moms, and everything in between. We won’t have the best policies if we don’t have all different types of experiences at the table.

I don’t know why I should run for office.

Do you see a problem you want fixed in your community, but no one’s stepping up to take care of it? Do your current elected officials represent your values or your particular community? If these questions spark an idea for you, you should consider running for office. If you care, you’re qualified and have unique experiences and perspectives that should be represented at the decision-making table.

I don’t know where to find resources for running for office.

Right here! She Should Run provides an approachable starting place for women to consider their potential in public leadership. We’ll help you figure out what office to run for, what makes you uniquely qualified, your why for running, and how to prepare for a future run with activities like our Values Clarification worksheet or Skills Identification worksheet.

I don’t have the time.

Running for office requires dedication, commitment, a lot of time, and hard work. There’s no denying that. Depending on the office level you run for, you may spend most of your time campaigning after work and on the weekends. Running for and serving at the local level requires a lesser amount of time than running for and serving in Congress. For example, serving on your city council is a part-time job but may require more time and effort, depending on the size of your city. Serving in Congress or state-wide executive offices is a full-time job. But it’s important to remember your why and the community you want to serve. This will carry you through your campaign all the way to the end of your service.

There will never be a “right” time to run for office, and there will always be a reason you shouldn’t run. But it’s the right time if you care about your community and want to make a difference. Check out our So You’re Thinking About Running for Office page to determine why you want to run, what office you want to run, and when you want to run.

Do I need to quit my job?

Local elected office is not always full-time unless you live in a large city like Washington, D.C., or Atlanta, GA. And it often doesn’t pay a lot, so you will want to keep the job you already have. It’s good to alert your employers that you are running for office. It is important to prepare financially if you pursue elected office by determining how much the position pays, how much of a time commitment it is, and how you will manage your situation. Asking questions like, “Does this pay? Will I need to quit my job? If I need to quit my job, how will I find supplementary income if the position doesn’t pay a lot?” is a good starting point in deciding to run for office.

Tip: Your local city clerk or state’s secretary of state’s website can usually tell you how much an elected office pays. To find out how much of a time commitment an office is, we recommend getting coffee or emailing the person who currently holds the position you’re interested in to find out how much time they spend on average in their position.

What if I have financial debt?

If you are in debt, that shouldn’t stop you from considering running for office. Take gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, for instance. Writing for Fortune Magazine, Stacey Abrams shares, “I am in debt, but I am not alone. Debt is a millstone that weighs down more than three-quarters of Americans. It can determine whether we are able to run for office, to launch a business, to quit a job we hate. But it should not—and cannot—be a disqualification for ambition.” Stacey secured her primary win, making her the first Black woman to become a major-party gubernatorial nominee while being $200,000 in debt. People want to be governed by people like them, and being in debt shouldn’t be a barrier to your dreams.

I have imposter syndrome and don’t think I can lead.

That’s okay! Everyone experiences imposter syndrome at one point or another, but we can help you identify and manage your fears and turn them into fuel. Check out our article about imposter syndrome and peep the worksheet at the bottom.

Tip: Imposter syndrome may always be there, but you can get more comfortable with it with more experience and practice managing your feelings about it.

I don’t belong to a political party.

With our current two-party system, running as an Independent candidate at the federal level can be challenging. However, if you’re considering running locally, you should know that many local positions are nonpartisan, meaning you don’t run as a Democrat or a Republican when you run. You’ll still want to know your values and why you want to run for office and be able to share with voters why you’re the best candidate for the job, regardless of your political affiliations.

Check out our Values Clarification worksheet to ground yourself in your values.

Nobody asked me to run for office.

While we encourage people to ask more women to run for office, you do not need a permission slip. Ask yourself! You are uniquely qualified to run for office with your values, unique leadership style, and personal experiences. You would make a great candidate and don’t need anyone else to tell you that.

If you’re reading this, you may even know someone waiting on that “ask.” We can all take small steps towards supporting one another in pursuing our goals and taking on leadership roles. Ask a woman in your life to consider a run for office today.

I don’t feel connected to my community.

You may be living somewhere knowing you don’t want to live there forever. You can still run for office or pursue a public leadership role, like joining a board and commission or volunteering for a local campaign. And you can get connected to your community by attending farmer’s markets, town events, or craft fairs! Being part of your community at any phase of life is rewarding, and starting to meet people to have chats at non-political events is a great way to become comfortable as a community member.

Your current community needs your leadership and your unique voice. Knowing your community inside and out if you run for office is important.

I just don’t want to run for office. But I want to support in other ways!

Hey, we get it. At the end of the day, running for office isn’t for everyone, but we still want you to become the best leader you can be and advocate for your community. Take our Role Call quiz to find out what role you can play in helping bring equal representation in politics and encourage a woman in your life to consider running for office.

No More Excuses. Get Started Now.

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