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 that variety of 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 seldom a one size fits all answer. We believe that women should be equally represented in office, that you should have the opportunity to see yourself there, and we’re here to provide you the pathways to take the first step towards running for office.
There are many questions women have around considering a run for office and common reasons they may cite in 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 around 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. By joining the She Should Run Community, we’ll provide you with all of the encouragement and resources you need to own your unique experiences, stories, and qualifications.
Confidence is a trait that can be built and projecting confidence helps build credibility and trust. Being confident in your ability to learn and grow is just as important as confidence in any other area. It is true that women running for office will have to prove their qualifications more often than men. Barbara Lee Family Foundation shares that “It’s critical for women to use action-oriented language to show how they got results.” Don’t worry, we’ll help you practice writing down and speaking confidently about bragging about your accomplishments with our lesson on Figuring Out What Type of Leader You Are and Want to Be in the Incubator.
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 only make up 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 less women considering a run. But all of this is why we need your voice and we need 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 women of multiple identities will face when running for office, but your unique experiences are exactly what makes your voice valuable to government. Women of all backgrounds are running and winning elected positions and there’s plenty of organizations interested in supporting you! She Should Run works to show women of all walks of life that elected leadership is a possibility and our lesson on Combating Intersectional Barriers provides resources for women who cross multiple identities and want to be prepared and informed as they throw their hat in the ring. Additionally, here are six other organizations working to lift up underrepresented women.
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 of dollars 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 that you have 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 level, depending on what state you live in, don’t make a lot of money. 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.” You should be able to see how much it costs for past candidates to run for office. You can also use this campaign calculator to start making your own budget.
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. We help you map your network and how you can build your network before you ever announce your run for office with our lessons in the Incubator: Approach Networking with A Fresh Perspective and Network with a Purpose.
Tip: Even if you don’t have a huge network or feel like you don’t “know the right people” yet, when you announce your run for office, many people will want to rally around you and the vision you have 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 your vision 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. Join our Community, watch our Road to Run events with local elected officials to be inspired, and start preparing for a future run for office with our Incubator program, webinars, and our Step by Step Guide for Getting Started Running For Office.
I don’t know what actually goes into being an elected official.
Check out our short video on Civics 101 and our various blog spotlights on what it’s like to be a City Auditor, County Judge, 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 amongst 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 your 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 a variety of ways to get more comfortable with public speaking before you ever announce your run. For example, you could join a toastmasters club, attend and speak up at a local City Council meeting about an issue that matters to you, or check out our lesson, Cultivate Authentic Presentation and Connection, in the She Should Run Incubator.
I have skeletons in my closet.
Elected officials aren’t perfect. No one is. Flaws make you real and genuine and more and more people are looking for elected officials who are authentic. Amanda Litman, Co-Founder of Run for Something, shares in “Don’t March, Run for Something,” “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.”
In this day and age, everyone has a social media presence and when we were first starting 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 running for office and then losing your election can make anyone not want to run for office. It’s important to remember to not 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 that this wasn’t the right race or the right time right now. Plenty of 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 the issues facing your community.
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 campaign trainings, online and in-person, that help you master the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. Our partner, VoteRunLead, offers nonpartisan campaign training for women all across the country. If you’re looking for a more partisan experience, 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 what volunteer opportunities they have.
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 your 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 it can be helpful to explore ways you want to help your community through serving in elected office. 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 WHY you want to run and your commitment to running. Politics are 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 very personal experience and often connects deeply to your values. Examples of why you might want to run can be as simple as wanting to see more gas street lights 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 “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 about 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 in recent years. Women seem to be better at finding common ground and make extensive use of 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 a reason 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. In our Road to Run series, we spoke with Murray, Utah City Councillor Kat Martinez on the subject of Balance and she shared that it’s important to get buy-in from your children. She shares on the subject of balance that 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 what the trade-offs are that 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 an important part of connecting with your community and leading them through difficult times.
There’s no getting around it: Running for office is tough work and will require building up your resiliency. But we can help you get comfortable with 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 the “right” career background for an elected official? Answer: There is none! We need women from all backgrounds, from STEM, from business, from freelancing, from academia, from medicine, from construction, from 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 that 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 you answered yes/no to either of these questions, then you should consider running for office. If you care, you’re qualified and you 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 and what your WHY is for running, and how you can prepare for a future run with our online Community and Incubator program.
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 what level of office you run for, you may spend most of your time after work and on the weekends campaigning. Running for and serving at the local level requires a lesser amount of time than running for and serving in Congress. For example, serving in 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 if you care about your community and you want to make a difference, then it’s the right time. Check out our Step by Step Guide for Getting Started to Run for Office 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 a full-time job, 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 do pursue elected office by finding out 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 sending an email to the person that 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 all 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 a lot of fears around running for office and taking the first step.
That’s okay! Everyone is when they first start out, but we can help you identify and manage your fears by taking action with our Fears to Focus lesson in our Incubator program.
Tip: Your fears will always be there, but you can get more comfortable with them with more experience.
I don’t belong to a political party.
With our current two-party system, it can be challenging to run as an Independent candidate at the federal level. However, if you’re considering running on the local level, you should know that many of the local positions are nonpartisan, meaning you don’t run as a Democrat or a Republican when you run. You’ll still want to know what your values are, 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 personal political affiliations.
Nobody asked me to run for office.
While we encourage people to ask more women to run for office, you absolutely do not need a permission slip to run. Ask yourself! You are uniquely qualified to run for office with your values, your unique leadership style, and your personal experiences. YOU would make a great candidate and you don’t need anyone else to tell you that. But we’re always here to provide some extra encouragement with our She Should Run Community made up of over tens of thousands of women from all across the country.
If you’re reading this, you may even know someone who is 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 that 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 simply 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. It is important to know your community inside and out if you do run for office, so check out our Step by Step Guide for guiding questions on how well you know your community.
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 be an advocate for your community. Take our Role Call quiz to find out what role you can play in helping bring equal representation in politics.
No More Excuses. Get Started Now.
After reading all, or some, of these reasons, you may be wondering, what should I do now? Well, if you’re considering a run for office, we encourage you to join the She Should Run Community and start exploring a run for office. By joining the She Should Run Community, you’ll receive access to all of the curriculum, content, and connection you need to confidently take your first steps toward public leadership.Join the Community