Leading the Fight

Author Hopes to Motivate Women

Posted March 22, 2004 at 1:15pm

Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation, thinks the 118th Congress of the United States will look much different than the 108th Congress.

“In 10 years,” she says, “we may have a critical mass of women on Capitol Hill, and that will be terrific. And we will have groups of men who say, ‘Why did we wait so long to do this?’”

Wilson thinks more women must take the helm in leadership positions across the country — not just for themselves, but for democracy in general. It is the mantra of her new book, “Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World.”

Wilson says she wants to “make sure that this book is in the hands of as many young women and men as I can. It’s really a movement for democracy.”

In the upcoming weeks, Wilson will tour the country in an attempt to raise awareness and convince more women, particularly young women, to participate in the political process.

And on Wednesday she will be in Washington to speak to a group of Members at the National Political Women’s Caucus.

Participation is something Wilson has been doing for 30 years as one of the nation’s leading women’s rights activists.

Five years ago, she helped form the White House Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing more women into leadership roles, including the U.S. presidency.

The group is currently spearheading the “Vote, Run, Lead” campaign, which will train 1,000 young women in politics while working to increase female voter turnout.

She is also one of the co-creators of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which was established to show young girls they can be leaders in the work force.

“America thinks it’s a fair country, and they want it to be a fair country,” she said.

That is one of the challenges facing women, Wilson said, because most Americans believe society is already equal when it comes to gender. But she points to statistics that say otherwise: Only 14 percent of Members of Congress are women. Only eight Fortune 500 company CEOs are women.

What inspired her to write the book, Wilson said, was the those statistics have to change.

Women have not always been seen as natural leaders, and to counter this, they have had to gain power differently than men, she added.

Women have gotten influence “based on their experience of bringing people together and gaining the authority they needed,” she said. “We need people who have that experience of bringing a lot of people together.”

The bringing together of minds has been the key to the implementation of some of Wilson’s ideas, she said. Conversations and meetings with colleagues helped make many ideas realities.

Wilson came up with the idea for the White House Project during a dinner conversation. An article in The New York Times inspired the creation of Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

“It’s never one person, it’s always many people,” she said.

And many people are needed to make real change, Wilson said. Convincing average Americans they can play a role in reshaping society has been one of the most exciting parts of writing the book, she said.

“People are waiting to be inspired,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be postponed.”

For example, most women do not consider running for office because they were not asked to, she says. If more women were asked to run, more would. Wilson urges Americans to tell people in their community who they see as having the potential to make a difference to run for any office — school board, city council, Congress.

Those ambitious ideas are what makes Wilson so successful, said Vivian Todini, who has known Wilson for 10 years and now works with her in the White House Project.

“She’s relentless in her commitment in changing democracy,” she said. “She’s really, truly a visionary. She also can make things happen.”

Wilson said that commitment to change is the key to her health. Inspiring others and being inspired herself keeps her going.

“I get up every morning and I have something to do with something that is going on in the world,” she said. “For me, this work is about thinking that there is something I can do today to direct my energy to a world that I want my children and grandchildren to live in.”