Often, the world of politics isn't pretty.
But that doesn't mean that women shouldn't be a part of it.
To encourage women to run for office, the Coalition of Labor Union Women held a conference Downtown yesterday at the Omni William Penn featuring concrete advice and statistics, as well as personal stories from women who had run for office and lived to tell the tale.
"We consider the 2006 election the beginning," said the group's executive director, Carol S. Rosenblatt, referencing organized labor's most successful political campaign in years. "We don't want people to think that it's not a continuing process."
Eighty nations surpass the United States in the percentage of women holding elective office, said Jennifer Lawless, an assistant professor of political science and public policy at Brown University, noting that in her home state of Rhode Island, there are fewer women in the general assembly now than there were 20 years ago.
Ms. Lawless, 32, co-author of the book, "It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run For Office," said the three most common reasons that women cite for not running for office are family responsibilities, doubts about their qualifications and that they haven't been specifically asked to run.
As part of her academic research, Ms. Lawless has surveyed thousands of men and women about their views on running for office. While the topic of children came up in 60 percent of interviews with women, she said, only three men mentioned it.
And when she spoke to women and men with equal qualifications -- on paper -- men were much more likely to think themselves qualified to hold political office. "Even by fourth grade, boys overestimate their abilities and girls underestimate their own," she said.
When Ms. Lawless decided to test the waters as a candidate for Congress in the 2006 elections, she also saw the downside of women in politics.
At 5-foot-1 and 30 years old when she started campaigning, her appearance was continually scrutinized, she said, ranging from a prospective donor who advised "highlights" and passed along a card for her hairdresser to a man who told her "you don't look nearly as fat in real life as you do on TV" to another man who said "I'd like to hire you as a baby sitter, but I don't see you as a member of Congress."
Ms. Lawless lost in the Democratic primary to popular three-term incumbent Jim Langevin, but says she outperformed expectations and helped force changes on Mr. Langevin's position on the Iraq War.
Her experience notwithstanding, she said many women don't realize that once they actually enter a political race, their chances are as a good as a man's. The key, she said, is actively recruiting women and convincing them that they are worthy of holding the office.
"Any man will run for office, but women hold themselves up to an unrealistic bar," she said. "When women run, women win."
Anya Sostek can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1308.