bSMART Guide

For author, woman's advocate, and philanthropist, Rebecca Sive, every day is election day!  Her work as a business executive, public official, and organizational leader has equipped her to inspire every woman to dream with a purpose.  Her new book - Every Day is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, From the PTA to the White House is a must read for any woman aspiring to succeed in politics, as a woman leader, or as a bSmart member.


I want women to understand there are leadership opportunities in their communities and in their businesses


Women in Politics + Women Leaders

What motivated you to write Every Day is Election Day? 

 I was inspired by the years of experience many of us have had promoting women in the political sphere and to positions of public leadership.  I was also motivated by the 2008 election.  That election was a genuine turning point for American women.  Afterwards, we knew a woman could run a credible race for president, and we knew women were important to male politicians in a way they had never been before.  I thought, ‘There are going to be a lot of women out there, a lot of young women, who want to be public leaders, to achieve their own dreams and goals.  Let me collect and share the wisdom that is out there, all over the country, just waiting to be shared.’  That’s really what motivated me to write: the idea that there are empowered women leaders, all kinds of women, whose stories I could tell, and whose advice I could share; it’s all across the country, ‘from Mississippi to Manhattan,’ as I say in my book.  I wanted women, particularly young women, wherever they live, to understand that there are leadership opportunities in their communities and in their business settings.  You don’t have to go to Washington.  There are important public positions in every city and town in America.

How do your strategies apply -- not only to women in politics -- but also to aspiring women leaders of all kinds? 

These strategies apply across the board in any institutional setting.  Women have to understand how to present themselves powerfully.  Women have to push boundaries; have a serious message about who they are; have to lean in.  They need to understand that sisterhood is powerful, and that you can work to achieve individually, but there is also strength in numbers.  I hope women will look at my book as a way to think about leadership, no matter their current setting, political or corporate.  Ultimately, I hope some of those who aren't  involved publicly will decide, ‘I want to become a public official of some kind.’  Then, they can go back to the book to look at the stories and the lessons there from women who have made similar choices and also look at the resources in the book, which are quite substantial, to get a sense of how to proceed.  The strategies found in Every Day Is Election Day encompass women having a sense of their own strength and their own commitment to be somebody in order to benefit the world.

Have a dream that’s really important to you so that your brand, your message, is about that dream.


What are the most common barriers women in politics face when running for office or assuming a leadership position? 

Historically, the challenges have been that women wait to be asked to lead.  Men don’t wait.  They just think, ‘I want to be a state representative,’ whereas the woman says, ‘I’m going to wait for someone to ask me.’  Too often, she keeps waiting and nobody asks.  Other challenges include worries about raising enough money to run a credible campaign, knowing enough about the subject matter, and for women who have families, figuring out how to manage their family responsibilities.  But it's important to know that women with young children are now more frequently running for office.  They’re asking their partners, their sisters, or their moms to pick up a bigger share!

I think the important thing for Gen Y women in particular is to realize there are challenges involved in everything that’s worth trying to do.  So, just go ahead and learn how to address those challenges and don't wait.  If you have something you want to do, go for it!

Another daunting challenge for women in politics is fundraising.  I recommend that prospective candidates think about the fact that most women are already active community volunteers and fundraising for organizations. When I was writing my book, I looked at my local community newspaper to see what kinds of fundraising projects were out there.  There were hot soup nights, spaghetti nights, ice cream social nights, and all kinds of different venues for raising money.  Many of these projects benefitted local community institutions and were put together by women.  Those same strategies can be used in raising money for a political campaign.  Try to think about raising money as not asking somebody to put their money in your pocket, but as asking someone to invest in a cause, an issue and a leadership agenda that’s important.


Women have to push boundaries, have a serious message about who they are, and lean in.


What is the single most important lesson a woman should remember when pursuing a position of leadership? 

If I had one mantra from my own experiences, and from working with other women leaders and women in politics, it would be something Judge Ilana Rovner said when I asked her how she kept going, and how she succeeded over the course of many years.  She said, ‘Raw, pure desire." She really wanted it.  She remembered that every day really is election day.  This doesn’t mean you have to work 24-hours every day, but it does mean that, if you have that desire to achieve something substantial, whether it’s for your job or your community, you have to have a plan for each day.  I think about this when I look at female athletes or gifted celebrities.  It’s how Beyoncé became Queen B!  Does she sit around?  No, she’s got a plan for every day.  Raw, pure desire.  That’s the mantra. 

What do you see young women leaders doing right and wrong when running for public office; and once they assume a leadership role? 
Most women who set out to be public leaders are smart about it, but I do think that politics, like life, is not a one-off accomplishment.  And you also have to be willing to step back out after defeat.  I think that, to an extent, people may think, ‘Well, I tried that and it didn’t work.’  I would say to women leaders of every generation, including Gen Y, I know things are hard these days in the job world, and some of what is going on is very depressing, but I think the notion that, ‘Yes I’m going to go for it, and if I fail, I’m going to get back up again,’ is paramount.  By assuming this attitude, the external climate will also change and get better.

When interviewing female politicians, what surprised you the most regarding their secrets to success?

What I really took away from those conversations, something I cherish, is the continuing optimism these women have, even in the face of public criticism or a significant private disappointment. There are several women in the book who, in the recent past, have gone through difficult circumstances.  Women in politics may go through divorce, or other difficult family situations, or a whole number of other heartbreaks, yet they’re resoundingly positive.  For those of us who may have a tendency to get tired and worn down, I look at these incredibly busy (and tired!) women, and they just are eternally optimistic about their own power to make a change.  Too many women, if they feel that power, are afraid to assert it, or think it’s inappropriate or not feminine to exercise it.  Also, I think optimism leads to power, which in turn results in sticking to your values and persevering. So, the bill didn’t succeed the first time, I’m going to bring it up again! So, I couldn’t build the coalition to get the votes I needed last year.  I’m going to try again this year.’  That optimism about the power to make change is something I saw so deeply and widely in those inspirational women. 

6 Rules for Winning Any Office

Your first chapter outlines six rules for winning any office.  Can you give us an overview of these rules and why they are essential to becoming a successful female leader? 

Rule 1 - If you want to be a winner, you have to want it really bad.

This one goes back to 'raw pure desire.' You can’t just say, 'I think I want to win' or, 'Maybe I want this.'  You have to want it because, as the book title says, every day is Election Day.  You’re asking other people to do things for you, to invest in you, to spend their money on you, to vote for you, and unless you really care, they’re not going to care either.  

Rule 2 - You’ve got to outwork the competition.

When I was writing the book, I was reading Vogue, and there was a great quote from Congresswomen Debby Wasserman-Schultz of Florida. She’s a young woman, who entered public office  in her 20s, and she talked in that article about her bout with breast cancer.  She said, ‘I decided not to tell anyone that I was ill because I didn't want anyone else to tell me what I couldn't do.’  I thought, wow, that’s a very powerful statement.  She was saying that in a difficult circumstance, and I thought, if she can do it, the rest of us can, too.  

Rule 3 - Win the same way men do.

 The fact of the matter is that women win the same way men do, whether it’s in a business context or a political context.  Like men, we have to know the subject matter, the tactics, the strategy, and we have to apply all this knowledge assiduously.  Particularly in a political context, you win just like the men because you have to get fifty-plus-one percent for the vote.  You can’t think, for instance,  that just because I’m a woman and a woman’s never run for this office before, or just because I'm a mom who really cares about certain issues, that that’s going to be sufficient to the need.  It’s not.  You’re going to have to master those basic tactics of winning.  Want to be a good plumber?  You’ve got to learn plumbing.  Want to be a good lawyer?  You have to go law school and work hard and smart afterwards.  You want to be a good candidate?  You have to learn the tactics.  Most of your competition will be men, and they’re learning them, too. 

Rule 4 - You can win with women and for women.

Among women who have sought public leadership, elected office or appointed office, those who have succeeded have been outspoken, clear and powerful advocates for women and girls.  They wanted to seek public office for several reasons, but among those reasons was to focus on policy and laws that will benefit women and girls.

Rule 5 - Success in politics is not a one-off.  It’s a marathon not a sprint.

When you look at the women who’ve been successful in politics, they didn’t go from here to there in (just) one big step.  They had to figure out the logical sequence of events, the logical sequence of offices they might seek, and then make a plan. That sequence doesn't necessarily change if, for instance, you lose.  It’s a marathon.  There are going to be a lot of steps along the path, and even if you only, as some women do, want this one position, and, say, you want to keep it, every few years you’re still going to have to ask for people’s support.  There are a couple of stories in my book about this.  One is about Monica Banks, who is Chancery Clerk of Oktibehha County Mississippi.  She's been reelected four times, each time by a larger and larger margin.  I think the last time with no opposition.  You don’t get there by waking up one day and magically see everything fall into place.  She runs that marathon.  She has said, ‘I want this job.’  Each of these elections I’m going to try to win even bigger than the last one so that I have a greater ability to serve the community and be a powerful voice. 

Rule 6 - The process of leading / governing is different from the process of advocating.

I think about how I have been both an official, as well as on the outside pushing for more women leaders.  I think it’s really important for women to realize that, whether they are appointed or elected, they will be dealing with decisions that are difficult and may require compromise.  What’s important is knowing what your line is. 


You don’t have to be a genius.  But you do have to be smart.


bSmart as a Female Leader

What is 'appropriate aggressiveness' and 'inappropriate aggressiveness?'

I remember saying to Judge Rovner, ‘I imagine that you’ve been in these predominantly male environments and you've had to be insistent and make your presence known without alienating people.’  She said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’  She said her strategy is to be firm, but not unduly insistent. She also talked about the idea of 'never letting them see you sweat.'  

The other thing Judge Rovner said, which I also thought was interesting, was, ‘I was always willing to take on tasks that the man didn’t want to do.’  I don’t know that in every situation that’s a good choice, but I think that what she was telling me and my readers was not to be afraid to do a lot of work because in that circumstance you can become a leader by default.  You’re in charge of so much that people will have to listen to you.

Gen Y women are coming of age and into leadership in an era when women have sought - legitimately and powerfully - the most important position in the world.  That wasn’t true when I was that age.  The Secretary of Homeland Security is now a woman (as of September 2013).  The Secretary of State has been a woman several times.  I think the good news for Gen Y women is that when they think about being forceful, with knowledge and poise, they will be following in a great tradition of women who have said, ‘Yes, yes we can.

What advice do you have for creating a network and leveraging it for mutual benefit? 

 I think about it like this: I’ve always looked at creating a network around myself to benefit a purpose that’s larger than myself.  Now, that purpose may have been related to something that was in my work, in my job, or it might’ve been something I was doing publicly, or on behalf of a candidate, but that’s how I’ve approached it. Then, the relationships develop.  We’ve done something together that matters to both of us.  If we like each other, and share good feelings about what we’ve done, then a personal relationship may develop.  The important thing to understand is that not everyone who is in your network is going to be a personal friend or even a personal supporter.  But, each will be someone you can call on and say, ‘Jane, remember when we worked on this project together? And we were really instrumental to each other’s success? Will you now vouch for me?’  In other cases, we may become pals and go out on a Friday night together.  


For most women the dream they have is the right one.  They know what they want to do.  They know what they’re capable of.


When is it appropriate and not appropriate to say, 'I’m sorry?' 

 Take responsibility for your own mistakes.  That’s what your mom taught you to do.  We all want to do that.  At the same time, what I’ve seen is that sometimes women assume responsibility for things that weren’t entirely under their control or even done by them.  Say, you are engaged in a project like trying to get a crossing guard on the corner, and it didn’t work out. The woman who was the spokesperson doesn’t have to say, ‘I’m sorry.’  She was part of a team.  The team brought the project together. The team designed the strategy.  The team executed the strategy. Instead, she can say: It’s time to figure out how to do this differently so we  win the second time.  Accompany a losing strategy with a winning strategy.  You will then be presenting yourself as a leader and as a person who wants to fight and keep fighting, which is what people really care about.

How does a Gen Y woman successfully build a brand? 

Have a dream that’s really important to you so that your brand, your message, can be about that dream.  I think the first thing involved in establishing a brand is that it should reflect the reason that you need that brand to start with.  It relates to the campaign that you’re running.  Also, it needs to be something that you can’t assume you have a right to just because you want it. The brand and message you develop has to be backed up by having done work, volunteered time, or made a financial contribution.  It’s not an empty phrase or presentation. 

If you could paint a picture of women in politics and women leaders 10 years from now, what would that look like?

 As we look ahead, perhaps a decade, and look at the rate of change, I will tell you that more and more women will be elected and appointed.  Already, women are holding an array of public positions.  I would also say to you that in order to get to that place a decade out, we have to speed up the rate of our success.  That’s really why I wrote this book.  I wanted to say, ‘Here’s a tool for you.  Here’s a way for you to think about how to do this.  Here’s a way for you and your girlfriends to come together and do this for each other.’  If millions of women do that, it won’t be twenty women in the U.S. Senate, it will be fifty women in the U.S. Senate.  I think there will be steady progress, but what I would like to see is great leaps forward.

About Rebecca

Can you tell us about some of your achievements and why you were included in the book Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975?

When I was in my 20s, a group of us decided to start a women’s center in downtown Chicago.  It would serve women from all over the city.  We were going to get corporate contributions for it.  That had never been done before in Chicago.  It was just starting to happen in a few other places around the country.  It was really a ground-breaking step, this idea of a feminist agenda and an agenda of equality for women, and of helping women who were, for instance, raped to find help. I’ve continued I think to have that focus. I’m always really trying to develop organizations and make them ever more powerful and influential. For me, that’s always been a driving force, and I think that stood out in my early years.

What advice would you give your younger self about being an influential woman leader?

‘Remain optimistic.’  For most women, what I’ve seen is the dream they have is the right one.  They know what they want to do.  They know what they’re capable of.  Most women are very self-aware.  Remaining optimistic enables you to wake up everyday and say, ‘Okay, here’s what I’m going to do today.’  If you have to regroup and be resourceful, that’s what you have to do. In my own life I’ve had some significant disappointments.  And so you cry, you cry on someone else’s shoulder, you figure out what you’ve done wrong, but there’s a time to sit down and ask, ‘What do I do next?’  Try to be resourceful about what you want.  Remain optimistic about your own power and your own intelligence.  You can figure it out, and you can do it.  There’s no such thing as striking out. There’s no three strikes and you’re out. There’s another inning every day.  I desperately want women to know and understand that.

What are the greatest lessons you learned empowering and consulting future female leaders?

‘There are only a few Einsteins in the world.’  You don’t have to be a genius.  But you do have to be smart.  Let’s try together.  If we need an Einstein, we’ll just go find one.  Don’t feel disempowered or that you can’t be head of the class or head of the commission or elected because you’re not a genius. Sometimes women feel like now I have to go get a PhD in education, and a guy says, ‘No, I’m going to run for the school board!’ Senator Stabenow was twenty-six when she ran for county board. She ran because the local nursing home had decided it wouldn’t accept Medicaid for reimbursement for services.  All of these impoverished seniors were going to lose their homes.  She thought that was wrong.  She ran against the guy who was the favorite, and she beat him.  What’s interesting about that is that she didn’t know the minutiae of healthcare policy.  She didn’t know everything about how to run a nursing home.  He probably didn’t either.  But she knew something was wrong, so she ran. Recognizing that, yes, you need to know a lot and not be lazy about education, but you can learn while you’re running, just as the men do.  That’s something that I’ve learned.  You don’t have to be timid.
What do you want all bSmart members to know about your story that would help them bSmart too?

Stick with it.  It sounds kind of mundane, but one of the things I can tell you from this vantage point is that I realized when I was in my twenties that I really cared about women’s advancement and women in public leadership. I’ve been a foundation officer, a business executive, and a public official.  I guess what I would say from my own experience to the bSmart women is that if you have that dream, there isn’t only one way to do it.  There isn’t only one job that will meet that dream.  Understand that over the course of time, you’ll be able to achieve it in different contexts and in different roles.  The sum of all that will be greater than the parts, and thirty years or twenty years out, you will be somebody because you will have said, ‘I have pursued this dream.’ 

Present yourself as a leader who wants to keep fighting. That’s what people really care about.


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