When Tiffany Thomas decided to run for public office, she didn’t know all the ins and outs of politics. In fact, she relied upon her mentors, many of whom were politically astute and connected, to help her navigate the tricky road that led to her first position as a school board trustee in her local district. Many of the lessons she learned along the way were the result of the tutelage she received from close, trusted advisors.
According to the Center for Women in Politics, women hold just 19 percent of the 535 seats in Congress. But as women like Kamala Harris, California Attorney General, gain political prominence, others are expressing a desire to throw their hat in the ring and get involved as a civil servant. Where do you start? Which office do you pursue? How do you raise money to support your campaign? A seasoned political mentor can point you in the right direction and help you get your career as a politician, campaign manager, researcher or other position off the ground.
Lobbyist and political strategist Jeri Brooks knows a thing or two about political mentorship. As founder of One World Strategy Group, she has had several people sow into her career, and she’s deliberate in her efforts to give back by guiding younger, less experienced women through mentorship and by providing scholarships and internships through her firm.
“I have mentors I look up to, mentors I look over to and then there are those I mentor as well,” Brooks says. “Mentorship is not one-sided. You shouldn’t be just taking from the universe and not providing something of sustenance back. It’s a cycle. If you want to be a strong woman in politics and business, reciprocity is mandatory.”
And if she could give a little advice to women considering a leap into public office, she would caution them to examine their “why.”
“I don’t think everybody gets into politics to save the world,” Brooks says. “Knowing why you’re getting into the industry is a key point in terms of developing your resources because then you know where to go get the resources you need to assist in the development of where you’re trying to go in this field.”
Thomas echoes a similar perspective. She says you have to decide if you’re ready to lose control of your narrative, allow others to create stories about you, and deal with criticism from friends and strangers – all issues her mentors helped her maneuver.
“You must count the costs of politics and how it will impact you, your family and even your quality of life before you begin,” Thomas says. “Dig deeper than the suits, title and fringe benefits.”
How do you go about finding a political mentor? Both Brooks and Thomas believe the key to any involvement in the public sector starts with getting involved in your own community.
“Politics are particularly local, and the average person doesn’t know who their local representatives are,” Thomas says. “Read the newspaper. I’m surprised how many people do not read the newspaper – at least the Sunday edition. It has so much information which is helpful when creating context on City issues.”
Besides your local civic gatherings and City Council meetings, consider these resources for women interested in politics locally, nationally and internationally.