“It’s important for women to be not just in the room, but to be at the table”

This is just one of the many illuminating comments shared on Monday May 20th as the Rotunda at U.S. Embassy Dublin was filled with several women (and some men) who had gathered to hear social entrepreneur and expert in political campaigning, Jessica Grounds speak as part of IUSA Week. Grounds founded Running Start, based in Washington DC, an organization dedicated to bringing young women to politics and supporting the young women who shape tomorrow’s world.

Starting from her student days, Grounds shared her journey of being a social entrepreneur, founding Running Start and her involvement across multiple US political campaigns. The U.S. is currently ranked 78th in the world in terms of female representation in politics. Ireland is ranked 90th. Of 166 representatives at Dáil Éireann, just 25 of them are female. I found these stats to be surprising if I’m honest. There are several research studies that demonstrate that gender equality helps businesses, communities, governments and countries not only succeed, but to thrive. This makes sense, but as the talk demonstrated, there is important work to be done in terms of bridging the gap and encouraging and empowering women to seek out an take leadership roles in the political process.

Grounds discovered that young women tended to start stepping back in their leadership in high school, and so Running Start was founded to start talking to young women about politics at a younger age and to provide opportunities for training and mentorship. The positive outcomes of empowering women internationally, nationally and locally were discussed and examples of the impact of encouraging women to lead are not difficult to find.

The questions and comments that followed were illumination, particularly in an Irish context and came from people of varying backgrounds including women in political life, a man highlighting the positive impact of greater gender balance in his own workplace and those interested in discussing gender quotas further. It was only fitting that the final question of the evening came from a young woman who is currently a youth council member. It was clear that there is a lot of interest in and passion for this topic. I left feeling encouraged that although the stats aren’t ideal, there is an ongoing cultural shift towards empowering women and that we all can play a part in this amongst our own networks and communities.

JNG.new_.Headshot.small_1Jessica Grounds is an Irish Institute exchange speaker. This event was made possible by the Irish Institute at Boston College with funding from the United States Department of State.

Written by Niamh Ní Chonchubhair, IUSA alumna.