Elizabeth H Roberts

Remarks at the Second Annual Women Holding Office Celebration - May 3, 2010

Elizabeth H Roberts
May 03, 2010— Lincoln, Rhode Island
Second Annual Women Holding Office Celebration
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Thank you so much for having me here today. I’m honored to have the opportunity to talk to a group of women who are interested in politics. I want to share with you my experiences as a woman in a field where women are typically under-represented in top leadership positions. I hope that my insights will encourage you to get more involved, take that plunge, and run for office. I would love to welcome you to Smith Hill in the coming months and years.

What has been my course? Let me say, first, that it is a distinct pleasure to be here as the first woman elected lieutenant governor in Rhode Island history.

In the traditionally male-dominated field of politics, I know firsthand what it means when women tell me they feel they have to work twice as hard to succeed. My decision to run for lieutenant governor was not an easy one, but I’m glad I pursued the path to higher office and I’m happy to share some of my insights with you.

First, I’ll tell you a little about myself. I graduated from Brown University in 1978 and earned an MBA in health care management from Boston University. I’ve worked as a business strategy consultant, policy analyst, and health care manager. Before becoming lieutenant governor, I spent 10 years serving in our State Senate, representing Cranston. I’ve been married for 25 years and have two daughters.

I first got involved in politics by doing policy work for a governor’s race. From that first opportunity I knew I wanted to be more involved and make a difference for my community.

My decision to run for the General Assembly actually came in response to a request from the outgoing state Senator. I was asked to run for my seat, which was very flattering because women are often not asked to run. I decided to accept the challenge, and started to work on my race. I found that I loved campaigning. Being a woman made it easy to knock on doors, and I really enjoyed meeting neighbors and listening to their issues and challenges. My daughters were very young, and it was extremely difficult to spend so much time out of the house, but my husband and family were very supportive. In fact, I can’t stress enough the importance of having the support of your family and friends.

Balancing your professional, personal, and community commitments is possible! I’ve done it and so can you.

When I decided to run for lieutenant governor, family obligations again played into my decision. Campaigning can be grueling and stressful, both on the candidate as well as on her family. I understood the impact on my kids--although by then they were much older--and my husband, but we worked through scheduling challenges and we made it happen together.

The least favorite part of running for office, for me, was fundraising. Yet, fundraising is absolutely vital to running a competitive campaign, and over the years I became very successful at raising money. However, I would much rather spend my time talking to the voters—listening to neighbors, families, business owners, and working on finding solutions to their problems and challenges.

Once the campaign was over, the real work began—from assembling a staff, determining one’s priorities for the office, and balancing a near-million dollar budget. Although I have specific constitutional duties as lieutenant governor, chairing several statewide Councils, I decided to make healthcare reform the focus of my office.

Despite the serious nature of policy work in healthcare, I’ve had many interesting experiences as a woman in the State House. Often I’m one of the only women in a room. There is a disproportionate focus that people have on a woman’s appearance as compared to a man. Sometimes people have shared comments that have been made, after a television appearance or speech I’ve made, about my hair, weight, clothes, etc. I’ve found it’s often difficult to distinguish oneself as tough, yet still feminine. Also, the challenge of breaking into the old boys’ club at the State House is further heightened for a woman.

The bottom line is we need more women involved in politics and serving in public office in Rhode Island, supporting each other. Women bring a fresh, diverse perspective to any policy discussion. Our voices need to be heard and included in decision-making at every level. That can only happen if more women run and challenge the status quo.

I believe we are better served by a government that “looks like its people.” A diverse body of leaders is more truly representative of who we are as a state.

So, where can you start?

I would suggest starting out by volunteering on a campaign, whether at the local, state, or federal level. Get involved in a local advocacy effort with an organization, and lobby at the State House! Testify on an issue that you care about. Consider running for school board or town council--it’s ok to start small. Get involved with local party politics. Both the democrats and republicans are very active parties in Rhode Island and are always looking for new faces to get involved.

There are many women who have overcome challenges to reach extraordinary personal achievement and success, breaking down barriers for the women who will follow them. We need more of these women to serve, and inspire and encourage other women from all backgrounds and experiences to pursue their own paths toward leadership roles in government.

Our community and indeed our world are in need of women leaders to shape a better future. My door is always open to you, and I look forward to hearing about your pursuits of elected office to make positive change happen for our state.

I’m happy to take any questions that you have. Thank you.